HAVE you ever read an article about a new gadget that is set to take over the world?
If you have but the most tenuous grasp on technology affairs, you’ll have been bombarded with content about Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Internet of Things, Automation and many other topics. You’ll have been left with your fair share of questions.
These are mine:
- How can I know what tech trend will stick around?
- Is there a way of knowing how our lives are likely to be affected in the next 10 years?
- Will our future be a mashup of the Matrix with iRobot?
I have sought to analyze what’s coming over the hill, how it can benefit us and what can go wrong. By no means will I aim to provide a certain answer but I do hope to spark some discussion on where we’re going as a civilization.
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While these incredibly useful tools have improved our lives in ways some of our grandparents would struggle to comprehend, our dependence on them opens up a panoply of vulnerabilities as hackers and cyber attacks exploit the same algorithms on which we rely.
The jury is very much still out on what type of effect AI will have on our civilisation over the next decade, as this Pew Research Center report points out, with a survey of 1,302 of coding, academic and IT experts yielding some very interesting results: 38% believed there would be a net positive effect, 37% believed the negatives would outweigh the positives and 25% believed a balance can be achieved.
As self-learning and self-programming algorithms emerge, it becomes pertinent to discuss just how such a well-intentioned push for technological progress and human advancement can have potentially negative implications. This can be a sensitive issue and while I’m by no means a Luddite, it’s interesting to notice how the likes of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have warned us about the perils of AI, publishing a list of 23 principles for Beneficial Artificial Intelligence alongside 1,600 other signatories made up by the world’s foremost researchers in this field, alerting to the perils of letting AI evolve unchecked by research principles, ethical values and transparency.
The age of the algorithm is already here. The next decade will be key in figuring out if we’ll shape Artificial Intelligence to fit our needs or if it’ll become an unaccountable surveillance and advertising driven leviathan, controlling and influencing every decision we make.
Regardless of which end of the political spectrum you sit on, there’s no arguing the exchange of Capital for Labour is one of the main foundations Western society has been built upon. What kind of world will we live in as Labour is removed from that equation? As exemplified by the automotive industry in recent decades, the automation of factory work in car manufacturing has dislodged several millions of employees who have seen the repetitive tasks their job was comprised of increasingly taken up by machines.
While this has reshaped the demographics of many regions across Europe and the United States, experts also point to another change: jobs made up of low-value, repetitive tasks such as working on a factory assembly line either have been outsourced or replaced by positions such as supervising engineering positions which require a technical understanding of how the robots in the assembly line work as well as the developers and programmers involved in building the technology behind these robots.
So where does that leave the rest of us? According to this McKinsey report, “fewer than 5% of occupations can be entirely automated using current technology” while around half have a significant portion of activities that may be automated soon. We can deduce the rise in automation will have an impact on most professions, and although due to a lack of data we can’t be certain of what the impact will be in terms of which professions will give away to the Robot Inc workers in the future, the automotive industry example can shed some light on what we can expect in terms of automation in the workplace over the next decade.
We can certainly expect that professions based on low-value, repetitive tasks will gradually become obsolete as robots prove smarter, more efficient and cost effective, meaning every shareholder-conscious corporation will move in that direction, dishing out Thank-you-for-your-hard-work leaving cards like they’re smarties in the process. It won’t be just traditional “blue-collar” workers suffering from this automation as robots might even be coming for us in fields such as wildlife protection with tree-planting drones and plague-eradicating robots, in addition to self-driving cars putting millions of transportation jobs in jeopardy as well as ventures like Amazon Go’s advanced shopping technology going after 8 million American retail workers.
This will open up space for roles built around knowledge of computer science and programming as technology is dependent on us, as well as roles requiring a high degree of emotional intelligence and creativity which as far as we know machines are still a long way from grasping.
This poses the issue of workplace automation in an entirely new light. As most of us struggle with meaningless jobs, authorities in most if not all nations are still incredibly inadequate in preparing the current and next generation for how employment as we know it is on the verge of changing.
Although we require more data as to how exactly this new wave of industrial revolution is playing out, a somewhat clear path starts to reveal itself. We need to nurture creativity, emotional intelligence and a learning of programming instead of incentivising a culture of fitting in and doing what you’re told as many organizations from schools to businesses seem to prefer.
By using embedded chips and sensors, inanimate objects such as ovens, buildings, and watches can be equipped with network technology that will let you control them from your smartphone.
The household appliance’s example is by far the most familiar application we can envisage this technology finding its way into our daily lives essentially making each and every one of us imagine a friendship such as the one Tony Stark had with J.A.R.V.I.S. in the Ironman film franchise.
It is an immensely attractive idea as you wonder how easy life would be if when your alarm rang in the morning, bread would pop out of the toaster and your coffee would be ready by the time you’d stumble into the kitchen. This is what the future can look like!
The applications extend far beyond our homes with this PWC report points out just how encompassing IoT will be in its disruption of every industry with companies in fields such as finance, energy, automotive, healthcare, retail already displaying an adoption ranging from 13% to 33% – numbers tipped as signalling just the beginning of yet another technological revolution.
There are however some concerns as these smart devices start to be rolled out across Europe and North America. As the recent Amazon AWS s3 outage has shown, a cloud-based IoT can only work with a reliable, fast and round the clock internet connection.
A major quality deficit in connectivity across the world is certain to affect the deployment and adoption of these devices as currently, the global average broadband speed is 6.3Mbps, with the US averaging around 31Mbps.
In addition, as useful as 4G data has proven there are still plenty of areas where it is difficult to hold a signal so it is highly likely that the physical connectivity infrastructure is simply still not there yet.
The solution for this technological shortcoming will be a factor of the investment in two sets of infrastructure.
By rolling out gigabit internet (one gigabit per second or 25 songs in a second), millions of people will be empowered with the capability to take the plunge into networked devices. However, bringing this type of connectivity into an area is incredibly expensive so this will only occur if authorities and communities are committed to laying out the investment so they can then reap the rewards. Countries like Japan and South Korea are leading the way in ultra-fast connectivity (2Gbps), although most devices are only equipped with 1GB so it’ll be interesting to compare how they’ve fared given their more advanced infrastructure once enough time has passed to assess the roll out of IoT devices across the world.
The most optimistic of estimations point to the number of devices connected to the internet is expected to hit 100 billion by 2020 which is simply not a number that the current 4G network can cope with, with 5G technology stepping in at a mind-blowingly fast 35 gigabit per second – a speed made possible by millimetre wave technology working in the 28 GHz spectrum.
The developments in gigabit internet and 5G will ease the infrastructure concerns of most people hesitating about taking up the smart device lifestyle made possible by IoT, but the looming security threat is likely to keep more than just a few people at bay.
As demonstrated in the recent Wikileaks Vault 7 release, the CIA can use malicious software to crash a car working on a connected network and while you may not be top of their list (right now), this does hit home the notion that the internet is not secure and more thought as to go into tightening IoT against cyber-attacks before we turn every car into a smart device or start running hospitals on an interconnected network while there’s a credible threat someone might pull the plug on the whole thing.
You will roll out of bed at the sound of your alarm to a freshly-brewed coffee with your favorite tune playing in the background. As you go through your morning routine, your oven and shower respond to your presence, turning themselves on already adjusted to your preferences. You bask in the comfort of your smart home and wonder what happened to those button-turning, flick-switching appliances of yesteryears.
At work you will be greeted by the newly-installed, AI-powered receptionist as your company takes yet another step towards reshaping the business around its core function, handing over as many tasks as possible to automated, robotic workers. By focusing on the people with the necessary creativity and emotional intelligence to drive the company forward, your company will be in a better position to survive and prosper in these more agile times, as humanity fully embraces AI in all its potential to aid us in our everyday activities and socio-economic progress.
Like when humankind first discovered fire, invented the wheel or found out electrons could be placed at our service, we are in full control and the choices we make regarding the technological progress we experience in the next decade will shape our destiny on this planet.
Do you agree? Disagree? Perhaps you couldn’t be bothered to read the whole thing. Let me know your thoughts anyway and let’s get a discussion going.