The Future This Week: September 4, 2017

“Before we work on artificial intelligence why don’t we do something about natural stupidity?” —Steve Polyak

Is this our fate?

There is an ominous feeling in the air about artificial intelligence this week.  It seems to be everywhere, as in “all over the news.”  Elon Musk? We hear from him on the subject every week.  But now one Vladimir Putin has even weighed in.  Both Musk and Putin have dark warnings.  And Putin’s feels a lot like Littlefinger telling Ned Stark not to trust him. Oh, and don’t forget the Chinese, as they weigh in with a massive A.I. investment.  All this as Intel announces a staggering advance in A.I. hardware.

Artificial Intelligence– Elon Musk’s warning du jour on A.I. is that it will be the most likely cause of World War Three.  He’s not worried about North Korea; he thinks that’s just bluster.  The truly hair raising part of it is that he doesn’t so much think it will be a war over A.I. as it will be a war started  by A.I. that has been empowered to make that decision itself.  These conjectures came closely on the heels of Vladimir Putin’s assertion that whomever gains a dominant position in A.I. could rule the world.   He warned that it would be extremely dangerous for any one entity to gain a monopoly.

Cue the Chinese.  They have stated a desire to take a world-leading position in A.I.  by around 2030.  To that end, Chinese internet giant Baidu has teamed up with China Life, a state-owned financial company, to create a 7 Billion Yaun (~$1 Billion US) A.I. investment fund.  The aim is to invest in small private ventures with innovative technologies.

Back in the USA, Intel has announced a new A.I. accelerator that can process 1 Trillion Operations Per Second (TOP) per Watt.  Just what China and Russia are looking for?

Autonomous Vehicles–Ford and Dominoes Pizza have announced a joint venture to test an autonomous pizza delivery vehicle. (Image left).  As 55%of respondents in a recent Gartner survey found said they wouldn’t ride in a self-driving car, I’m wondering if they’d be OK with their pizza riding in one.

 

Please don’t deliver!

How about trusting your garbage to an autonomous vehicle?  Volvo is developing a self-driving garbage truck.  I hope delivery and pickup don’t get confused.

Cryptocurrency/blockchain–Major cryptocurrencies crashed by 20% over the past two trading days of last week.   Apparently China outlawing ICO’s and the SEC questioning their legality did not help things.  I still think they are basically digital tulip bulbs.

 Undaunted by this, six multi-national banks are joining an existing project, headed by UBS to launch their own cryptocurrency, designed for securely clearing large online transactions.  They are currently in talks with regulators on a projected late 2018 launch.

A reminder that the Seeking Delphi™ podcast is available on iTunesPlayerFM, blubrry , and has a channel on YouTube.  You can also follow us on Facebook.

The Bleeding Edge

“Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.”–R. Buckminster Fuller

“Engage your mind before you shift your mouth into gear.”–Unknown

My father used to warn me about talking before thinking.   This definitely applies to blogging as well.  One should cogitate before pushing the “publish” button.

I said in a previous post that I would present two major types of articles herein,  but I didn’t think before pushing that button.  As it turns out, there will be three.  As previously promised, the first category of posts in the How to Think About The Future category will summarize basic methods, philosophies and general assumptions about foresight.

The second, category, The Future of…, will tackle the future of various domains of human endeavor, such as education, politics, environment, economy, healthcare and various subsets thereof.

The third category, the one I left out originally, is The Bleeding Edge, which will delve into critical emerging technologies that may potentially upend the established course of human activities, for better or for worse, or probably both.   Here are some of the hot topics to look forward to,  hopefully in the not-to-distant future.

Gene Editing–Last November, a New York Times Magazine article,  aptly titled The CRISPR Quandary, was even more aptly subtitled A new gene editing tool might create an ethical morass–or it might make revising nature seem natural.  As this ground-breaking technology is advancing far faster than the ethical and regulatory guidelines to control it, it is well on its way to doing both.

Artificial Intelligence/The Singularity–While CRISPR has so far escaped broad public scrutiny,  Artificial Intelligence certainly has not.  With warnings of the potential dangers of strong AI from the likes of Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk getting big play in the media,  even while Ray Kurzweil waxes almost poetic on the virtues of an A.I. singularity.  The controversies continues to grow.

Robotics–The combination of robotics and A.I. is rapidly accelerating, offering the potential for great convenience and efficiency, but also wholesale upheavals in the world of work.  Some pundits project that automation of various forms may obsolete up to 50% of all jobs in the near future.

3D Printing–No field of work is more susceptible to job loss due to automation than is manufacturing.   And while the progress of 3D printing has been much slower than some other technologies, it still holds out the promise of an eventual sea change in the world of fabrication–potentially breaking up major national and regional manufacturing plants into hundred of thousands of small local sites.  The skills to design and run 3D printing applications are specialized and very different from those of traditional manufacturing.

Nanotechnology–If ever there was a double-edged sword in technology, this is it.  While the most optimistic prognostications outlined by Eric Drexler in his landmark 1986 book, Engines of Creation, are still a distant pipe dream,  progress is being made.   And while those optimistic dreams envision a world of unlimited abundance on demand, the most pessimistic counter views see the potential for catastrophic human harm, either inadvertently or by intentional malice.  Kurt Vonnegut warned of these dangers as long ago as 1963 in his sci-fi classic Cat’s Cradle.

Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality–Poised to become a hot new consumer electronics category, Virtual Reality devices offer a wide range of very useful applications, from education, to training and entertainment.  But there are downsides, too.  Will some people get so addicted to it that they lose contact with actual reality?  And at least one futurist has forecast a huge market for virtual reality porn.  If you’re not familiar with the concept of teledildonics, well, you might be in for a shock.

Blockchain–The shared public ledger technology that enables Bitcoin cryptocurrency is rapidly being advocated and to some extent deployed in a variety other domains including education, law and banking. It is massively distributed, open, and indelible.  But even this might have some downside.

The hope here is to cover these and many other emerging technology issues in the coming weeks and months.  Keep an eye out for an accompanying podcast as well, assuming I can get my technical act together.