Technologies That Will Reshape Our Lives In 2018: Part I
The Next Step In Human Evolution or Feeding Hungry Ghosts In A Giant Machine?
Seek out some retired and old-world spot, far from the madding crowd, and dream away a sunny week among its drowsy lanes — some half-forgotten nook, hidden away by the fairies, out of reach of the noisy world — some quaint-perched eyrie on the cliffs of Time, from whence the surging waves of the nineteenth century would sound far-off and faint. — Jerome K Jerome, Three Men In A Boat
This article is a first in a three part mini-series designed to give readers an overview as well as a glimpse of the new technologies that will reshape human lives as I write. This mini-series will explore a wide range of technologies from Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Internet, Cryptographic Coins, Automated and Electric Vehicles, Elon Musk’s efforts to create cyborgs and the smart home of the future.
I would characterize 2018 as the year that many technologies mature, move out of childhood right into their teens. The question of which ones will survive the test of time is a larger discussion.
Technology has eaten the world and is eating it again. The mind boggling array of technology released and under development is unprecedented in human history. All round technological disruption has also become the single biggest, global experiment in the unknown. A rebellion without a completely understood cause. By extension, a future beyond our imagination. Fascinating as it is, this disruption also induces fear.
We seem to have a bewildering need to understand the world. But then again, I often wonder: is there such as need at all? I am not sure.
All of us seem to be smitten with technologies that are augmenting a reality we are unsure needs augmenting. Think of simple things such as Pokémon Go. I remember a time when many people would be dodging accidents on the road because their eyes were glued to finding the next Pokémon. At coffee shops, I would hear my friends complain that they didn’t have enough balls to capture Pikachu. I played Pokémon Go too. To be honest, I enjoyed it. However, I was aware of the pitfalls of giving up my life to technology.
The Internet of Things has revealed how vulnerable our privacy is and how easy it is for strangers to hack and control our homes. So, now we have to invest in technology to secure our homes and then a battery backup to make sure the security is up 24/7 and a wireless device to monitor all the gadgets and so on. You get the picture. Along with Blockchain, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, the other sides of these technologies i.e. their economic impact especially on jobs and employment, Cyber security, privacy concerns and a race amongst nations for computing hegemony will dominate the discussion this year.
We will soon measure data in Yottabytes (10²⁴) and Brontabytes (10²⁷) bytes. 90% of the world’s data was created in the last 2 years. So, you can imagine why people say data is the new oil. By the time today’s 5th grade students have graduated from college they will live in a yottabyte world. With such incredibly complex changes on the horizon, this article provides a rationale for the rapid technological disruption we see around us today, explores and explains broad mega trends in 2018 and describes the impact of these developments on our everyday lives.
Why We Do What We Do?
Let me admit that I do not fully comprehend what we need so much technological innovation for. That is because, the future is increasingly becoming an uncertain outcome.
With very few areas of life not subject to technological disruption, one begins to wonder: do we need all these changes? I am not a Luddite but I am not an irrational first adopter either. Just like you, I am trying to understand why we do what we are doing right now in terms of creating new technologies.Roughly half the time. I don’t have a succinct explanation.
No change happens without the right incentives. One could name many incentives but the most powerful incentive boils down to one word i.e. economics. Most powerful advancements are driven by financial incentives and stopped because of a lack of such incentives. If there are strong financial incentives to do what we are doing, it follows that more money in terms of investments will flow to those areas. Correspondingly, the development of technology in those areas will be rapid. For instance, Artificial Intelligence experienced two winter (periods of slowdown in research, interest and funding) in 1974–80 and 1987–93 and several smaller episodes. Thus, without enough financial motivation, it is hard for technologies to be considered and later expanded.
If we look at the recent overarching developments in technology such as Machine Learning, Cloud Computing and Block Chains, the driving force behind such innovation is reducing costs. Costs of two types i.e. actual costs and opportunity costs (i.e. reducing human effort on some things to free up time to pursue other higher order endeavors). Some of the Overarching Themes and Challenges, which are understandably both a reaction to the environment we live but also driven by improving the quality of our lives, are listed below:
Macro Economics: Many economies today are facing an ageing population and those very same countries are also at the forefront of the technology frontier i.e. USA, China, Germany, Japan etc. AI and ML are directed towards reducing mankind’s efforts in routine, labor intensive tasks so that humans can focus on higher level activities such as creative pursuits.
Other nations such as Singapore, Israel and India are quick to use technology to leapfrog and work around existing problems. For instance, in India’s case, creating an open API and digital identity are key to lowering costs of reaching consumers and to advance financial inclusion. Naturally, Financial Services is a playground of great disruption.
Many technologies such as automated vehicles and trucks are attempting to free up time from non-productive activities such as driving.
Climate change: and electric cars are being driven by a need to combat green house emissions and reduce the carbon footprint.
Affluence: Surprisingly, with the advancement of genetically modified food and deflationary technologies that reduce cost to the consumer drastically, some parts of the world are experiencing an abundance of resources which is fueling discretionary spending on experiential activities such as social media, smart homes, gaming, e-sports, adventure sports and quite frankly, sharing your life with the rest of the world using 4K streaming video stored on a cloud. Ironically, the more we share personal data with machines, the more the machines monitor and learn about us just like feeding hungry ghosts in a giant machine that may one day become the SkyNet of Terminator fame.
In that sense, the cloud has become the digital version of human memories while AI has become the closest analog to the human brain.
Insitutional Investor reports Masayoshi Son’s $100 Billion investment as the largest war chest dedicated to automation. In Son’s words:
“Those who rule chips will rule the entire world. Those who rule data will rule the entire world. That’s what people of the future will say”
Son sums up the catalysts that are fueling a quest for a more connected future which almost seems inescapable. That is just the outcome of the world pushing against a technology frontier and pushing it further.
Global Memory : Democratization of History
Abraham Maslow’s need hierarchy theory suggests esteem needs to be at the top of the pyramid succeeded only by self actualization needs. As the basic needs of the world get satisfied, there is a boom in social media that is fueled by a need to satisfy esteem needs.
At the centre of Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens is the contention that what made Homo sapiens the most successful human being, supplanting rivals such as Neanderthals, was our ability to believe in shared fictions. Religions, nations and money, Harari argues, are all human fictions that have enabled collaboration and organisation on a massive scale. (source: theGuardian)
In a sense, wisdom of the crowd has saved mankind from extinction for many years. Today, irrationality among the crowd can also sway mankind towards destruction but crowd sourcing of wisdom is here to stay especially since the process of sharing is becoming easier by the day.
Nick Woodman, CEO of GoPro says: “People use GoPros to capture the experiences they are passionate about”. Think about the boom in social media and you begin to understand how everyone has access to document his/her version of history. In fact, in many cases, social media IS the news. There is a lot of debate around sharing your life on social media platforms really just enhances the value of the platform instead of lives of users.
However, the catalysts in terms of Machine Learning, Cloud Computing, broadband and crowd sourcing are increasingly providing more tools to people to share more. The perceived feeling of happiness as demonstrated by the number of “likes” has fueled a boom in social media usage.
Ultimately, we need to seek refuge in a zero technology world i.e. as Thomas Hardy says “run away from the madding crowd” every year. Otherwise, we will lose all connections to our human selves.
The benefits from these technologies are manifold. However, frankly, I don’t have a clear answer if all the technologies will end up making our lives better overall because I don’t have a clear idea of the unintended and potentially dangerous effects of many of these technologies. Keep in mind that there is always a price to pay and that technology is a double edged sword.
My endeavor in writing this article is to encourage you to keep pace with the rapid technological changes to avoid obsolescence. While you do that, be responsible and don’t abuse or overuse technology.
Revolutionary change is on it’s way everyday whether we wish for it or not. My hope is you keep pace with it and enjoy the view from an enviable vantage point.