On October 15, 2017, Cointelegraph broke news : “Russia may soon become the first country to officially endorse it’s own cryptocurrency called the ‘CryptoRuble’
Bitcoin (price as I write this article: $5,661), which is already used in Dubai for real estate development and is recognized as a legal, virtual currency by the G7, EU and other major countries is already a demonstration of the shape of things to come.
With China and the US spearheading development of AI and ultimately Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and it’s application to everything from recruiting people to educating them, the connected world of the future is on the horizon. Very soon, autonomous cars will recharge electric batteries using virtual currencies and smart contracts without human intervention. Japan’s richest man Masayoshi Son is creating a $100 Billion fund that bets on a future where machines surpass humans in intelligence and singularity is a very real outcome.
This article takes you on a journey that explores the world of the future from virtual assistants, mixed reality, digital currencies, genetically modified humans, quantum computers, digital identities and the internet of everything. It also explores the economic case for each of these technologies. However, new technologies also come with their own side-effects. Therefore, there is always reason to learn more about newer ones as they emerge and the changes in the fabric of society they will bring with them.
“I predict 30 years from now, the number of smart robots, the smart robot population on this earth will be 10 billion. By that time, human population will be around 10 billion. So here on this earth we will have 10 billion population of mankind and 10 billion population of smart robots. This is the first time on this earth that we live together with 10 billion robots.”
“Every industry that mankind created will be redefined. The medical industry, automobile industry, the information industry of course. Every industry that mankind ever defined and created, even agriculture, will be redefined. Because the tools that we created were inferior to mankind’s brain in the past. Now the tools become smarter than mankind ourselves. The definition of whatever the industry, will be redefined.” — Masayoshi Son, CEO, SoftBank Japan
Masayoshi Son famously remarked on the David Rubenstein Show that he was able to gather $45 billion in 45 minutes from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia towards his vision fund. He aims to bet on a future where Artificial Intelligence result in the automation of human jobs and in a completely different world in the future.
Many entrepreneurs from Elon Musk (Electric cars, hyperloop, colonizing Mars etc.), Kai-Fu Lee (Sinovation Venture Partners, China), Jack Ma (alibaba.com) and leading experts such as Geoffrey Hinton (Father of AI), Andrew Ng (AI expert), Vitalik Buterin (Ethereum) are busy imagining and creating the world of the future.
This article is part of a series intended to provide an overview of the world of the future through the work of pioneers around the world. It is an inexhaustible endeavor but that’s why it is so exciting. A word of caution: This article could perhaps be the longest you have read. So, please bear with me.
A is for Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Types of AI
Artificial Intelligence is THE buzz word in the press today and refers to man’s attempts to recreate the human brain including cognition. Broadly speaking, efforts to develop AI further fall in the following categories:
Productivity enhancements, trimming expenses and ageing population are some of the straightforward business cases pushing the interest and investment in AI. In 2016, AI as an industry saw investments of approximately $4 billion. As per McKinsey Global Inst, Tech giants including Baidu and Google spent between $20B to $30B on AI in 2016, with 90% of this spent on R&D and deployment, and 10% on AI acquisitions.
Globally, there are many different approaches being taken to move beyond AI to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). China and the US seem to be at the forefront of adopting and utilizing AI. Companies such as Alibaba have created internal academies to pursue research into and promote adoption of AI. Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are spearheading AI efforts in China. Until recently, Andrew Ng led Baidu’s AI efforts and is considered by many as an expert on AI.
According to Liu Lihua, Vice Minister of Industry and Information Technology, China has thus far applied for 15,745 AI patents. (source: Forbes)
Partnership on AI was formed by tech giants Google, Apple, Amazon, IBM, Facebook and Microsoft to harness AI for the benefit of people and society. Google acquired Deepmind (a British AI company founded in 2010). Deepmind famously beat the world champion in the game of “Go”. Deepmind’s CEO Demis Hassabis is an expert resource to follow.
Open AI is a not-for-profit dedicated to research on creating a passage for safe Artificial General Intelligence. It’s sponsored by Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, Infosys and Y combinator research.
The Vector Institute in Toronto is utilizing Geoffrey Hinton’s ( Geoffrey is a British-born Canadian cognitive psychologist and computer scientist) research into Back Propagation to propel machine learning further.
Vicarious is using alternate approach to developing AGI for robots using neuroscience and probabilistic models.
Needless to say, the applications of AI span the entire breadth of human thinking. While companies such as Koru are utilizing machine learning for creating recruitment software to augment current hiring practices, other companies are teaching robots to play games.
The obvious challenges include the transformation of the labor market and the emergence of a new category of workers called ‘metal collar’ (robots) workers. The debate around Universal Basic Income and the jobs of the future are the key economic challenges behind adoption of AI.
Besides Singularity, one of the biggest challenges within the AI community is called the ‘Black Box’ problem. Basically, once a set of deep learning algorithms are coded, it is hard to figure out how they will interact with the data. This could possibly lead to unintended and possibly fatal consequences. In other words, once you have given machines the ability to learn, you do not know how they will behave.
B is for Beginnings of Life
While organizations and individuals worldwide are working hard on recreating the functioning of the human brain, the journey to recreate the human body or life on earth in general began early and has received relatively less press coverage and debate than the ones over digital currencies and the loss of jobs to Artificial Intelligence. To my mind, three significant developments between the 20th and the 21st century represent milestones in mankind’s endeavor to do what god or the big bang theory (depending on what you choose to believe) has done so far i.e. creating and maintaining life itself:
- Double Helix Strcuture of DNA: The discovery of the double helix structure of human DNA by Francis Frick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins for which they shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine really marked a beginning in the chapter to play god’s role. The DNA molecule is the basis for heredity and helped scientists understand the hereditary disease. As per wikipedia “Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA” is a molecule that carries the genetic instructions used in the growth, development, functioning and reproduction of all known living organisms and many viruses.
- Human Genome Project: The completion of the mapping of the human genome in 2003 marked the culmination of the biggest international collaboration project in biology. The human genome is the complete map of nucleic acid sequence for homo sapiens or the blue print of man’s makeup which is encoded in DNA.The Chan Zuckerberg initiative is working on a Human Cell Atlas to map all the cells in the human body.
- CRISPR CAS 9- The invention of the future of genetic editing with the CRISPR CAS 9 technique especially the reversal of cancer cells to normal cells in 2015. Below is an illustration of how CRISPR works:
CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Repeat is a gene editing technique that consists of two parts : a CAS9 enzyme scissor that can snip DNA and an RNA molecule that guides the scissors on the place to make the cut.
CRISPR can be used to edit genes with a large number of potential applications including editing, deleting and modifying genes. From eradicating a host of diseases to creating the ideal children, CRISPR has limitless applications. What is truly unique about CAS9 is that it is not a very complex tool to use. While CRISPR CAS9 is revolutionary, there are many aspects of the technology one should be wary of.
However, there is a widespread ethical and moral debate that the rich would be able to access CRISPR and use it to create the perfect children and therefore exacerbate inequality further.
The other concern is unintended mutations. In a way, it is the price to pay for playing with nature.
C is For Computers, Crowd Sourcing And Data
While China demonstrated Quantum teleportation and Intel invented a 17-quabit quantum chip, Google is on track to create a 49-qubit quantum system. A qubit is a unit of quantum information and is made up of subatomic particles. While a typical bit in a computer stores information in 0’s and 1’s, a qubit can be 0,1 or 0 and 1 simultaneously using a property called superposition. What this means is more powerful computers able to scale up and process complex problems such as machine learning.
Artificial Intelligence feeds on data to perfect it’s outcomes. Think of it like memories for humans. The more practice you have with things, the better you get at it. It’s no wonder then that data is the new gold. Pictures to help in facial recognition, words to aid in voice recognition, data on human behavior to screen candidates and so on. China is a country at the forefront of the AI revolution. Along with quantum computing, it has access to large store of data that can be used to improve AI. Think of Jack Ma’s Alibaba or WeChat and the amount of user and financial data that these mega corporations hold in their databases. In some ways, demographics helps provide a wider, more diverse data set to use AI on.
Modern learning will be crowdsourced. Everything from hedge funds, school education and the fields of medicine and finance will rely on the wisdom of the crowd. The crowd here refers to humans (internet) and machines (internet of things) which will produce trillions of gigabytes of data. As per Northeastern University, 2.5 exabytes of data are produced every day which is equivalent to 530,000,000 million songs.
The big debate, eventually, will be around privacy of user data and the unintended consequences of cyber-attacks and hacks on personal data stored by digital behemoths such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Alibaba etc.
D is for Driverless Cars And Communication
As per McKinsey, a potential path to self-driving cars may look like this:
The biggest challenge lies in making the cars safe because at stake is life itself. While China has been pushing for all vehicles to go electric by 2030, there are many countries
Ultimately the future of fossil fuels will depend on average distance an electric battery can last and cost of an electric battery.
According to TrustNodes, A subsidiary of RWE, one of Germany’s biggest energy and gas provider with 30 million customers and billions of revenue, has launched 100s of electronic vehicles (EV) charging stations all over Germany, connected to ethereum’s public blockchain. This could possibly be the next evolution in automotive technology — autonomous vehicles capable of recharging using smart contracts and cryptocurrencies.
E is for Education Technology
One of the key drivers of education of the future is that it will be driven largely by changes in the labor market and the jobs of the future. The most important consideration while designing education is ‘adaptive learning’ i.e. learning that adapts to the student using technology. Technology has already removed the global barriers to education. However, a sound model that replaces the current educational system with a globally accepted curriculum that is taught in an adaptive format is yet to be designed. Many feel the need to eliminate by rote education or college education with a more individualized curriculum. While alternative and inexpensive forms of online learning such as Khan Academy, Coursera and other MOOC’s have seen tremendous success, digital education is still far from being the global norm:
F is for Finance and Economics
A new wave of entrepreneurship is spreading across the globe. The key factor propelling this new wave is that it is no longer enough to have one line of income to survive.In a world that is constantly changing, utilizing creativity and ingenuity to provide value to society as an individual brand has never been important. Think of the new breed to digital nomads, social media influencers, video game and drone racing league players. The internet and the connected world is giving rise to many zero marginal cost businesses where skill and creativity have become key.
Slowing global economic growth is fueling a drive to find alternative investments and is fueling speculation in Cryptocurrencies. Today, there are close to 1000+ digital coins. Most of them are products of elaborate scams. Only a few deserve closer scrutiny and additional research. Total market capitalization of these currencies is roughly $171 billion (coinmarketcap.com)
Silicon valley has been relentlessly working on upending financial services and law through FinTech and RegTech startups. It’s main disruptors are crypto-currencies (to replace money) and smart contracts (to replace traditional contracts). I will not go into the details of how FinTech is rapidly changing banking and financial services. For a closer look into the state of play today, read my article on “The Future of Banking” and “Forces Reshaping Financial Services”
The economies of the future could take a few different forms. One that relies of digital currencies as fiat currencies linked to a gold standard. The other scenario where digital currencies simply supplant the existing order of cash, cards and digital wallets. One thing is certain though the interconnectedness (as per DHL, today, Netherlands, Ireland and Singapore are most globally connected countries) of the global economy will ensure that positive and negative shocks to the economic system spread quickly.
Also, the time it will take for a completely digital economy to emerge will depend on how soon all countries are on a level playing field in terms of the wealth divide and the digital divide.
Public private partnership will be indispensable to dis emanating economic policies. The job market of the future will be skewed towards entrepreneurship and creative pursuits.
G is for Grids, Entertainment and Smart Homes
Our homes have become mini internet (internet of things where all electronic equipment is connected using Wi-fi, bluetooth and other protocols) which can be controlled by a central computer. Depending on which technology — Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality or Chip implants becomes the next interface, our interactions with machines will vary dramatically from the ones today.
Solar panels can be used to power homes of the future to reduce dependence on other energy sources. To keep track of energy generated from various sources, Blockchains can be used to power smart grids.
The debate around genetically modified (GMO) food is a classic example of the side-effects of technology.
While Virtual Reality has been brought into the mainstream, the technology is far from perfect with headsets causing nausea and dizziness over extended periods.
Other technologies such as Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality are already competing to be the interface of choice between humans and the digital world. To understand the difference between these competing interfaces, read a short article here . Non-intrusiveness could be key to success. If that’s the case, chip implants could also become a possibility.
H is For The Human Condition
While all of the technologies mentioned above may seem disparate and my article a ramble, it truly is not. It is also a testament to the fact that all countries are not adopting technology uniformly. Having said that, there are a few common threads that I want to discuss to be able to tie up the extensive list of cutting edge technologies that have been described above:
First, the one fact that unites all these diverse technologies from the biological to the digital is our endeavor to create ‘an extension of the human condition’. For instance, AI is the recreation of the human brain in a machine format while gene editing technologies is literally an attempt to recreate a living human.
The other tie that binds these forces creating the modern world is that it will bring us closer together as a human race. The very same qualities (such as empathy, love, intuition, creativity, imagination, nostalgia etc) that make us an innately different species that has survived for millennia are the very same qualities that will unite us in a digital, connected world.
Third, there are always trade-offs to be made, a price to be paid or a darker side of each technology or as Yuval Noah Harari says in Sapiens :“One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations”. Therefore, if we are to assimilate these technologies into our lives, it will require a globally coordinated effort which could be the single biggest human endeavor undertaken on a global scale. The objective of this endeavor would be to create a better tomorrow for the future generations.
Fourth, my endeavor in writing this extensive tome on new technologies was to expose readers to the vast expanse of learning needed to keep pace with change and be ahead in the race to retool for the future. As far as investing is concerned, think of companies that would be able to ride the waves of change and make calculated bets on what you think will be key to survival and growth in the future.
At the end, family comes first. What I mean is a family called ‘homo sapiens’. As Einstein said: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
That religion to me, undoubtedly, is humanity.