No this is not a book review of the Alvin Toffler classic “FutureShock”, which I cannot claim to have read but maybe should take the time out to do so. But maybe it should be altered to be “FutureNow”, as it is driven by the sheer speed of change we seem to have entered. It seems we are entering a very uncertain time in our evolution as citizens of this planet. We see in our politics a global shift to the hard right. We see advances in technology designed to propel us into the future, while we look to old friends like our glutinous need for oil to build that future, maybe just political friends who see that future from our past. But one thing is certain things are starting to move every fast and it will be interesting as humans if we are able to decipher the meaning of those changes.
We live in truly amazing times where things once only envisioned in science fiction literature and film are now being brought to the economic forefront as reality. Robby Robot is no longer fantasy. What we knew as Hal in “2001: A Apace Odyssey” is now called Alexa. Roads once driven by humans are now being sold on future where they need not worry about human interaction with the road anymore. Retailers want to sell you something before you even know you want it and then they disguise it as convenience. All these things when I was a child seemed far off on the future, perhaps a future I would never see. But the seeds of that future now seem to be sprouting all around us.
It seemed just a few years ago we began discussing driver less cars. It was first a part of Google’s Project Moonshot,though many others were working on. Eric Schmidt was very excited about it talking about the positive impact it will have on humanity. And it will. No drunk drivers. In 2015 in the United States alone there were over 10,000 deaths due to drunk drivers. Not to mention injuries and other traffic accidents. Just think of road rage and the lessening of stress due to traffic congestion will be reduced because you will no longer be in control. I can read a book and better utilize my time when I do not have to sit behind the wheel. Will cars of the future have the same dimension of two seats in front and two in back? I can envision true cars of comfort. I may even take a nap. They may become true comforts of home with reclining chairs and flat screen TV’s.
It sounds thrilling but I do worry. When this first came to light 2-3 years ago we were talking technology that is 20 yrs out, but good old competition has a way of changing things. This week GM announced plans to start testing driver less vehicles in Michigan, Google and Uber are already testing. A company in Britain is testing self driving cab service and wants it operational within 2 years. We will start seeing this service in mass by the end of this decade. In the US in 2012 there were 233,900 cab drivers. You can see this extending to companies like UPS and FedEx. Garbage men? Gone. Delivery service s in general? Check out Amazon drone delivery. First one occurred last week. The jobs lost will be in the millions, it’s not hard data to find. There is no plan to help displaced workers, that is just not how government works. In the US we are not too good about planning ahead for these type of changes, but better at thinking about it after the fact
Robots have been in science fiction since the beginning of films. Originally crude and clumsy like Robby Robot but becoming more sophisticated with time. Usually taking a human form as in “Blade Runner” of the more recent “Ex-Machina”. Ultimately to be designed to be more human than human. Luckily we are not quite ready for that yet, we look at Robotics more in tune with replacing human tasks. For the Christmas Holidays CNBC showed an Amazon warehouse, not many humans in the picture, in fact I did not see any at all. All automated and run primarily by robots. I hear politicians constantly shout at the TV “bring manufacturing jobs back to the US”, this is usually followed by some threat. They are either insanely naive or bald-faced liars. Manufacturing jobs are coming back to the U S (there was even a recent article that stated this) they just don’t need any people.
We actually talk about A.I. these days, it has finally progressed to a more commercial form. This was one that I truly thougt was years away. But now all the big tech companies are talking about A.I.: Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Google, Facebook etc… We have venture’s like Paul Allen’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. There is no lack of money being thrown into this field. We have devices now designed to assist us, Alexa and Cortana. They are there to help answer our most pressing questions. We need not know the answer but only the questions to ask. The mere idea of A.I. is enabling a level of thought, the ability to have a level of reason and consequently be able to make decisions. Decisions that will no longer need to be made by an actual human. For some that me be liberating, I find it a tad bit on the depressing side. If you value self control this is a depressing development. If you don’t have an issue with that loss, you are enetring glorious times.
Underlying all these things will be the Cloud Infrastructure and Big Data. As the internet has grown the amount of data stored in the cloud The amount of data traffic surpassed 1 zettabyte per day in 2016. The ability to consume, analyze and act upon that data will feed all the technologies mentioned above and as we get better we will just be able to move that much faster in how we think and act. Every technology mentioned so far will have built-in sensory collectors and then be able to upload each and every activity done during the day. All stored and analyzed.
If I strike a somewhat negative tone it’s because I do worry. These ivy league economist are really good at what they do but one thing they seem to have no grasp of is the simple concept of time. When these changes come there will be a lot of displaced workers and the ability of the economy to create new jobs to place them in will be strained and challenged. Driver less vehicles will displace millions in the US alone and we have not even touched aviation or trains. As a society we will have to figure out what to do. How will we support those who are removed from the work force? How we measure unemployment in the US is a farce as we only measure by those collecting not those who have fallen off. The current rate,the current rate is 4.9% but real rate is 9.9%. In the coming years I expect the real to grow faster than the official. I have not even tackled retail checkers being displaced.
There will be positives. There will be a day when law enforcement will have no guns and therefore no need to shoot anybody, think micro-drone tasers and tiny drone surveillance cameras. Situations can be diffused from a control room and never have to endanger an officer or citizen/criminal. Work is being done to 3D print human organs so a kidney or liver transplant will be routine as they can be printed with your DNA. Alternate energies will continue to progress and kill the oil industry while providing cleaner air for our children and grandchildren. The question will it be in time?
The future has never looked more certain while our existence on this planet has never looked more uncertain. The greatest challenge will not be technological change but the speed of change and how capable are we of adapting to that change. As stated these changes will have exciting benefits but also perilous pitfalls. If you are smart and invest in these technological shifts you will get ahead,at least financially. If you relegate yourself to the sideline it will end up being a permanent placement. Once the train leaves the station if you are not on, you will be a foorptint in history.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann December 26, 2016