I recently started watching the HBO sitcom, Silicon Valley. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a great parody of what life in the Valley taken over by socially awkward technology geniuses looks like. It’s pretty funny, and a little bit scary. In one episode, the Pied Piper team is presenting their file compression app demo at TechCrunch’s Disrupt Event. Every presenter claims his or her invention can “make the world a better place.” One of the inventions is a personalized heating system based on microwave technology. One of the judges says, “Is that even safe? I’m pretty sure that’s not safe.” The technologist insists its not harmful, and the benefits to lowering fuel bills will over shadow any negative effects it might have. This may be a scene from a sitcom, but the scary part is, there are influential people in high tech who actually DO think this will make the world a better place.
While I believe that the Internet of Everything (IoE) is inspired by those who wish to do good, I’m concerned that we could be headed for too much of a good thing. I’m not talking about the security issues and hacking concerns that we’ve all heard about and the industry is working to solve, I’m talking about what living in a world that relies so much on technology will do to our basic humanity. Will we lose our ability to interact and communicate on a human and face-to-face level? Will we lose our perspective of quality of life, as medical innovation allows us to replace parts and extend life in perpetuity – and what effect will that have on society as a whole?
Don’t get me wrong, Amkor, I love you guys, but Chad Jones, the keynote speaker intended to inspire attendees at this year’s Amkor Customer Symposium scared the #$&%* out of me. Truth be told, this keynote made me want to quit my job, throw away my computer and all my handheld devices, and start a food truck business.
Jones, CTO for Deep Information Systems, is known throughout the high tech industry as an entrepreneur, thought leader, and venture capitalist. His talk focused on his observations for the IoE, and he offered a seven-step approach to building complete IoE solutions: identify a business case; create a connected object; build the infrastructure; create applications; create business system integration; analytics and automation; and service and support. The goal, he says, is to “elevate human beings out of doing things that are mundane and tedious.”
“Technology implemented for technology sake is doomed to failure. It must serve a higher purpose,” he said. “Turning something on and off is boring. Connecting a fan with the window blinds to control room climate and lower bills, now that is interesting.” Jones offered a number of real world examples that have followed the steps and have been successful, such as the NEST Thermostat, which provides a gateway to your home via motion sensors that are gesture based, can tell how many people walk by, and controls the temperature based on how many people are in the home. It learns your patterns of behavior, which is a bit too invasive for me. He also talked about the evolution of wearable devices to implantable ones, and that we will soon see such things as implantable smartphones and cyber pills.
In his keynote, Jones talked about Ray Kurzweil, a director of engineering at Google. He is also an advocate for futurist and trans-humanist movements. Jones noted how on the mark some of Ray Kurzweil’s predictions have been so far: back in the 80’s predicting the demise of the Soviet Union thanks to technologies like cell phones and fax machines, that computers would beat the human brain by the year 2000, the explosive growth of the Internet, and the preferred mode of accessing it by wireless systems.
Will Kurzweil’s predictions continue to be similarly accurate? In the 2020’s, he predicts that most diseases will go way as nanobots become smarter than current technologies. Normal human eating can be replaced by nanosystems. The Turing test becomes passable. Self-driving cars begin taking over the roads, and people won’t be allowed to drive manually.
In the 2030s and 2040s, Kurzweil predicts that virtual reality will begin feel 100% real. We will be able to upload our mind/consciousness by the end of the decade. Non-biological intelligence will be a billion times more capable than biological intelligence. Nanotechnology “Foglets” will be able to make food out of thin air and create any object in the physical world.
Are there unintended consequences to what is technically feasible? This is something we need to seriously consider.
How will those of us who grew up in relative anonymity adapt to this connected future, even now, where our every search and purchase is tracked online, where our thermostats know our movements, where we can’t drive our own cars because it will be OUTLAWED, where we communicate soullessly through texts and chats, and real life experiences will be replaced by virtual ones? Where we don’t get to enjoy a dining experience because our nutritional needs will be met by “Foglets” (yuck!). Moreover, how can we ensure that the generations born into this world and don’t know life without the Internet will understand the importance of human connection? Will they accept as standard that their personal information is anything but? That every time they accept “terms and conditions” on a social media website, or take one of those “what Disney character are you” quizzes, they are providing data that can be used to manipulate their decisions? Will they come to rely so much on virtual intelligence that they won’t ever get to develop their critical thinking skills?
Is this artificially intelligent world we are creating really going to be a better place? Not if we let it take over our lives. We should not be serving our machines, they should serve us. Heck, I don’t even like artificial sweetener, never mind artificial intelligence. My food truck will serve REAL food, not nanosystems. And you are all invited to visit it in person. And the world will be a better place. ~ F.v.T.