Month: December 2013

Future Robotic Scenarios

Will the development of robotics be pulled in different directions by the following scenarios, all playing out in the future? If so, which scenario will eventually dominate?

State-sponsored virtual colonialism

One or more visionary nations recognise the dangers of their citizens being reliant on trans-national intelligent networks with remote peripherals (robotic applications).

The State invests heavily in federal intelligent networks and exploits such networks to ensure its citizens prosper i.e. disproportionately reap the benefits in future global trade. The networks are designed to preserve the power of the State, even over the power of the network users. National strength usurps the progress of global governance institutions.

As an aside, the US commitment to massive annual defense spending, (fuelling at least some of its $17T Debt) might provide suitable momentum for significant investment in a federal intelligent network, par excellence.

Rise of the entrepreneur

As technological progress changes economic variables and erodes multi-national corporate power, job growth comes from people everywhere using technology to embrace and exploit advanced technologies in diverse ways.

Entrepreneurs and their robotic systems innovate and compete against other entrepreneurs and their robotic systems, regardless of country of residence, perhaps using one open-access intelligent network. The network dominates any State or proprietary networks operating internationally.

The entrepreneurs affiliate with global communities of interest, to some extent reinforced by global governance institutions.

A world of corporate clubs

Multi-national corporates exploit technology to place increasingly more wealth in the hands of their specific shareholders. The corporates control the development and deployment of technology to influence individual or regional government policies to their advantage. Innovation becomes mostly proprietary intellectual property.

People increasingly rely on corporate brands to run their lives, job or no job. National and global governance institutions influence the non commercial aspects of people’s lives.

See also http://www.kurzweilai.net/humanity-in-jeopardy by Prof Max Tegmark of MIT for an interesting presentation of future possibilities.

Skills and Dreams

People lived a subsistence lifestyle for thousands of years, progressively moving to urban cities and now super-sized cities (think; Shanghai, Istanbul, Karachi, Mumbai, Moscow, Sao Paulo, Beijing etc).

Those moving to the cities sought a higher standard of living for themselves and their families. What no one could foresee was how demand for highly-skilled jobs would outpace the urbaners’ ability to sufficiently upskill. That ‘upskill gap’ has probably always been there. But arguably, it’s now accelerating.

The immigrant forefathers, sometimes made massive sacrifices; risking life and limb to cross foreign borders, enduring bandits & storms, sometimes battling immigrant prejudice when they did arrive in the cities. They held high hopes for their future generations, thinking, if I can just make it to the big city, they will be ok.

Now it seems too few people remember, or care about those exodus sacrifices. Family communication in the fast-paced big cities is now sporadic and sometimes stressful. The wider family may meet up infrequently and live quite different life values, even within the same city. Meanwhile, future generations born into the urban sprawl, don’t realise the consequences of the widening upskill gap. Or just how vital obtaining advanced skillsets are to earn the money to live in today’s super-cities.

Rationally, those that don’t obtain advanced skillsets should plan to return to subsistence living in the countryside to enjoy a more simple, less stressful, less materialistic lifestyle.

Of course, at present, lots of ‘minimum wage service jobs exist in the cities. However, many are likely to be robo-sourced in time, as workers find it cost-prohibitive to live in the cities (in ever-diminishing supplies of social housing) and as the cost of robo-sourcing reduces over time (with service-availability hours increasing to 24/7, without scheduling availability problems, or overtime wage rates).

In the UK, local councils now re-locate social housing tenants out of the city while big city house prices force many more to live outside the city. They do this out of financial necessity. However, one important thing missing in this transfer is the UK politicians explaining the wider reality to people. And instead patronising them as if they are children who can’t handle the truth.

Strategy and Artificial Intelligence

Strategy as a subject is probably as old as human warfare i.e. as old as the human race itself.

What will (business and military) strategy become, as AI rises in prominence (between now and 2045 say)?  It’s quite likely businesses with access to Big Data and superior analytics will compete with opportunist businesses – one generating its strategy informed by data (including the power of active social networks), the other designing the future from zero (relevant) historical data, but using best-practice forecasting systems.

Strategy as a subject might diverge and explore these 2 directions. But eventually converge again, as AI reaches a point where AI strategy supersedes human strategy. My prediction is that we won’t judge the timing of that turning point, only the result.

The Internet of Things (1)

The Internet of Things is an exciting innovation, currently underway with the convergence of; Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), cloud computing, Internet everywhere, sensor improvements and as new product sales are made to consumers & businesses.

However, when The Internet of Things becomes an affordable, readily-available option for home owners and renters, what will that do to alter; product pricing, human pattern conditioning, choice conflicts and process reliability? To elaborate;

Product pricing

We can reasonably expect the prices of consumer durable goods to rise, as a price premium is added for items that are ‘intelligent network-compatible’, compared to the ‘non-compatible’ version. It’s likely that if companies sell ‘alliance type’ compatibility (compatibility amongst a limited range of alliance brand products only), that price would likely operate at a discount to fully compatible (open standard) products.

Human pattern conditioning

Intelligent network-compatible devices are less likely to push consumers out of their familiar patterns and comfort zones. Being a coach potato is already made easily, thanks to remote-controller devices.

In addition, simply having an array of possible combinations to choose from, such as random settings on home lighting and music devices, doesn’t mean consumers will necessarily choose regular variety, or plan ahead.

Choice conflicts

Where two or more people live in a dwelling with intelligent network-compatible devices, then reconciling their individual preferences in the collective setting may be problematic. This is made more complicated with regular changes in tenants, or with visitors (external tradespeople, disabled visitors, adult visitors with children or pets etc).

On a related note, will children growing up in the World of The Internet of Things confuse demand (the intelligent system-compatible devices constantly configuring to provide them with perfect service) and supply (parental choice and discipline), effectively confusing access rights and ownership rights?

 Process reliability

The process of daily living becomes more complex, as more Intelligent network-compatible devices are added. That said, the ‘master control system’s’ job is to automatically manage that task. However for the home occupants, what will give them ongoing ‘audit assurance’ on the reliability of the master control system & all the various intelligent network-compatible devices connected to it? Do the occupants blindly trust the system? Or still double-check that things are working properly and not sending out false-positive readings. Do the occupants find they need to install a further system to watch and test the master system?

In addition, for people living alone and using password-protected control systems, what happens when they die, or become chronically sick. Will their systems soldier on regardless?

Finally, what will The Internet of Things do for power relationships in the workplace?

Prisons, Courtrooms, Hospitals, Schools and Transport Companies will want those in control (not their charges) to maintain control over the things that affect professional quality, sanctions and access. For legal or political reasons, they may also want human accountability from appointed managers, with the control system operating under their judgement, not its own.

Idea Entrepreneurship & Robotics

With future advances in intelligent networks and their peripherals (robotics), will the people most valued economically in a society cease being energy-field owners/entertainment celebs/hedge fund managers? And instead be the entrepreneurs – those who can generate and sell brilliant ideas (to the intelligent networks and between each other), in return for goods and services?

If so, smart governments would be wise to plan ahead. They can introduce policies that actively encourage the creation of a nation of designers and inventors – challenge everyone to relentlessly practice their design and inventive skills to benefit themselves & the nation (idea entrepreneurship). Then eventually, with the rise of intelligent networks (self-organising), people will have something of value to trade –  the more brilliant the human idea, the greater the resulting payment from the intelligent system.

It’s reasonable to assume that Intelligent networks & their peripherals will eventually do the engineering/commercialisation (simulation, translation, prototype fabrication, scale production and marketing work), leaving people to add value through imaginative design.

Universities, R&D Institutes, Corporate skunkworks & garage inventors (including the maker movement) – they all deserve accolades far in excess of their current image in society. Smart governments will find ways to foster innovation, not just in the ivory towers & skunkworks, but in the channels that link ivory tower innovation with garage invention too (who says university academics are the only ones with good ideas and why can’t the gov funding incentives change to reward research cultures to innovate themselves?).

Design solves inflexibility problems, environmental pollution problems, over-crowding problems, awareness & perception problems and security problems. It both creates opportunities and exploits them. Even politics at its heart is about clever design. Although sadly, too many politicians aren’t clever designers – leading by example and keeping their policy-makers on their toes.

Of course design is hard, taking energy, commitment and persistence. However, as everything else gets automated, hard design is our future as a species. Food for thought?

The march and the tune of Robotics

Our perceptions of robots come from computer game constructs, old sci-fi movies/TV programmes or kids toys.

Perhaps too often, our imagination and perceptions are constrained by our language. Does a robot need to be atoms rather than bits? On one level, will the term ‘robot’ become subsumed into just ‘intelligent network’ with some networks have physical peripherals operating remotely on a periodic basis? And even change its identity between atoms and bits over time? Does this matter?

Can a robot be 100% organic – perhaps existing at nano scale inside a non robotic creature and does that give it a separate identity regarding legal liability say?

When does a human-assisted tool (such as current surgical robotics) become an autonomous robot, operating according to the Asimov ‘laws’ of robotics? Will our grandchildren be composed partly of cyber materials and inherit from us our digital signature, as much as our genetical material?

What happens to the academic disciplines of economics, accounting, strategy & marketing when intelligent network robots get involved – do they redefine that theory in profoundly different ways, eliminating concepts like ‘economies of scale’? Should we value and measure (fundraising) impact differently if it’s from human intervention versus machine intervention?

Should corporate law apply to intelligent networks in the same way it applies to corporate entities? In the next 30 years, would ‘intelligent network’ peripherals govern us better than we can govern ourselves? And can we afford to wait that long?

What are your thoughts?

Job Creation and Entrepreneurship

Every federal and local government wants sustainable economic growth (SEG) and zero unemployment (ZU). The question is, do enough of us want those things for ourselves and our families? And are enough of us prepared to sacrifice more to upskill?

To elaborate, in my view, providing an effective safety net in a society is noble and desirable to help those people who cannot work, often through no fault of their own. However, others in society shouldn’t make deliberate life choices, then look to Governments to create jobs and services to support risky life choices. That said, holding governments accountable for creating positive environments for business growth is exactly where voters should give governments.their attention.

On a related note, how do we get celebrities endorsing business growth in their home towns and home countries -making it hip & sexy?  Nelson Mandela aside, celebs continue to hold people’s attention and respect, in ways that politicians don’t. To get a faster change in social attitude, we therefore could do with a critical mass of celebrities (who care deeply about their country and its future) to promote some retro values – thrift, saving for a rainy day, teamwork, respect for inventiveness, a strong work ethic and philanthropy where it matters. And pride from the contribution you make. Not the bling you buy with that contribution, to perhaps flaunt in the faces of those less well off.

While TV still retains a sizable audience, can reality TV shows start weaving some of this ‘retro values’ discussion into the celebrity challenges, chat shows & celebrity conversations? Can celebs tweet or post new discussions in online chat-rooms to fuel the debate?

Returning to SEG & ZU, in my view, each adult needs to adopt a mindset of lending their personal support to achieving SEG and ZU, if those things are ever going to happen.  And view their elected governments more like sports referees, stadium support staff and team cheerleaders. Not additional players entering the field, while fellow players on the team choose to sit quietly on the bench.

Unfortunately too many people don’t embrace their own destinies and act together to build a great nation. They then wonder why the standard of living in their country keeps declining! Symbols of such decline might include any mix of the following indicators (not an exhaustive list): long run costs rising faster than long run wages, the interest bill on the national debt not reducing, core infrastructure in the country declining at a rate faster than its investment, record levels of youth unemployment, persistent or rising crime levels, rising numbers of foodbank centres and increasing numbers of people sleeping rough on the streets.

So what’s a solution? Build your marketable skills for your own reasons. Not because a government or a large company tells you to. Start a micro-business, a charity, a school, a software-as-a-service company. Become an amateur inventor in the maker movement or a 3D printer programme designer. Aim to serve the ‘long tail’ of the market (global niches) e.g. making disaster-relief products. Adapt teaching content for non mainstream styles of learning. Learn games design. Provide advisory services that turn the complex into the simple for people. Worst case, if future job creation comes from entrepreneurship and future entrepreneurs rely heavily on online systems and automated processes, then if your country doesn’t create a critical mass of such entrepreneurs, then the jobs that do get created will accrue to help another nation’s sustainability, not yours.

Entrepreneurship’s purpose is to save the day, grab the glory and create jobs for itself.