Thursday, January 9, 2014

Folding Fitted Sheets Are The Next Apocalypse

Fifty years ago Sci-Fi master Isaac Asimov took a stab at what the world would look like in 50 years. He did an excellent job. Of course he didn't get it all right--but come on, how could he have? He nailed a bunch of stuff (self-driving cars, robots ... if not very good ones, sight and sound communication, and so on).

Predicting the future has actually gotten harder and harder: what futurists do today is, more or less, 'predict the present' (Driverless cars!) and just make it moreso (we'll all live in favelas!). But, really, with the exception of "spaceships and laser swords" space-opera people have more or less given up looking 50 or 100 years ahead.

Today, The Omnivore, is going to aim for 20.

Predictions In General
One of the best predictions The Omnivore was ever privy to was that "in the near future" the concept of "going online" would go away. This was back in the days of dial-up--before the web, even, and it was a great call. Today, the concept of the-computer-being-off has more or less gone away in The Omnivore's household.

Here is how predictions generally work:
  1. Taking an existing trend and blowing it out of all proportion. Today we have tattoos? Tomorrow we'll have surgically conjoined hipsters!!
  2. Deciding nothing more can be done in THAT front and we've hit the 'end of history' there ... There will never be a flying car.
  3. Throwing out bullshit like Star Trek teleporters (that however quantumly interesting are not "50 years off"). We'll NEVER build an AI.
  4. Make an actual prediction that is both sensible and interesting and not pure extrapolation.
We're going to look at a timeline for something that is very, very likely coming--but not here YET. Here is your future time-line:

The Next 20 Years: Fitted Sheets And The End Of The Economy

  • 5 YEARS (2019) Google creates a 500+ qbit Quantum Cloud which allows is based on a cluster of Quantum Computers that, due to their massively parallel atomic architecture allow them to be billions and billions of times faster than conventional computing. This has important implications for sorting through unstructured data in ways that are unimaginable today. 
  • 15 YEARS (2034) Molecular storage and 2.5 Terabit-second (that's 7 Blu-Ray movies a second) Wi Fi become ubiquitous. Any device can access an ultra-powerful virtual Quantum Cloud machine (fortunately, due to quantum encryption the Internet doesn't collapse as an engine of commerce). The age of "stats" for computers is over. Storage is 'unlimited' and processor speed is no longer measured in any meaningful numbers for civilian day-to-day computing.
  • Every device people own is now the "same" virtual computer instance (tablets, desktops, phones, cameras, etc.)--all of them reference the same virtual machine.
  • 20 YEARS (2039) Expert systems pass the Turing Test with ease in everyday situations (virtual people are required to announce themselves as such). Due to advances in small motors, battery life, and, and electronic sensors, robots are now capable of folding a fitted sheet. This is the End of The Economy.

Why Is That The End Of Everything?
The reason why ubiquitous QC in a virtual machine architecture is the end of the economy is that it, combined with robots that we more-or-less have today, will be able to accomplish all the jobs in the service economy. If a robot can fold a fitted sheet, it can maintain your lawn, clean pool, take out your trash, detail your car (inside and out), and clean your toilet. It may not look like C3PO--in fact, it probably won't--the same way we all figured out we didn't really want video phones* (who uses FaceTime?)--I suspect we want really want bipedal mechanical servants. Things that look more like R2D2 will work just perfectly. Call it R2Drone2.

They can stock shelves faster than any human. They can deliver mail, groceries, and you (in a self-driving car), in a less error prone manner that is still eerily pleasant to interact with. These things will be able to deliver goods to your house rapidly--not just by air (Amazon's drones) but by road as well for heavier items (imagine something like a cross between a Segway and a Centaur). Shopping for groceries online has historically failed but there's no reason to think it'll fail forever.

People may still go to malls for the experience--but the drug store? It'll come to you. Fast food restaurants can be entirely automated--including cleaning. Buying a car? It can drive itself out to you for a test ride.

All these things--shaving razors, any electronics, even bars of soap--can have 'tracking tags' that are coded to the buyer at purchase time making hijacking and robbing a drone difficult.

The end of the service economy will be kicking out the first leg of the 3-Legged Stool.

What's the second?

The End of Knowledge Workers.

The End of Knowledge Workers
Imagine that you are some business guy and you want a program to "help you trade stocks" (the fact that millions of these already exist is besides the point for a moment). You fire up ProgX v1.0 and type in 'WEB APP TO HELP ME TRADE STOCKS.' All English.

The intelligent agent is capable of understanding most of that perfectly. It provides at prototype that can accomplish basic trades in a few seconds. It can figure out what to hook up to by sifting terabytes of unstructured data (essentially reading books, analyzing existing programs, and so on).

The user then, in real time, can prototype the application. This is done in English. It produces real, usable code--with security and redundancy and whatever else built in. Think that can't happen? A powerful Quantum Computer is several billion billion times faster than anything that exists today. It can fake 'creativity' as a dynamic emergent behavior the same way that modern chess programs make grand-masters think there is a human behind the scenes guiding it.

They can 'implement' intuition as a product of Big-Data pattern matching. It can understand natural language, so long as it is in a reasonably specialized context, as well as a human.

These agents, powered by the immense processing capability of QC, would be capable of inspecting current work to produce Project Management reports without ever holding a meeting or even requiring input from whatever workers remain.

They can do anything a receptionist can do other than provide a human presence and do it better and multi-task. They can manage at, at least, a mid-level. If you consult? They can provide a first draft of a communications client-centered deck by referencing a vast library of examples and adhering to best-practices almost religiously.

They can even deviate from 'perfection' enough to give the work some 'soul.'

They can make flying a plane as easy as driving a car is today: sure, if the computers all fail you'll be in a ton of trouble--but if critical systems all fail in a plane you're in trouble anyway.

They can diagnose people better than a human triage nurse and they can perform routine medical procedures better than a doctor. Will we still want doctors and nurses? I think so--but what if that's really expensive? If the safety factor is there, I bet the "next generation" won't pay more than they have to.

Will they replace you? Probably not: in 20 years you may already have been retired: they'll get rid of the old guys first.

This Time Is Different
While the ATM-pocalypse didn't eradicate bank tellers and there are several potential models (mostly around societal backlash) that could keep human workers well employed the Quantum Age is, The Omnivore asserts, fundamentally different.


The reason why QC--computing power expanded beyond anything approachable today is such a big deal is because we can, today, see the basic outlines of what it can do: there is a foundation laid the same way that early flight could grasp the possibilities of air travel--but not see super sonic jet-liners or Delta Airlines.

Today we have interconnected online data--petabytes of it--in an unstructured hard to understand (for a machine) format but we've done the hard part: we've put massive amounts of human knowledge into electronic format. What comes next is that, well, quantum leap--the next step-wise evolution, that takes the existing structure and multiplies it.

That's what mechanized industry did for the Industrial Revolution and it's what QC will do to the service industry.

* Except for grandparents who want to see their grand-kids--THEY want video phones. Why do you think the User Interface for Skype is so horrible? It's because they decided that anything more than ONE BUTTON for CALL MY KIDS was too much for their premier video-phone user base. Similarly, some people will want "humanoid robots" in the future. They will be the Terminator Skeletons for Real Dolls 3000 ... Yeaaaahhh. Sorry: I know you didn't really want to go there.

No comments:

Post a Comment