Monday, June 6, 2016

REVIEWS by Mary Brenner
The Industries of the Future  by Alec Ross, 2016 and  Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau, 2005        

We are looking at a future of technological change that is coming so rapidly that we can hardly grasp the contents of changes, let alone prepare for the consequences.  In tomorrow’s world, that is next Wednesday’s, we longer face communism versus capitalism, but openness, versus closed political, economic and social systems. 

The US has seen an increase in economic inequality despite overall economic growth.  Industries of the future will have more broadly distributed centers of innovation and wealth creation.  Whereas, most wealth derived from innovation in computing is sucked into Silicon Valley, the future will find more broadly distributed centres of innovation and wealth creation:  the growth of unlikely technical centers in Kenya ( with the M-PESA banking system using cell phones) and Apps4Africa that by-pass traditional economic establishments of the West; of Estonia the little country that could, rising from the ashes of Soviet domination to by-pass earlier industrial economic development and zoom directly to a highly computerized, integrated innovative digital center for global investment and cutting edge robotics. With the fastest internet and fiber-optics country-wide, on-line voting, taxes, and health records; China outdoes Amazon with Alibaba, a non-warehouse retailer; India has mega-centers of highly trained technicians serving the world; even in remote villages, the most repressed Arabic women can be on-line entrepreneurs. 

New businesses with new technological applications grow like weeds in the most unlikely places – in the cracks in the pavements of the old dying economies.  They bring big challenges to middle classes and western world and have the potential to create ever increasing inequities between those who have and have-not access to the internet.  

The shared nature of the internet creates opportunities AND competition. 

In the book Radical Evolution, Garreau describes mind blowing advances in the GRIM (GENOMICS, ROBOTICS, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, AND CODIFICATION OF MONEY/USE OF MEGADATA).  Just understanding some of these developments is challenging, but the biggest shock to us now will be coping with the ethical, economic, social and political implications.  Globalization is an old issue, as is loss of jobs due to off-shore manufacturing.  Industrial robotics already de-humanize industrial production and turn inside-out the impacts of low-cost labors migration, immigration issues of other issues of globalization only recently being fully felt.  Computers will soon take over professional level jobs in accounting, legal areas, medical areas, health care, elderly care, and more and more of areas of human interactions.  As the AI becomes increasingly able to interact with the environment, the robotics will cause an upheaval comparable to the industrial revolution only on a much SHORTER time scale. 

Such changes are the impetus for the technology sector’s endorsement of a guaranteed income, as more and more, humans will not be needed as employees. 

The challenges – will cloud robotics enable ‘learning’ by robots?  Will nanobots, smaller than a grain of sand, have military implications, increase international tensions?  Will developments in AI reach a singularity (the point when the AI surpasses human intelligences?  How will we adjust to the loss of over ½ of US jobs, to falling median income?

With developments in Genomics will we take the great advances in cures and disease prevention and birth defect avoidance with the potential of artificially enhancing humans, producing super babies? Will there be a gulf between super-humans and non-evolved or non-enhanced others?

And what will income mean with the codification of money?  Beyond the PayPal, or e-Bay models of secure exchange of goods and money, is the new mobile phone payments systems of “SQUARE”, Googler wallet, Apple Pay, Stripe; systems that eliminate the middleman fees for accounting services and provider interchange fees to credit card companies and can be locally implemented in secure non-bank money exchanges that will ultimately eliminate the international banks through distributed technologies. 

The computer-enabled sharing economy of AirB&B, Uber, ZainZap (Kuwait) can put small local traditional operators out of business, provides no safety-net or worker protection, shifting the costs of support to society, and shifts the incomes to the giant computer centres of Silicon Valley.

The codification of money brings on a demise of money as we know it.  The Cryptocurrency or digital currency will take over as a decentralized digital system, by-passing banks and national control.  The Bitcoin and other cryptographic money systems operate on a technological innovation of ‘block chain’ – a series of computer instructions that allow for a public address in the system, with secret private key.  The public ledgers ensure reliability of transactions with complete permanent record of all transactions.  The private key ensures security.

What next – no more banks!  How vulnerable will system be to hacking?  Extension of block chain protocol for transfer of values in law accountancy, investment, etc.  It can be a platform for many transactions, reducing friction in business and removing layers of intermediates.  

So much for digital advances.  What about the congruent industry of weaponization of code?  Viruses, computer system take-overs and hostage attacks can close down or slow down government, the economic sectors.  Thus huge industries in blackmail, and protection against cyber attacks.

Although the Radical Evolution book is older (2005), the major point made in that book that is not emphasized enough is the rapidity of increasing developments in technology.  The geometric rate of increase in technological development and changes are beyond our ability to adjust to, to monitor, to evaluate, to prepare for, to govern in any way. 

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