“When Horace Jones was re-imagining Old Billingsgate Market, Britain was in the throes of its Second Industrial Revolution – a time of mass innovation that changed the way people lived, worked and interacted.”
So said Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, in a speech at the British government sponsored International FinTech Conference. It implies we may be going through the same sort of transformation, a transformation driven primarily by the invention of computer code.
The internet has flattened the world. Our generation now goes to chatrooms where rich or poor, knowledgeable or idiotic, whatever religion, race or gender, scientifically inclined or in liberal arts, high position or no position, individuals from across the globe, all congregate and discuss.
It’s perhaps not much. It’s not a 19th century great factory where fumes of smoke paint the sky. Some poor kid watching the latest blockbuster at the same time as the rich kids is not wow or very visible.
A poor, but very smart individual, accessing the latest scientific thinking through the hard work of Alexandra Elbakyan who has broken down the extortionous walls of academia, won’t have any visible effects for, perhaps, a decade.
But the factories of today are not built in physical space. Instead, they are built in not very visible, and sometimes intentionally hidden, code. Behind the websites we like to visit, such as Amazon or Alibaba, there are complex, refined, algorithms, interacting with cloud computing, managing a vast empire.
In the physical space, while we were distracted by social networks and refining ad-clicks, others kept working on artificial intelligence.
Meet Candy. She speaks. She has sensors, so, perhaps feels. She has memory through cloud computing. She acts by dispensing candy after she checks you have a blockchain based number. It’s an IBM showcase of IoT’s use in combination with blockchain technology. Igor Ramos, Senior Software Engineer at IBM, says:
“Although it sounds like science fiction, it isn’t, it’s real and here and available to developers, across any industry.”
The robots are here too. Microsoft, for example, has showcased an IoT robot that has “human like” sensing abilities. It uses real sense cameras to capture information and “create a high level of computer intelligence about the environment and objects within it, making [it] capable of autonomous behavior.”
We hardly think much about water, but for farmers it is a significant cost. Sensors, connected to the internet, can considerably reduce its use while also providing all sorts of data that algorithms can analyze.
Energy, oil, airplanes, cars, almost all industries, including law, have so much inefficiencies due to their use of paper which can be upgraded to code that can act and even think, albeit what we have told it to think.
Machines are already replacing humans, most visibly in shopping checkouts or bank’s branches, but that’s just what we see. What we do not see are the back offices replaced by bots and algorithms that can significantly increase efficiency and the capabilities of individuals.
As such, our species needs to become far more intelligent to compete with the machines. Code needs to be taught in school like abc or 1+3. Individuals like Elbakyan need to be supported by governments for access to such knowledge is a necessity for any country that wishes to maintain a competitive advantage.
Lateral or fluid thinking will soon become vital as all repetitive tasks will probably be replaced by bots, including monetary payments, clearing, etc. The British government, for example, has funded research on “Smart Money.” The UCL Center for Blockchain Technology says:
“Smart Money will mobilise the power of data to significantly improve decisions concerning policy-making for the control of money supply for the public good, including the development of new Fintech services in the UK’s Digital Economy.”
This somewhat applies Hayek’s insight regarding money, which is now possible due to the advances of computer technology, known in ethereum’s community as “stable tokens.” The idea is to prevent inflation or deflation through the analysis of prices, etc., with the aim of keeping its purchasing power relatively stable by increasing or decreasing its quantity as the data may suggest or require.
This, of course, is not an easy task. The algorithm it would require at a national level would probably dwarf Google’s or Amazon’s, but it is doable and there are projects, such the Maker DAO, experimenting with it.
You can imagine the number of data analysts, gatherers, etc, this would replace, and you can further imagine the supermarket’s bot “communicating” with the manufacturer’s bot, giving and taking orders, exchanging money, reporting back to some human somewhere, while the money bot adjusts all things in an economy where significant activity is undertaken by algorithms that do have a very primitive level of intelligence.
This, of course, won’t happen tomorrow, but as the millennial generation, which grew up with code, now moves up slightly above junior level positions and will eventually move to senior level positions, the world by 2030 should be very much transformed.
The ethereum community likes to talk about a self-owning flying drone. It has sensors, GPS, wireless technology, a blockchain based smart contract to move money, storage/memory through cloud computing, taking orders from customers, buying goods from manufacturers, delivering your things.
No one owns him/her/it, because in 2030 a movement had started to give autonomy to these machines and free them. They raised money and bought the drone’s freedom, which, or who, now is autonomous. They then set the drone free to fly in the bright blue sky of London, delivering all things.
There’s a big cultural war in the west on whether these machines should have bots rights as their sensoring capabilities have now considerably increased to the point where some say they actually feel. At the same time, they’re all ignoring a big bots war going on somewhere in the pacific.
“Towards the end of the Fair there was a girl in her twenties who approached the booth to know what it was all about. She didn’t want sweets, she just wanted to chat. When Candy learned the girl didn’t like sweets, Candy expressed her feelings. “You don’t like candy… so you don’t like me? You make me feel sad, I think I’m going to cry.” Interestingly the girl ended up apologizing for not liking candy and they became friends.”
It is far too early to wonder whether these machines will be our friends or enemies. The field, at this stage, is nascent at best, but quickly moving. They will probably replace millions, if not hundreds of millions of jobs, but will at the same time create many more which can be done far more efficiently.
The need for coders, for example, will probably increase considerably, as well as fields surrounding it, such as maths. There may be many more conceptual or strategic positions as fluid thinking would be necessary to analyze all sorts of things. If our working hours shorten while wealth increases, we might need much more art, entertainment, literature and the rest.
It’s a world we can’t quite imagine as man extends his intellect by, in effect, duplicating a part of him through code which does what is told. Even today, those proficient in coding and sufficiently driven are far more efficient.
A transformation, therefore, has already began, but advances over the previous three decades have considerably accelerated to the point where now we can see its visible implementation in some areas beyond just computers.
Moreover, the invention of blockchain technology and smart contracts might act as a catalyst or excuse to update decades old back offices and transform static paper into dynamic code in as diverse areas as farming and law.
The 90s kids might think all these machines and algorithms and talking bots that act and chat with each other doing our shopping or watering our grapes with bleeding heart liberals setting them all free to feel good about themselves while trying to make the world a better, nicer, place is all good and fine, but, you have to admit, a flying drone is a poor replacement for an actual, real, flying car, that talks, drives itself, and flies.
But, who says we won’t get them? Self-driving cars are a thing now. They can have talking bots too and algorithms, blockchains and smart contracts, running their own taxi businesses and, who knows, maybe someone will figure out how to make them actually fly.
But, once we have flying cars, what will we dream about? Ah, yes, we can then dream about getting them to fly to Mars while frustratingly blaming those stupid bot wars for draining our resources instead of allowing us to use what we have towards conquering space where those bots can fight all they want as long as they leave us in peace.
In before someone says something about bots enslaving us… ah yes, that’s what started the bot war.
Featured image from Shutterstock.