How big a crisis?

Crisis are cyclical, and the global financial crisis dated 2008 left scars in our social tissue that are still far from healed. While the top 1% recovered almost entirely in a fairly quick fashion, the larger part of western population’s wages keep shrinking in terms of real purchasing power, now contributing to the rise of right wing populism, the resurgence of racism, white suprematism, sovranism and protectionism.

This scenario ignited a race against time where automation is challenged by the risk of authoritarian drifts within our society.

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Migration vs Automation

A lot of the western public debate is currently revolving around forms of protection to shield our economies from emerging ones.

The shield can take the form of a trade war, of a brexit, or less metaphorically, that of a wall at the border.

While we fight with our fear of migrants however, we are neglecting the rise of a much stronger workforce that is bond to eventually end the concept of work as we know it: Robots.

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Financial techlash

When 2018 started, not many analysers had realised that the “sentiment” around the I.T. industry was changing.
By the time the year ended, what happened was before everyone’s eyes:

  • Amazon went under scrutiny for the workforce treatment,
  • Facebook was investigated for the mess surrounding many recent elections, fake news and privacy invasion,
  • Google was criticised from multiple angles, from sexual misconduct, to cooperating with dictatorships, to links with controversial technological projects

While some of these points weren’t entirely new, they reached a new magnitude.
Under the changed climate, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix all suffered losses between 25% and 50% of their respective stock value. 

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Blockchain – A ledger

Blockchain is the technology behind bitcoin, however there’s growing awareness around the fact that it has an immense unexplored potential. It is essentially a public, non (easily) counterfeitable ledger, and just as it works for digital currencies, it could work to record any other transactions.

Have a cow you want to sell? Make a digital ID for the cow (name, colour, weight… whatever information is relevant). Make an md5, then butcher it in fourth and make an ID for each quarter that links to the original cow’s ID, then split it into smaller pieces down to your own steak at the supermarket. Each steak with it’s own ID that is the last leaf of a blockchain rooted to the original cow’s ID.
You will know exactly where it comes from, what farmer, how old it was, etc.

Want to buy a pair of jeans but don’t know if they are ethically sustainable? get a blockchain for the jeans linking to other blockchains for where the fabric was made, which country, what are the workers’ conditions, etc.

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Gnirut Test

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

probably Not Albert Einstein (often attributed to him tho)

The Turing Test was developed by Alan Turing in the 1950s. The idea was that one day a machine intelligence would be indistinguishable from that of a human.

Now: based on the quote above I would say that arguably measuring the intelligence of a computer by its ability to behave like a human… is also a little bit unfair!

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Top 10 ways in which 2019 will shape the future

Full disclaimer: …any of those “10 things that…” you see around is an attempt to score high on google… however in my defence the reason it is also a clear and itemized framework for ideas that may become full posts in future.
Also, there are some notable missing trends, for example the technological backlash that started in 2018, but that I see more like a phase, than something that will shape decades to come.
Finally: the order is entirely arbitrary.

Here we go!

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Influenced influencers

An influencer -by definition- is someone who is able to influence others.

Typically the word is used to signify an influence on opinions, however there was a perfectly suitable pre-existing word for this: Opinion Leader.

What is so different between an opinion leader and an influencer, that we chose two use two entirely different names and categories?

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The Big Good Old Brother

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

Benjamin Franklin, 1755

I was a supporter of this view until about 10 years ago. The world changed a lot since 1755, and also since I embraced this view. At one point I had to reconsider what I believe in.
Today, albeit with bitter awareness of the risks this imports, I think there’s no real alternative to accepting technocontrol in our lives. Although not in the current form.

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Hyperhumanity and biology

Information technology began evolving in the modern sense of the expression around the middle of the last century, and is still a work in progress today.

Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI) are undergoing early research stages today, and we should expect them to similarly develop through many years or decades.

The world as we know it -by then- might have changed extensively.

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Slow Democracy

In the current wave of populism, and revamped risk of totalitarianism, I came to wonder how can democracy survive. What I was after was a realistic path to success that would overcome the inherent slowness to reaction, to adoption of new technologies, the inertia to change.

Framing the question in those terms, made it crystal clear that populism -and even more so totalitarianism- are simply more agile in times of change. 

When this realization came to mind, considering the supertechnologies about to rise -like Robotics and A.I.– and the risks these technologies bring together with them if not handled promptly, for the first time I came to wonder: is saving democracy the way to go at this point in history?

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Neonomadism

I get to read from time to time about these hippy digital nomads that seem to be living the best life from some tropical beach. Rarely you get to bring the topic to a conversation and not see the distinctive look of jealousy appearing on someone’s face: tropical life, away from everyday traffic, commute and stress, flexible working hours… what’s not to like?

On the other hand, while this may sound like a dream-life, there are still many good reasons that keep us attached to our “homes”: not just our actual home, but our belongings, the nearby places we cherish like the local church, library or mall, our loved ones, and of course our jobs.

When you think of it this way, it is amusing what we call digital nomads: they only became such by making their home a digital place… it is actually their digital sedentism that enables them to be physical nomads!

The fact is: we are all digital migrants in the process of getting there… they are just a little ahead of the curve!

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Meta A.I.

We are used to think of AI as a futuristic technology from sci-fi movies, and at the same time we hear about AI being integrated more and more into our real world tools and devices.
It is pretty clear those two AI are not the same thing, in fact:

  • Narrow AI is real, it’s here today and is a non-sentient and single-purpose form of AI.
  • Wide, or General AI is not real or not yet real: at this point in time it only exists in sci-fi literature. It is normally described as multi-purpose, sentient, and often self-aware.

The idea of singularity, is normally associated with General AI, however I previously proposed the concept of microsingularity, as essentially a form of singularity that is related to a specific narrow AI.

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Hyperhumanity and time

Most of us live a symbiotic relationship with our mobile phones: it would be in many way a brain enhancer, but the data flow has a terribly slow bottleneck: our senses.
We use hand movements to provide an input to the device, and vision to acquire the output of our requests: typically reading.

Cutting out the middle man -our senses- would make for a portable computer that acquires inputs from our thoughts and returns information directly in the short term memory of our brains.

Scientists around the world are working on what is called a brain-computer interface, aiming to cut out the middle man -our senses- and ultimately developing a super-portable computer that acquires inputs from our thoughts and returns information directly into our brains.

This fascinating technology is at the very early stages of research, and it has the potential to open humanity to an unprecedented range of possibilities:

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Multisingularity

We describe as singularity the moment when A.I. will outperform human intelligence. The concept is of strong significance because if human intelligence is capable of creating A.I., anything that outperforms human intelligence should by definition be able to improve A.I., and this would cause an iterative chain effect that will bring A.I. to a demigod-like status in a relatively short time.

There is one catch tho: to define outperformance, or improvement over something, we should be capable of measuring and comparing it first. I am not really wondering if we are, I am arguing -instead- that it is completely impossible.

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Likeocracy

What is the social cost of a Like?

I wrote about Social Media before, but this post is about traditional online newspapers and how they are following the same footprints, using new techniques such as click baits and trying to “go viral”  in a bid to gain visibility or simply survive.

One meaningful example form the Guardian: Subsidised tenants are excluded from pool and gym in London block .

A bit of background here: in UK, at least 30% of the newly built apartments should by law be under the “social housing” scheme, with lower rent prices subsidised by tax payers.

Whatever is your take on the matter, this article will likely leave you angered at either:

a) the people who wants to use the subsidised pool and gym by bundling it with the social housing scheme and exploiting the system, or

b) the people who are supporting segregation and even a form of social cleansing, as proposed in the article.

This is the divide et impera at work again! Not because someone is conspiring in that direction: our Digital Media are simply tuned to rank something better if it causes a reaction, likes, shares, engagement!

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End of an era

Do you remember capitalism? Marx, the law of supply and demand, the requirement for scarcity, a workforce…

I don’t want to make this a technical talk on economics, and I probably don’t have the means, however it seems obvious that when industry builds new machines aimed to goods production, the reason is lowering the cost of production and raising the profit in one of two ways:

  • keeping the price unchanged, and therefore increasing the margin;
  • gaining a competitive advantage by lowering the price, and therefore selling more units

What happens, tho, if robots become capable of doing any physical labour? And no, I am not talking about science fiction…

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Digital Divide et Impera

Divide et Impera is an old latin saying. It was -over a thousand year ago- a very successful war tactic in which the enemies were divided, pushed against each other, weakened as a result, and ultimately more easily conquered.

Zooming in to the last decade or so, internet first and social media later tweaked ever so slightly the concept of human relationships, and in the process they ignited a revolution of our our communication system in such a way that we are now giving a new modern meaning to that old adage.

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A.S. – Artificial Stupidity

We spent decades considering the possibility that artificial intelligence may pose a threat to humanity and our survival as a species.
I always dismissed these fears of a real-life Skynet with a very simple comparison: did we exterminate Chimpanzees? No: We didn’t, simply because they didn’t pose a threat to us, so we decided to just let them be.

A truly intelligent artificial intelligence, past the so called “singularity”, more intelligent than us and probably capable of evolving at a faster rate than us, would probably see humanity as a non threat, just about like we see Chimpanzees.

In the last few years, as AI studies evolve, it became clear however that before we will achieve a truly intelligent AI, much, much before then, we will be able to create AS: artificially stupid machines that may actually be a danger to human survival. Continue reading “A.S. – Artificial Stupidity”

Hardware Softwarization

Is a building still a building if no one built it, but rather… printed it?

Apis is a startup based in San Francisco that is hitting the news for having 3d-printed a small house in 24hours. 3D print is destined to lower hugely the costs of buildings -and virtually anything else-  and as a result to revolutionize the way we think of our hardware, of our objects, and therefore the sanctuary called a “home” where we like to collect them all.

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