Thursday, October 27, 2016

Get Ready

My daughters, now in college, never knew a time when they couldn't communicate with anyone instantaneously. Molly, now 18, takes pride having the same birth year as Google. They have never in their memory seen a true technological change that so dramatically affects the world they live in. But they are about to.

The 50's and 60's saw a transportation revolution. The Interstate highway system made local and national car and truck travel feasible. The jet engine allowed short trips to faraway places. The shipping container made transporting a good, made anywhere in the world, cheaper than producing it.

We could have national and worldwide academic conferences. China became a superpower by shipping us low-cost goods. Dock worker jobs, the kind held by Archie Bunker, have morphed and shrunk, even as the number of imported goods has grown.

In the 90's we had a communications revolution. The cell phone kept us connected all the time. The home computer and the Internet gave us immediate access to the world's information and Google helped us sort through it.

It fundamentally changed how we interacted. No longer did we need to make plans in advance. Eventually we would have little need for encyclopedias, almanacs, maps, or physical media for music, photos and movies. Not to mention new types of companies and the transformation of how businesses could work with their employees and contractors spread across the world.

That brings us to today. We are at the brink, if it hasn't already started, of an intelligence revolution, the combination of big data, machine learning and automation. The initial obvious transformation will come from autonomous cars, which will change not only how we get from point A to point B but how we plan roads, businesses and where we live. Beyond that work itself will change as we will continue to automate an ever growing number of white collar jobs. As with every transformation, the world we live in will change in unforeseen ways, hopefully more good than bad.

I really look forward to watching these changes through my daughter's eyes, to see how this new society directly affects them as they start their working lives. And how their children will one day see an old-fashioned automobile with relics like foot pedals and a steering wheel and be shocked that their parents once drove cars themselves.


  1. Are you referring to what is going on in Pittsburgh? This made me remember that somewhere I read an amusing article claiming that a fundamental problem with the idea of autonomous cars is our inability to answer this question: you are speeding on the highway, in the midst of traffic, suddenly a toddler shows up in front of you, what do you do?
    And does it depend on how many people are in your car vs. how many toddlers are in front of you, et cetera?

    A quick search reveals the following links

    But we should also remember that previous "AI summers" were followed by "AI winters"...

  2. So far, the transportation revolution, and in particular the invention of the shipping container, has had the greatest impact on lives, by far.

    What's also interesting is that I don't think that the predictions made on the eve of the former two revolutions had substantial correlation with their actual main impact.

    Therefore, I am dubious about the predictions being made now about the impact of the coming AI revolution, assuming it will materialize. Perhaps we'll have something expensive that can be justifiably called a somewhat autonomous car in a few years, but I don't see any reason to believe that truly all-condition self-driving cars are something just around the corner.

  3. We are still in the early stages of the Gartner hype cycle of this so-called Intelligence and Big Data revolution. Wait for things to settle a bit before adjusting your expectations so that they are more in line with reality.

  4. Even pioneers of machine learning say that it is right now over-hyped.

    Self-driving cars are unlikely to happen in the next 5 years, there are still big issues. You cannot role out a car with a object recognition system that is not close to even 99% accuracy. Keep also in mind that our society is very good at finding ways to resist change.

    1. A self-driving truck just went 100 miles with the "driver" chilling out in the sleeper berth. There are cars that park themselves, that stay in a lane, that automatically hit the brakes. The way you get around society resisting change is that you do it subtly and quickly so that by the time society notices, it's too late.