My coauthors and I often sit around talking about extremely deep, intellectual or philosophical issues in our constant endeavor to apply the combined decades of our worldly wisdom against the toughest problems of our generation. While partaking in this exercise of futility (often based on the dearth of substance but not opinion), we eventually reach a point where the three of us ruefully admit we don’t have an answer. Inevitably, one or all of us reach for our mobile, digital appendage (also known as a cell phone) to GTS (Google That Stuff) since we have the world’s entire collection of information at our cyborg fingertips. While none of us look like the Terminator, we are even more powerful than Arnold.
Today’s cell phones are more capable than even the best military supercomputers of the late 90s and early 00s. (Note: My coauthors are either rolling on the floor laughing or asking if I co-opted someone else to write this as technology is certainly not my area of expertise.) We’re in the early stages of establishing a global neural network based on the information network brought to us via the advances in computing capability, the Internet and more advanced capabilities such as machine learning. So the question naturally turns to the future of humans as machines learn to do everything we do today. Self-driving cars are just a blink away. Computers continue to beat humans at intellectual games like chess and Go. Data scientists and programmers regularly develop code that allows deep learning so that machines can learn to interpret Skype conversation by simply writing a couple lines of code and exposing reams of information in multiple languages overnight. If you don’t believe any of this, just Google Watson and be amazed…he’s pretty cool.
So what’s the point of this post. Machine learning and computing power, like and tool since fire or the wheel, can be used for good or evil. Think about the possibility this capability can have for transportation, medicine, education, economics, military combat, agriculture, public utilities, etc. It could lead to a permanent solution for poverty, hunger, and illness. It could also be used in a much darker way. The other concern I have has to do with jobs. This digital data revolution differs from any other revolution before. Although it provides us the ability to free people up from drudgery, I personally don’t see an end to the things machines can do so jobs we currently consider human only (psychology, financial advisor, teacher, etc) are also at risk. Maybe we will find a good way to use all that free time…maybe not. Just somehthng to think about.
I’ll be back.