Have you noticed recently that there are some pretty remarkable technological advancements being made? I know I have.
I've been learning recently from some leading experts who say that this is just the start of some huge shifts in the way we live and work. And the pace is accelerating.
Let me show you three things to illustrate what's happening and what it's going to mean for you and I...
ONE: Science fiction is coming true
Just in the last few months on the SWLP Facebook page I've been posting news of cars that drive themselves, lifelike robots that can detect your emotions and respond in kind, remarkable Augmented Reality headsets, and even a safe, portable Jet Pack.
Tesla just announced that their cars' Autosteer, Auto Lane Change and Autopark functions have been approved in every country in the world (except Japan where it is under review).
Google's self-driving cars have now logged over a million miles of autonomous driving.
There has only been one accident caused by the Google car - when it hit a bus at 2mph after it made an incorrect assumption that the bus would slow down for it.
Google implemented 3,500 new tests to prevent the error happening again.
Elon Musk has suggested that not too long from now driving a car will be illegal because autonomous vehicles are so much safer.
So why are so many amazing developments being announced now? That brings me to my 2nd point...
TWO: Where we are now
You are here:
As you might know if you're into technology, overall processing power in any bit of technology doubles about every 2 years and has done so since the 1970s (this is know as Moore's law).
Imagine anything that computers find a bit difficult now (eg recognising speech, recognising human faces or emotions) getting twice as easy. Then twice as easy again and again and so on.
What this means is that in 10 years your iPhone will be 32 times better at everything it does and in 20 years, 1024 times better - creating whole worlds in front of your eyes, understanding your speech and facial expression, making sense of everything you've ever done on it and preempting what you ask of it.
Except of course we won't be using iPhones. We'll probably be using some form of Augmented Reality.
And this is just a warmup.
A $1000 computer can now match the power of a mouse brain and we're on track to achieve something at a similar price that matches the power of a human brain by 2025 – just 9 years away.
(Read this incredible post on WaitButWhy for a summary of where AI is right now and what's about to happen.)
This is why Oxford University is predicting 47% of occupations in the US will be automated within less than 20 years.
So what's the future for humans?
THREE: The role for you and me
New technology will bring some wonderful advantages - real-time translation across languages, safer vehicles, increased access to space travel & research, cheap solar energy, new cures for diseases.
However I feel we are ill-prepared for the scale of change coming our way. What happens when autonomous cars are the same price as normal cars? The CEO of Uber has already said that if Elon Musk's Tesla made 500,000 autonomous cars he would buy them all, effectively making all Uber drivers unemployed immediately.
There are 3.5 million truckers in the US alone. Imagine 100% of cab drivers and truck drivers losing their jobs over the course of a few years.
And these are relatively simple jobs. AI (along with outsourcing) will impact increasingly skilled jobs.
I write in the introduction to my book that the key skill that separates you from a robot right now is the ability to come up with an idea and make it happen:
"If you don’t know how to make ideas happen there’s a danger you’ll end up the minimum wage employee of someone who does."
Nowhere is this more starkly illustrated than in Amazon's Mechanical Turk.
This is a marketplace for small tasks of work paid at very low rates - things that computers currently find very hard to do but humans find easy. For example, audio transcription, categorising the colour of a shoe in a photo, searching a small piece of an aerial photo for a crashed plane.
Amazon calls it "Artificial Artificial Intelligence" - humans doing the grunt work that computers don't like to do and getting paid one or two cents for each quick task. And it's a service popular with startups who want to pseudo-automate such tasks at the lowest possible price.
Right now there are 350,000 tasks available to do and about 500,000 workers taking tasks on. And the way that tasks are paid bypasses any minimum wage regulation.
While there are some wonderful benefits to new technology, I have plenty of concerns about its impact. One is the widening gap between rich and poor and another is how people will respond to large-scale changes that happen quickly. An example being the loss of a whole sector of jobs.
History shows that humans do not always react well when faced with hardship and uncertainty. Right now, it's partly low-skilled workers who have already lost jobs to globalisation that are voting for Trump's vague promises of 'making America great again' which come peppered with racism.
So what's my point in all this? It's partly just an instinct to share the 'Holy crap, have you seen this?' reaction I am having lately. And to encourage you to invest time in understanding what's happening and how it will impact your life and your work (and your children's lives).
I post more regularly about these things on twitter and Facebook so do follow me there for more of this kind of stuff.
And of course, I believe you should do everything you can to take control of your own career and learn the skill of coming up with creative ideas and making them happen. Because robots can't do that. Yet.
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