A person from the 1800s or even in the Middle Ages, maybe—is transported into the 1950s. How would he or she cope? How would he or she fit it to a new society with so much technology? Would the telephone frighten him or her—with its disembodied voice coming from a weird contraption? How about watching television or riding in a car?
Yes, such a man might be traumatized. He might need some time to recover—but there’s still a good chance he’ll be able to adjust. Although, it won’t be easy. Even being transported as a fully grown adult a mere 70 years into the future is already traumatizing. Granted, this happened to a fictional character, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America in the comics and the film—but we get the idea. The closest thing to real life would be someone waking up from a decades-long coma.
However, what if this same man out of time wakes up several hundred years into 2017? Would he still stay sane? Or would he die from the stresses of adaptation? There’s a notion that, at the pace that technology is accelerating today, any man from more than a hundred years ago will either go crazy or die if he were to wake up in the 21st century.
Why? According to the author, inventor, computer scientist and futurist Ray Kurzweil, the short answer is accelerating change. Technological advances and innovations are happening not just more often but at a much faster pace than ever before. Just look at the past 20 years. We didn’t have Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, and the internet was mostly thought of as a kind of world-spanning virtual library—as though, the electronic data in its global network were as static as printed books and papers. The email was widely used but still fairly new—and the worst thing about it was probably thinking up a unique username or remembering one’s password.
But then the newspapers started to close down during the 1990s as they lost readership. Thousands of reporters and editors lost their jobs. This was only the beginning. Now, people consume information from memes and video slides. Recently, they hunted down Pokemon—virtual monsters–in the streets, sometimes discovering dead bodies in the course of their search, or they themselves met serious, sometimes fatal accidents.
Whatever’s happening, we can’t stop it. We either deal with the changes or get left behind struggling with sanity and survival, much like our man out of time. Kurzweil warned us back in 2001 that the rate of our progressive changes tends to double every decade. In the 21st century, for example, the rate of change is so fast that the human race would experience, not a hundred years, but 20,000 years of progress at century’s end.
Evolution, for millions of years, advanced a “natural technology” through biology—DNA, RNA, chromosomes, genes. Nowadays, the evolutionary advancement is pushing in a rapid pace, in a broad field, through computers and intelligent, autonomous (but not yet completely so) machines. We’ve arrived at an age where we have self-driving cars, machines that build other machines with little or no human help, and software that is capable of learning—creating machines that over time, become better at their jobs without a human programmer’s help.
The best way to cope would be to be aware, keep track of, adjust, and learn to thrive in our ever-changing technological environment. As a way to begin such an adjustment, let’s look at some of these so-called “disruptive technologies” and how they might change our lives.
Intelligent and virtual
Kurzweil predicted that by 1998, a computer would beat a human being at chess. Kurzweil was wrong—that happened in 1997 when IBM’s Deep Blue defeated world champion, Gary Kasparov. Today, intelligent machines promise the most exciting innovations in computer technology that is sure to change our world.
Right now, we have virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri, but AI will impact our lives in much more ways. Smartphones are just the beginning—as we develop self-driving cars and smart appliances for the home. A “smart” refrigerator or air-conditioning unit, for example, will adjust the temperature on their own depending on data from their sensors. Smart lights will dim, brighten, and make other adjustments depending on cues from the environment.
All these smart devices will be controlled by yet another intelligent machine—the virtual butler or assistant that you will be able to converse with and command. Those who watched the Iron Man films have a good idea about this when then recall Tony Stark’s A.I. assistant, Jarvis.
Artificial intelligence will also impact how global finances are run. Intelligent machines will be able to process and analyze data in real time, creating more reliable predictions about stocks, commodities, and economies. This will be done through virtual models of these financial systems, models that can be activated to display possible outcomes.
With more powerful A.I., we will also create more powerful virtual reality environments and highly augmented future. Real world objects and environments can have “digital twins.” These are software versions that can be used to modify, repair, design, and manipulate such objects and environments. This has implications not only for entertainment—the usual, popular image we have of VR—but for industry, healthcare, security, finance, and much more.
Transparent and secure
Technological innovations stemming from AI will also help keep information more secure, as in blockchaining. As defined by the Government Innovators Network of John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, a blockchain, is a package of data that is distributed, redistributed, and built up progressively from previous data. Each package of data or blockchain contains a timestamp, and can no longer be modified once it is set. It’s by far the most secure way to package and record information.
This makes important data, like financial or medical records, very secure. It also makes financial and other transactions more transparent and reliable. Also, the cybersecurity of the future will also have A.I., so that the software itself will be able to recognize, analyze, and counter any attempt at hacking its system.
Automated and connected
Not only will cars be self-driving but business processes like banking and retail (and much more) will be automated as well. The downside, of course, is that this means more people will lose jobs as they are replaced by intelligent machines.
Forbes predicts that the internet of things will be more widespread. Computers, cellphones, tablets, appliances, entire buildings and houses, vehicles, medical equipment will all be interconnected in the near future. Of course, in such a future, Big Data gets even bigger more as more aspects of our lives are run through and by it.
As more and more powerful computers are required to process and exponentially growing the volume of data, we’ll be using quantum computers. Binary computers widely used today only have two states—on and off—and this limits the amount of data they can store and process. Quantum computers will have more fluid, less stable states so that so much more data can be stored in one bit.
Mobile and enhanced
Time will come when smartphones, tablets, and laptops will become clunky, cumbersome, and inconvenient. People will simply find that being tethered to these objects—in order to access the internet, the virtual world, or the many other smart devices operating with their own A.I.—as an annoyance. So how will we connect our biological selves to the virtual, technological reality? That’s something that inventors and innovators are working on now.
The goal is to make our devices and platforms increasingly mobile. Will we get bioelectronic implants? Will our smartphones be tattooed on our arms? Those are among the possibilities as humans aim for greater mobile access to data. With this development, people will also be concerned with modifying their own bodies—so that future bodies will be bio-techno hybrids. With that, we can conquer disease, repair injuries, even delay aging.
Instead of being so concerned with accumulating products, humans will be more concerned with accumulating experiences. For this to happen, they would, in turn, be focused on their health and well-being. After all, a healthy, well-functioning body is the best way to experience anything to the fullest.
Take the marijuana industry, for example. For the longest time, the marijuana plant was stigmatized as simply a harmful, addictive drug. Now, however, with more scientific research, we now know better how to harness its medicinal properties to treat many illnesses—and with its legalization, it has already brought in at least a billion dollars in earnings. Technology, such as automation, A.I., etc., will make the planting, care, and harvest of marijuana safer, more efficient, and with increasing yields for a growing market.
The way we interface with intelligent machines will also advance—perhaps we’ll connect and converse with them through words, gesture, touch, or through some future enhancement and meshing of our bodies and technology that is yet to come. In addition, of course, our most futuristic enhancements will probably take us off-planet to explore the reaches of space—bringing a new chapter and odyssey for the human species.
Whether as a consumer or investor, the future is something we all have a stake in, whether we realize it or not. Let’s neither be passive nor hesitant, but do what we can to not only adjust to change, but to embrace it and create conditions that allow us to thrive in the future. As consumers and investors, we can do this by adopting a deeper and more meaningful look at emerging technologies and supporting those that will benefit the species in the long-term.
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