It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future – attributed to various people
How fast is the world changing – and how fast are we adapting to it?
Executive Summary: Faster than we think, and not fast enough. At least those are my takeaways from The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. an interesting book that’s simultaneously uplifting, optimistic, terrifying and worrying. And definitely worth a read.
I’m not sure that’s what Messrs Brynjolfsson and McAfee intended as the main takeways – and there’s certainly plenty else in there about the economics (and inequalities) of the machine age, the spread of robotics, data and algorithms into our lives, the likely policy implications, and all that sort of thing – but at least that’s how I read it.
Not that it’s necessarily bad news – in fact, one of the best frames they put on the new digital age that we’re in is around the notion that, just as the industrial age freed us from the constraints of animal and human muscle power, this revolution is set to augment the human brain in ways we can’t yet really understand.
As they point out, a whole slew of new capabilities have emerged in the last few years that were effectively dismissed as essentially impossible in the near term less than a decade ago – self-driving cars, effective voice recognition, human-like text generation, visual recognition systems, and so on. Even machine translation services, which are in many ways laughably bad, are a minor miracle in that they even exist.
What’s driving all this? Increasingly powerful computing, decreasingly expensive sensors and processors that are proliferating in devices and objects, and the masses of data they’re generating every minute. All that data isn’t necessarily useful – and certainly will be misused at some point – but it opens up lots of potential new capabilities. But first we have to imagine them.
Look at Waze, for example, which took the ubiquitous location – and hence speed – data available on phones to build real-time traffic maps. Before that, we had various mapping apps, that while useful, basically took what was static information and put them on mobile devices and added search and other capabilities. Very useful, but much more an extension of existing systems. It took the folks at Waze to reimagine what they could do with completely unrelated data. So what other tricks are we missing? (What if we used cellphone location data to help the blind navigate around other people in crowds?)
And, of course, I’m still plugging structured journalism.
Frederic Filloux, in a recent Monday Note, pointed to a host of potential news applications that could be built off the data in our mobile phones, going beyond simply the notions of shorter stories/small screen-friendly articles/quick updates that dominates a lot of the discussion of mobile apps. Read More…