We the People
As humanity evolved, we stepped out into what we often call as a bright future. A future where every discovery added luster to our way of life. We also made bulk of our knowledge pervasive and accessible to everyone. Now with everyone discovering new things and finding out new ways to make things better, the rate at which we started growing in technological terms, was huge.
At this rate in about 50 years from now, most of us will not have a clue about how things work. A simple example of this can be found in our own generation. For example, most of our grandmothers knew how to sew clothes and most of our children do not. Now this may seem like an inconsequential thing, but by the time we get to be grandparents, your children will be saying that my father knows how to write a computer program, but my kids have no clue.
Let me give two other examples to drive home this point. When I was growing up, in my early school years a lot of emphasis was given on hand writing skills. In fact, we had note books to practice hand writing and they were part of our daily homework. Consequentially most people who are 50+ now have a fairly legible and more often than not beautiful hand writing. But if you fast forward this to present times, most children have very little practice in improving their hand writing skills. They simply prefer to use the computer key board to type in letters. If this goes on for say another 30 years, very few amongst us will have the ability to write in a conventional way.
In a similar way, with the advent of self-driving cars it is quite easy to imagine that in a not too distant future, we lose our ability to drive just like many people are simply not able to drive cars having a stick shift to change gears and can only drive automatic cars.
Are we included in the era of IOT?
So we are having two sets of reality here. One the technological progress will far outpace us and two we will be losing touch with things around us and how they work.
These day’s people talk about internet of things. In simple words it means that all manmade objects around us are getting smarter or have some intelligence built into them so that they can communicate with each other. The idea here is to make life easy and safe for all of us with IOT enabled world in play.
We have often heard in science fiction stories about aliens being able to communicate with each other using “telepathy”. Basically by understanding each other’s thoughts and taking appropriate actions. In a similar manner, in the era of IOT, the objects around us are able to communicate through signals of different sorts. But what about us?
If you closely observe the evolving scenario, we are not included in it. Just imagine a time in the near future where you are surrounded by objects which can communicate with each other, but not you. Because the simple truth is as human beings, in a biological way we will never be able to receive machine signals and process it efficiently. This is true for all life forms, because by nature we are designed differently. I am not saying that you will not be able to give voice or other types of commands to make the objects around you work for you. But you will not be able to internalize the relationship with smart objects around you. In many ways you will never know how what the objects are thinking. Also you will always need another object like a smart phone to communicate with these already smart in the era of IOT. Without such an interface you are absolutely helpless. Try taking the TV remote away from a child’s hand when his favorite program is going to be on air and see what happens. If that is his daily routine, he will surely get agitated because he does not know any other way of interacting with the TV.
If look what is happening here, in the fast evolving IOT era, the objects are able to communicate with each other without you, but you are not able to communicate with them just by yourself. So in my opinion in a fully IOT enabled world, we will just be going through our lives in way which is hard for us to even imagine.
Just look at a modern car for that matter. It is truly connected in every sense. As soon as you get in, it will do many things by recognizing you in an innate sort of way. It will do the same thing a little differently (Example: Seat Adjustment) for some other person it recognizes through a unique object like a “key”. Now if look closely, one object the “Car” is recognizing the other object “Key” and that’s it! You are really not in this picture! Even without you these two objects will do exactly what they are trained to do.
To top this we are once again seeing the rise of cognitive systems. Basically these are devices which can not only sense things but can also make sense out of it. Sort of think like human beings. The word Artificial Intelligence has been tossed around for several generations now. In that sense it is nothing new. Simple things like a “wheels” or “pulleys” or “gears” are also early stage forms of cognitive systems because they allow us do things better through principles of mechanical advantage. In the sense, they all try to amplify human ability.
The modern day cognitive systems also attempt the same thing but use the power of computers to do things more quickly, more accurately and without any bias or human error. If you look at any machine learning model, whether is supervised (guided), unsupervised (observed) or reinforced(causal) the basic idea remains the same. Amplify human capability by making machines learn initially through human inputs so that they can error free results every time. It is almost like training a circus Lion, after some time it can do the most difficult trick like clock-work without any mistakes. But if you increase the height of the table or add more props, the animal is not able to do the trick.
I am sure my comparison of machine learning with training a circus animal may not go well with many people in the scientific community but my goal here to bring out these things in an easy to understand way and not really bring down the wonderful work our data scientists and engineers are doing in this space. In the real world cognitive systems can be thought of as a circus Lion which knows all the tricks one can think off and have the ability to perform it flawlessly every time.
At RTAP we build these types of systems for many use cases and our customers talk to us about many specific types of gains. These are either gains due to understanding their business drivers better, gains due to planning ahead based of one of our predictive models or doing something in advance based on a good or bad response they had due to an earlier action. But broadly these gains are in the area of productivity or efficiency. In simple words by using RTAP our customers save either time or money.
With the availability of large amounts of data and the ever increasing computing power to process it, RTAP enabled systems are able to think and do things more efficiently than human beings. In fact, the rate at which companies are adopting this system is so rapid that within the next 3 years pretty much every computer application will have some amount of AI technology built into it. To make this point clear, let me once again give a real life example which many of us are experiencing every day. If you look at your email “Junk” box, you will realize that the application has cleverly identified on its own that people bothering you with offers, mass email campaigns, objectionable content are all dumped in the “Junk” box. This is a classic example of AI technology being used, because somebody designing this email system has trained the computer (through a software program) to identify this pattern and take action. Now for those of you who do not know how to build such a system but still want to have the satisfaction of using it all you have to do is, next time you open up your email application add some more rules to your “spam” mail settings. There you go, now you are also an important player in the AI revolution.
The future as I see it…
In the world around things are gradually becoming more powerful and smarter than human beings. The future is really getting so bright that it will become impossible for us to make sense of it.
Also there is nothing much we can do to stop the rate at which we are making progress. But is still in our control is to try and not lose touch with the basic ways of doing things. A lot of responsibility is on us, in terms of remembering the importance of exploring the world with our physical and mental abilities. For example, playing a sport(s) is so important in an era of video games. Doing our daily chores and finding out how things actually work is also very important. Exploring the nature, practicing co-existence and learning through experimentation all become more meaningful in the modern world.
While we must make progress to find innovative ways to provide basic things like food, water, clean air to the citizens of this world, we must not forget that our responsibility to leave a better world for future coming generations. All this will require advances in technology even beyond things RTAP like systems are trying to do. But while we do all this, let us try to stay in touch with the real world.