Apocalypse Now


“I love the smell of books in the morning” – MB



“Apocalypse
 (Greek: Ἀποκάλυψις, apokalypsis, literally: the lifting of the veil) is a term applied to the disclosure to certain privileged persons of something hidden from the mass of humankind. In English, the word apocalypse now commonly refers to the end of the world.”



Algorithm
– “a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.”


Dear HX followers…….please consider the following terms:

  • Big data.
  • Automation.
  • Machine learning.
  • Deep learning.
  • Facial recognition.
  • Iris scanning.
  • Robotics.
  • Autonomous self-driving vehicles.
  • Autonomous weapons.
  • Netflix movie suggestions.
  • Facebook targeted adverts.
  • Artificial neural networks.
  • Algorithms.

Followers will immediately recognise some or all of the aforementioned terms as part of the broader family of Artificial Intelligence, or ‘AI’, to use colloquial parlance. The thing of Silicon Valley. Of extensive recent research. Of Google. Of search engines. Of Sci-Fi movies. Of God-only-knows-what-else.

But what’s it all about? What does it really mean to the common Joe or Partick or Bridget?

We don’t know MB. We haven’t the foggiest. Do you know MB?

Of course MB knows lads. That’s a given. MB has no clue why you asked him such a dumb question.

The apocalypse is truly upon us in the opinion of MB. But MB is about to reveal all. He is about to lift the veil. The blind mass of humankind is just about to have its eyes opened wider than wide.

By MB.

Wow MB! You are truly a blessing from the Gods.

Thanks lads. No truer words ever spoken. You don’t need any old algorithm to tell you that!


Dear Followers……..

Did you know there’s a supermarket in Seattle, USA, that has no cashiers? It’s fully automated. Take 1 minute and 49 seconds of your time to take a look. And then come right back to MB.

The field of medicine is also on the verge of huge positive technical transformation resulting from the marriage of clever algorithms and computer technology that can now read Xrays (just one example) just as well as doctors, sometimes better, but in a fraction of the time it takes doctors to do so. Take 5 mins and 52 secs of your time to take a look. And then come right back to MB.


Maybe you think……food preparation – for example – can not be impacted by the ubiquitous (sooner than you think) AI technology and automation. Take 10 mins and 23 sec of your time to take a look – if you have 10 mins and 23 seconds to spare. And then come right back to MB. Otherwise, skip this vid and move on…..

 



MB attended a recent seminar in Doha, Qatar, hosted by a Qatar-based western lawyer working in the field of construction disputes. MB learned that Law practices are already using AI software to prepare reports automatically by scanning gigabytes or terabytes of case documents (previously unsearchable documentation!) without the involvement of lawyers. Same with the preparation of contracts. An algorithm, once trained using historical data, can now prepare contracts more accurately than lawyers, and much much quicker.

What then of the paralegals and trainee Lawyers?

The topic of self-driving cars, or autonomous vehicles (AVs), is now regularly in the news.  AVs are already being test-driven on public roads but they are not quite there yet in terms of 100% usability. It’s presently considered, however, that the algorithm code writers are at 98%. Only 2% to go.

Then……………………what of taxi drivers and truck drivers and food delivery drivers, and everybody else who makes their living from driving? And what of the roadside motels and food outlets and repair garages who depend on drivers for income to pay their staff?

And what then of the staff?

And what then of the families of staff?

An Infinitum………..


MB could give HX followers endless additional examples of the direction that AI is taking various industries and the related impact on traditional jobs, whether blue-collar or white. The algorithms are now, today, ‘disrupting’ (to use the media phrase) traditional industries and professions to an ever-increasing extent, and human employment therein. AI is not some futuristic Matrix-movie type technology. It’s already in our faces. But it’s very difficult to physically see an algorithm. Until you lose your job.

MB has recently listened to three researchers from the University of Oxford in the UK who have undertaken a study of 700 different job types, broken each of them down into their most basic constituent elements and analysed how many of those same 700 jobs types can (or soon will) be replaced by algorithms and automation.

48%.


A few miles from HX, back in MB’s homeland, lies the village of Knockainey.

Many many moons ago, a new piece of farm equipment arrived in the village, called a ‘Reaper & Binder’. The R&B could be pulled by a horse and automatically cut the grass or wheat or whatever. Up to the arrival of that machine, the local farm labourers (a substantial proportion of the local population) earned a goodly proportion of their annual income in the summer months cutting crops by traditional hand-held scythes for the local farm owners. With the arrival of the new R&B technology, the farm laborers were staring into the abyss. How to feed themselves and their families if they lost their income at the hands of a dastardly machine?

A plan was hatched.

The labourers waited at a bridge over the Camogue River where the R&B was scheduled to work on the adjacent farm. Upon arrival, the R&B was promptly lifted on high and dumped into the river.

There were HXites before there were Luddites!


MB remembers once reading a piece on the reaction of candle makers, upon the introduction of the electric light, or maybe it was gaslighting. Regardless, like the farm labourers, they were far from happy to lose their jobs and protested loudly.


Books.

MB loves books and bookshops. He even likes the smell of books (in the morning!). When MB travels home, he frequently travels to the local shopping mall with bookworm daughter MB2, spending endless time mooching and flicking through the rows and rows of books. One of the highlights of MBs recent trip to Maastricht in Holland was a visit to an old church which is now converted into one of the most beautiful bookshops one could ever see. A trip to Amsterdam a few years back, also with MB2, and endless hours spent in a vast bookshop in that city, now also enters the mind of MB. Great MB book memories.

In more recent times, the trend is towards Kindle or like-technology, and online book purchases from Amazon or Google.

So eventually…………what of books?

And what of book shops?

And what of the smell of books?


The AI genie is well and truly out of the bottle and there ain’t no putting her back. Much like modern farming technology and electric lighting, the advance of AI, and much greater automation is inevitable. The lives of MBs children and yours will be impacted as a result, in ways we can not yet fully imagine.

Daughter MB2 is this week just starting a University degree related to medical equipment and diagnostics. MB knows for sure that even in the 4 or 5 years it will take her to finish, her chosen field will see more and more AI impact. MB will try to encourage MB2 to keep abreast of that (already) sister (AI) technology and hopes that in the end, it will augment her diagnostics job role and not actually replace it. That’s the big hope at least.


It’s the end of the world as we know it, in the opinion of MB. We can but hope that ‘augmentation’ and undreamt-of new technologies and new jobs will be the end result of the ‘4th Industrial Revolution’, as AI and Automation are being referred to by technologists. The fears of the farm labourers and candlemakers were understandable and the new technologies were ‘disruptive’ to those industries in the short term. But the increased automation of farming technology allowed far greater food production and created new industries and tens of thousands of new jobs. Similarly, the electric lighting industry has brought only large benefits to humanity. AI is already doing the same in the field of medicine and in innumerable other industries. MB read an article in recent days detailing how AI is being utilised to solve the problem of plastic debris in our oceans. So the positive benefits of AI for mankind into the future are indisputable.

However, and more generally, past industrial revolutions happened over relatively longer periods of time, allowing societies to adjust and adapt. AI and automation are coming down the track at the speed of knots. How the world will adapt and adopt and change and augment and literally survive in many respects, is the big question. Some consider that historical economic theory, like the farm machinery example, proves that we have nothing to fear. Other experts say that change will, or is, coming too quickly and the negative impact will be tens of millions of net job losses throughout societies, and perhaps schemes like universal basic income (welfare) will be the answer. But that, dear HX followers, is a debate for another day.

If followers are interested in researching the topic further, they could do worse than check out one of the US Presidential hopefuls for the 2020 election (on Youtube), a guy named Andrew Yang, who is trying to get the nomination for the Democratic Party. He is of Silicon Valley and has a deep understanding of AI technology and the direction it’s taking the world. Many may not agree with his proposed solution to the problem, but he is really waking people up to what’s happening. Good luck to AY from MB. #MATH! And just you all watch the star of AY rise in the coming weeks and months, now that MB has given him an HX plug!


MB has just completed an Online Certificate in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Oxford in the UK. This post is a child conceived and born of same.

If followers wish to know more or even enroll on that course:
https://www.getsmarter.com/courses/uk/oxford-artificial-intelligence-programme


MB couldn’t resist!

2 Comments on “Apocalypse Now

  1. It IS the end of the world as we know it, MB! But hopefully not the actual end of the world just yet. We’ll have to wait and see where this whole AI wave takes us, because I think we’re only beginning to glimpse the possibilities (and also the risks.) Thank you for this fascinating and thought-provoking post.

    Like

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