Robots Coming, Disruption Ahead

The march of the robots – Artificial Intelligence – into all aspects of society is under way. Robots are nondescript, intelligent machines programmed to mimic, and even surpass, the human capacity to recognize patterns and perform tasks. They do so by rapidly processing massive amounts of data as well as reading instant feedback from sensors, such as those that guide self-driving cars.

The WorldPost, a partnership of the Berggruen Institute and The Washington Post, has provided a look into the impact of AI, an impact already being felt in nearly every realm, from how we manufacture things and make a living, to the quality of our lives as we age. Advances in artificial intelligence are redefining warfare and reconfiguring the geopolitical balance.

The challenge is making smart policy choices that realize the promises of AI while containing the perils. Eliminating the drudgery of routine labor and enhancing energy efficiency in a warming climate are surely triumphs for humankind. The dissolution of privacy as individuals lose control over their personal information not so much.

The founding president of Google China, Kai-Fu Lee, dispels the idea that universal basic income, or UBI, is an optimal solution to the massive job displacement that the AI revolution is expected to unleash.

Kai-Fu heads the AI institute at the venture capital firm Sinovation Ventures. He says “Roughly half of all jobs will disappear in the next decade.” When robots and AI inevitably take over, he says, we cannot naively assume a government stipend alone “will be a catalyst for people to reinvent themselves professionally.” In order to truly turn this technological revolution into “a creative renaissance,” he writes from Beijing, we will instead need to capitalize on the human touch and focus on people-to-people interaction, because ultimately “only humans can create and come up with new innovations. AI…cannot think outside the box, and it can only optimize problems defined by humans.” Societies will have to bend to the new realities not only with a basic guarantee of subsistence, he says, but also with a new definition of the work ethic and a new valuation of social labor, such as elder care.

John Markoff  worries that there won’t be enough humans to handle elder care and sees the elderly as the next frontier for AI. “Globally, the number of people over 80 will double by the middle of the century – almost half a billion people will fall into the neediest care category – and that percentage will increase by sevenfold by the end of this century,” he writes. “The dependency ratio – that proportion of humans who require care compared to those who can give care – is also increasing inexorably.”

Japan is leading the way in robots for elder care, Markoff says. Other aging nations, including China – a byproduct of decades of a now-abandoned one-child policy – as well as Europe and the U.S., lag behind and will inevitably have to follow suit, he says. For now, he says, as roboticist Rodney Brooks has suggested, “self-driving cars will be the first elder-care robots,” enabling old people to maintain their mobility when acute awareness of their surroundings and reaction time diminishes. Sensors that can track when an elderly person needs medical assistance are not far behind, followed by what Markoff calls “machines of loving grace” that will offer companionship for the old and isolated.

As with all great transformations, there is a geopolitical dimension as well. Whoever dominates AI, especially its military and security applications, will put their stamp on the world order. America has long held the delusion that it has a permanent advantage in leading technological innovation. But Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, says he expects China will surpass Silicon Valley in artificial intelligence advances in about a year.

Edward Tse explains why. “While so much of the world today lacks clear direction,” Tse writes from Shanghai, “China has an edge in its ability to combine strong, top-down government directive with vibrant grass-roots-level innovation. Beyond this, China has an abundance of data to train AI-learning algorithms because of its huge population of Internet users – more than 700 million. China’s thriving mobile Internet ecosystem also provides a test bed for AI researchers to collect and analyze valuable demographics and transactional and behavioral big data and to conduct large-scale experiments at a much higher level than foreign counterparts.”

Beware to the winner. Big data analysis through the prowess of intelligent machines introduces a host of threats – not least of which is the unsettling reality that where there is connectivity, there is also surveillance. The more we know or learn though connected networks, the more that is known and learned about us. The communication technologies we use today are invasive by design, collecting our photos, comments and friends in giant searchable databases. In the West, private companies intrude on privacy to monetize personal data. In China, the security state is well on its way to becoming an all-seeing Big Brother.

Technological change would not gain momentum if it was not in some way responsive to the demands of society. In the end, who defines those needs and desires will determine whether fulfilling them is good or bad for society as a whole. For now, unless or until they acquire “general intelligence,” robots and AI remain bound to the humans who design them.

Smartphones Are Getting Outsmarted; Apps Will Be the Next to Fall

You might have noticed this development if you got a new phone over the holidays. Or you will see it if you watch what comes out of the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show opening this week in Las Vegas. Phones are where laptops were about a decade ago. The design and purpose are fixed and well-understood, so all that’s left are incremental improvements – making them a little thinner, adding a little more power or coming up with an occasional new feature like Samsung’s notifications along an outer edge.

From now on, Newsweek reports, all the real innovation will happen outside your phone – in apps, the cloud and other connected devices. “We’re at the cusp of a transition to wanting our technology on us and around us,” Phillippe Kahn, one of the great inventors of mobile technology, said recently. “Instead of having to carry gadgets, technology will just be there. The more we forget the technology, the better.”

Intriguingly, this new world will also be a threat to apps as we know them.

This isn’t to say that smartphones are finished as a business. About 3.5 billion of the planet’s 7 billion people own one. That leaves maybe another billion more potential customers – if you leave out small children, the 1.3 billion who live on less than $1.25 a day and the grandmothers tightly clutching flip phones. And nearly everyone who owns a smartphone today will buy a new one every couple of years, if not more frequently.

Yet, over time we are going to rely less on our phones, and instead get more things done by connecting to applications and services through a dizzying variety of things. Our attention will move from our phone screens to the ether – we’ll feel that our apps are in the air around us, and can be accessed through any connected device we encounter.

Young consumers already seem to be tilting this way. In a survey by Ericsson Consumer Labs, released in December, half of respondents said that by 2021 they might not even be using a smartphone. They expect to access apps in what they say are more convenient ways.

Like what? Cars, for example. Today, if you want your Spotify music and GPS maps and voice calls in the car, you carry your phone into the car, prop it up in the cup holder, and try to stab the screen with your thumb while going 72 miles per hour. We’ll come to realize this is cretinous, not to mention hazardous. Cars of the next decade will connect to the network, respond to voice commands and display info like your playlists or maps on a heads-up display in the windshield. Instead of opening a discrete app to do something, you’ll just say what you want – “play random Clash songs” or “pay my electric bill.”

Amazon’s Echo is another nudge in that direction – along with Apple’s Siri and Google Now. Set up an Echo at home, and the cylindrical device constantly listens for requests. Echo’s software comprehends a properly phrased request, then goes to the cloud to do it – no phone required. The technology is still in its rudimentary stage.

No single device is going to replace the smartphone. The cloud and artificial intelligence software are going to replace the smartphone. We’ll connect through whatever makes sense – a smartwatch, connected eyeglasses, a touch-screen kitchen counter, cars, Echo, Nest, Fitbit, Oculus Rift. Motorola Mobility recently patented a device that would get implanted under the skin and respond to voice commands. If a service needs to know who you are, it might scan your voice, face or fingerprint. No more remembering 259 user names and passwords.

Today each app focuses on one service, so anything you do on a device requires you to think first about which app to open. That’s a barrier when you just want to get something done. The technology needs to act more like a great personal assistant who already knows your preferences and understands your shorthand orders.

Plus, who wants to have to install a boatload of apps on your watch, car, implanted gadget and a dozen other devices? As Google director Aparna Chennapragada says, the goal has to be to “de-silo and unbundle the function of apps” so software like Google Now, Siri or Echo can mix and match app services to accomplish the task you requested. Once that happens, we won’t think of apps the way we do now. In fact, it’s likely we won’t think of apps at all.

The physical gadget of smartphone won’t go away – no more than laptops have gone away. The smartphone, though, is probably heading for a future as more of a pocket screen – something that allows you to watch videos, read news stories and take pictures when you’re out. It won’t be the center of your tech life – it will be an adjunct.

That’s another way smartphones are like laptops. Not so long ago, new laptops were exciting to buy. They contained our lives on their hard drives and were our windows to the world through the Internet. Now laptops seem more like work tools, and new ones don’t seem much different from the one you bought a few years ago. Much the same fate awaits smartphones.

On the flip side, next-generation refrigerators will connect to the network and come armed with sensors and AI software that can automatically take care of important things, like understanding that you just ordered General Tso’s chicken through Echo, noticing that you’re out of beer and ordering more to be delivered. Now that’s exciting.

Digital Library Opening in November

A technology lovers dream is coming to Omaha. And it’s all free to the public. Expectations are that Do Space, a philanthropic funded digital library, will open Nov. 7 on the southwest corner of 72nd & Dodge – Omaha’s prime crossroads intersection.

Do Space DigitalLibrarywill offer a plethora of computers – Macs and PCs – along with high-speed Internet access, 3D printers, digital TVs and desktop work stations equipped with dual monitors. Rounding out the offerings will be the latest software from basic Photoshop to advanced computer-assisted drawing. Do Space will include a 3D printing lab, surrounded by glass, where people can learn how to use the printers and make inventions come to life.

Sue Morris, president of Heritage Services, the nonprofit group behind the project, says Do Space will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Heritage Services raised the funds for the project with donations led by ome of Omaha’s top philanthropists. The funds are expected to pay for renovating the former Borders bookstore at a cost of around $5 million, plus $2 million in technology and operations for four years.

The Community Information Trust, a private nonprofit corporation, was established to run Do Space.

Do Space is being wired for internet access with the capacity for hundreds of people to use it at a time, on Do Space equipment or their own, without slowdowns. “We will offer the public free access to ultrafast gigabit bandwidth,” said Rebecca Stavick, executive director of Do Space.

The facility also will have video gaming equipment for teen-agers with an interest in learning how to create games. Users will have access to normally expensive software. The space is intended to be useful to a wide range of people, Stavick said – “little kids, families, seniors, middle schoolers, job seekers, working people looking to upgrade their skills.” There will be a hangout space for teens, a tech help desk and a conference room that can be reserved, plus other group work spaces.

Young children can have high-tech story time with parents. Bigger kids are likely to have a workshop in which they learn how to use 3D printers by making their own creations.

“Like a public library, we serve everybody,” Stavick said. “From someone who has never used computers before, to an advanced programmer who knows three programming languages and wants to learn more.”
Metro Community College will offer classes and computer user training on the building’s second floor, beginning in January. Conversations also are under way with public school officials.

Users do not have to be from Douglas County to use Do Space. The digital library will issue Do Space cards.

Huge Changes Lie Ahead

Brick-and-mortar stores will go tech – and warehouses will go back to the drawing board. As consumers increasingly shop on their computers and phones, brick-and-mortar retailers will need to adopt the attitude ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ in order to survive. Innovation will be key, making use of technology that integrates omnichannel shopping into the physical experience of being in a store and matching the logistical advantages of online merchants.

ApplestoreApple is one retailer already using this forward-thinking approach in its stores. Its sales floors feature products that people can touch and try on their own, spending as much time as they’d like. They can buy and take home merchandise if they choose, or they can go home, do further research and buy online – with free overnight shipping. This may be a model other retailers will emulate.

Shipping might become quicker, much quicker than overnight delivery is, when drone delivery touted by Amazon comes to pass in the next several years.

Efficient distribution will be key, and the increasing importance of logistics and automation will impact warehouses across the country, many of which are obsolete even now, lacking up-to-date technology and adequate clearance height and often too remote to accommodate same-day delivery. That will add up to a lot of activity in the industrial sector in coming years, with old warehouses being retrofitted or new ones being built.


We’re Looking for One Great Systems Administrator!

dinoslogoPerhaps you, or someone you know, is looking for a great job. Our systems administrator is retiring and we need someone responsible for installing and maintaining all computer hardware, software and networks. The systems administrator will provide hardware and software maintenance, training and consultation, including recommendations about future planning and development of resources.

The ideal candidate is a self-starter and a team player with a “can do attitude”. This individual has demonstrated knowledge of technologies such as operating systems, networks, database systems and POS. The candidate can immediately assist staff/clients through a series of actions to help set up systems and troubleshoot issues, with the ability to prioritize and manage numerous projects at once.

Those considering applying for this position should have a wide range of skills and qualifications including, but not limited to, the ability to install and administer computer hardware, software and networks; team building skills; analytical and problem solving skills; strong understanding of computer viruses and security; decision making skills; and effective verbal, presentation and listening communication skills.

Those considering applying for this position also need the skills to troubleshoot hardware, software, and networking operating system; provide orientation to new users of existing technology; train staff about potential users of existing technology; install work stations; connect and set up hardware and software; and working knowledge of all operating systems.

For complete position information, ask us to send you the Systems Administrator  document.


David J. Paladino CPM, MSRED


Landmark Group 402-672-6566

2702 Douglas St. Omaha NE 68131