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24 December 2009

Predictions for the decade ahead

Before highlighting some likely key trends for the decade ahead – the 2010’s – let’s pause a moment to review some of the most important developments of the last ten years.

  • Technologically, the 00’s were characterised by huge steps forwards with social computing (“web 2.0”) and with mobile computing (smartphones and more);
  • Geopolitically, the biggest news has been the ascent of China to becoming the world’s #2 superpower;
  • Socioeconomically, the world is reaching a deeper realisation that current patterns of consumption cannot be sustained (without major changes), and that the foundations of free-market economics are more fragile than was previously widely thought to be the case;
  • Culturally and ideologically, the threat of militant Jihad, potentially linked to dreadful weaponry, has given the world plenty to think about.

Looking ahead, the 10’s will very probably see the following major developments:

  • Nanotechnology will progress in leaps and bounds, enabling increasingly systematic control, assembling, and reprogamming of matter at the molecular level;
  • In parallel, AI (artificial intelligence) will rapidly become smarter and more pervasive, and will be manifest in increasingly intelligent robots, electronic guides, search assistants, navigators, drivers, negotiators, translators, and so on.

We can say, therefore, that the 2010’s will be the decade of nanotechnology and AI.

We’ll see the following applications of nanotechnology and AI:

  • Energy harvesting, storage, and distribution (including via smart grids) will be revolutionised;
  • Reliance on existing means of oil production will diminish, being replaced by greener energy sources, such as next-generation solar power;
  • Synthetic biology will become increasingly commonplace – newly designed living cells and organisms that have been crafted to address human, social, and environmental need;
  • Medicine will provide more and more new forms of treatment, that are less invasive and more comprehensive than before, using compounds closely tailored to the specific biological needs of individual patients;
  • Software-as-a-service, provided via next-generation cloud computing, will become more and more powerful;
  • Experience of virtual worlds – for the purposes of commerce, education, entertainment, and self-realisation – will become extraordinarily rich and stimulating;
  • Individuals who can make wise use of these technological developments will end up significantly cognitively enhanced.

In the world of politics, we’ll see more leaders who combine toughness with openness and a collaborative spirit.  The awkward international institutions from the 00’s will either reform themselves, or will be superseded and surpassed by newer, more informal, more robust and effective institutions, that draw a lot of inspiration from emerging best practice in open source and social networking.

But perhaps the most important change is one I haven’t mentioned yet.  It’s a growing change of attitude, towards the question of the role in technology in enabling fuller human potential.

Instead of people decrying “technical fixes” and “loss of nature”, we’ll increasingly hear widespread praise for what can be accomplished by thoughtful development and deployment of technology.  As technology is seen to be able to provide unprecedented levels of health, vitality, creativity, longevity, autonomy, and all-round experience, society will demand a reprioritisation of resource allocation.  Previous sacrosanct cultural norms will fall under intense scrutiny, and many age-old beliefs and practices will fade away.  Young and old alike will move to embrace these more positive and constructive attitudes towards technology, human progress, and a radical reconsideration of how human potential can be fulfilled.

By the way, there’s a name for this mental attitude.  It’s “transhumanism”, often abbreviated H+.

My conclusion, therefore, is that the 2010’s will be the decade of nanotechnology, AI, and H+.

As for the question of which countries (or regions) will play the role of superpowers in 2020: it’s too early to say.

Footnote: Of course, there are major possible risks from the deployment of nanotechnology and AI, as well as major possible benefits.  Discussion of how to realise the benefits without falling foul of the risks will be a major feature of public discourse in the decade ahead.

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7 March 2009

The China Brain project and the future of industry

Filed under: AGI, China, robots — David Wood @ 8:15 pm

An intriguing note popped up on my Twitter feed a couple of hours ago. It was from James Clement, owner and manager at Betterhumans LLC:

with U.S. economy hurting, AI programs may move to China to work with Hugo de Garis. He sees house robots as biggest industry in 20 – 30 yrs

And slightly earlier:

de Garis has already received 10.5 million RMB for the China Brain Project. Basically 10k’s of neural nets for Minsky style “society of mind”

James is attending the AGI-09 conference in Artificial General Intelligence, which is taking place at Arlington, Virginia.

Casting my eye over the schedule for this conference, I admit to a big pang of envy that I’m not attending!

As James says, one of the most significant talks there could be the one by Hugo de Garis. The schedule has a link to a PDF authored in October last year. Here’s a couple of extracts from the paper:

The “China Brain Project”, based at Xiamen University, is a 4 year (2008-2011), 10.5 million RMB, 20 person, research project to design and build China’s first artificial brain (AB). An artificial brain is defined here to be a “network of (evolved neural) networks”, where each neural net(work) module performs some simple task (e.g. recognizes someone’s face, lifts an arm of a robot, etc), somewhat similar to Minsky’s idea of a “society of mind”, i.e. where large numbers of unintelligent “agents” link up to create an intelligent “society of agents”. 10,000s of these neural net modules are evolved rapidly, one at a time, in special (FPGA based) hardware and then downloaded into a PC (or more probably, a supercomputer PC cluster). Human “BAs” (brain architects) then connect these evolved modules according to their human designs to architect artificial brains…

The first author [de Garis] thinks that the artificial brain industry will be the world’s biggest by about 2030, because artificial brains will be needed to control the home robots that everyone will be prepared to spend big money on, if they become genuinely intelligent and hence useful (e.g. baby sitting the kids, taking the dog for a walk, cleaning the house, washing the dishes, reading stories, educating its owners etc). China has been catching up fast with the western countries for decades. The first author thinks that China should now aim to start leading the world (given its huge population, and its 3 times greater average economic growth rate compared to the US) by aiming to dominate the artificial brain industry.

If it’s true that the downturn in the economy will cause a relocation of AGI research personnel from other countries to China, this could turn out to be one of the most significant unforeseen consequences of the downturn.

3 December 2008

Accelerating the transformation

Filed under: China, Nokia, partners — David Wood @ 9:59 am

As noted by Tom Krazit of CNET News, there was lots more news from yesterday’s Nokia World event than merely the buzz about the newly announced highly attractive N97. It was also announced that the acquisition of Symbian by Nokia has completed.

One practical impact of the completion of this deal is that preparation can now accelerate – for the forthcoming Symbian Foundation, and for the deep integration of the Symbian and S60 software engineering teams.

As Tom Krazit notes:

After entertaining the world press in Barcelona during the early part of this week, Symbian and Nokia executives will be in San Francisco later this week to discuss their plans for mobile computing and open source, and we’ll have reports from the Symbian Partner Event on Thursday.

Personally, I’m about to board my flight to San Francisco for this event. I’m particularly looking forward to open and insightful discussion at this event – including the panel discussion on “Succeeding in the US: the key factors“, where I’ll be asking for comments and questions from the audience.

Just as I expect very significant amounts of wireless innovation to come from North America in the near future, I also expect very significant amounts to come, perhaps more in the future, from China. Later this month I’ll be speaking at an event in Beijing, about “Symbian Platform Development“. I’m looking forward to learning a lot – since I plan on listening as well as speaking 🙂

In case anyone would like to try to meet up while I’m in San Francisco or in Beijing, please get in touch.

Footnote: There’s still time to register for the Partner Event.

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