Exponential technology growth is transforming the world in ways never seen before, opening up new entrepreneurial opportunities while also causing wrenching socio-economic change. An economy with never seen opportunities, trends and success factors in sectors focusing on the future of the life sciences, artificial intelligence, robotics, big data and cyber security, and the codification of money, markets, and trust. Improvements and convergence in machine learning and neurosciences combined with the availability of massive datasets and the ubiquity of high-performance scalable computing are propelling us into a new age of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The promise these developments hold is immense.
Computing systems are already outperforming humans in many tasks that profoundly shape our everyday lives in the fields of transportation, communication, energy, finance, healthcare as well as defense and security. The new techniques use neural networks — which are modeled on the human brain, in which information is processed in layers and the connections between these layers are strengthened based on what is learned. This is called deep learning because of the increasing numbers of layers of information that are processed by increasingly faster computers. These are enabling computers to recognize images, voice, and text — and to do human-like things.
Humans still maintain a comparative advantage over AI and robotics in many areas. While AI detects patterns and creates predictions, it still cannot replicate social or general intelligence, creativity, or human judgment.
We will continue to experience the overlapping revolutions of genetics, nanotechnology, and AI, robotics simultaneously as each one of these technologies matures. These and other technologies will likely converge and impact our lives in ways difficult to predict, and each technology will have the power to do great good or harm—as is the case with all great technologies. The extent to which we’re able to harness their power to improve lives will depend on the conversations we have and the actions we take today.
Progress in science and technology always evokes hope and fear in society. There are clear upsides and opportunities to increase quality of life and longevity for all as well as to shift the paradigm of growth and development towards sustainability. But the unintended socio-political consequences are serious, disrupting the fabric of our social contracts, sense of human identity, dignity, and considerations of agency and personal empowerment. And yet the numerous ethical and governance issues the current technological drive brings about are almost totally absent from the mainstream debate.
While I am an optimist, I am not a utopian. As one of the key catalysts of global progress, technology increasingly cuts across nations and cultures.This is all occurring against the backdrop of a shift in what’s driving economic progress forward. While physical resources and labor dominated past ages, the current and coming age requires a new way of thinking. We have to keep in mind that economic returns in these future industries will be unevenly distributed. Many will gain, but many people around the world are feeling under siege, and feel that it is harder to get ahead, displaced.
New forms of social anxiety and fraud are arising, and new ways to cope will have to be devised by individuals, families, societies and countries – ranging from competitiveness to parenting.
The global mindset, cultural curiosity, inter-disciplinary skills and multi-cultural fluency will be key requisites for success. Immense challenges await, while humans are notoriously bad at making good decisions when faced with plenty.
Prometheus stole fire from Mt. Olympus and returned it to humankind. He did so at great cost. For eternity, Zeus condemned Prometheus to having his liver consumed daily by an eagle and regenerated each night. Extraordinary opportunities and challenges face humanity– and more broadly life on Earth. With ever more potent capabilities will come ever greater responsibilities.
Today, we face similar promise and peril. As fire was to early humans, so we will this century marshal forces and developments more potent than we imagine, thereby transitioning to a radically altered context. Hercules rescued poor Prometheus from his torture. Who will rescue us, if not ourselves?