Blaugust Day 16: Travel of the Future

There’s always plenty of articles floating around about the potential new and futuristic directions of transport. As a daily commuter (by train 😞) I always enjoy reading them, so here’s two recent ones that I particularly wanted to share. 
The hyper loop as a theory has been around for gases, but incredibly it seems like it might be a reality one day soon. Even if it comes from Elon Musk, a man of of occasionally questionable principles, and seems like sci-fi nonsense, it’s also coming from the mind of the man who created Space X and made private space flight a reality at a time when state funded space programmes were declining. (For the record, I am deeply disappointed with advances in space flight, and if we can’t have interstellar travel within my lifetime we’d better at least land on Mars.)

In terms of urban public transport (i.e. often the bane of my life) the technology described in this article is pretty cool, especially in terms of using space above the road!

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Blaugust Day Three: Proprietary Biochips, the new loyalty card?

Today I discovered that the WordPress iOS app is still far from perfect (though hugely improved from when I first started using it) as it managed to lose my original half-finished post from this morning. That may prove a blessing in disguise, since I wasn’t happy with the post while writing it and since then I’ve come up with an entirely new topic to write about. 

Browsing the news, I came upon this Guardian article – ‘World’s Lamest Cyborg’ – about a company in Wisconsin which provided RFID biochip implants for it’s employees- which can allow them to purchase food, but only from the vending machine on company property.

While it’s cool to see RFID technology finally out in the commercial environment, it feels a world away from the kind of stuff I’m used to hearing about – individual code-aware ‘biohackers’ who reprogram their own, usually self-implanted chip to whatever they want it to do. These people are augmenting their own bodies, having someone else do it for you, with a chip you don’t have access to, feels like giving up control of yourself to some degree.

But it got me thinking.

So a company controls what you do with your implant and how you can use it, but after all, it’s only one tiny, grain of rice sized chip, and the human body is a big place. Maybe this is the way forward with ‘customer loyalty’ – a chip that gives them exclusive discounts, access and more. And you could have plenty of them – or would they start to interfere with each other, signal-wise? How many chips is too many?

There are plenty more questions surrounding the commercial implementation of RFID chips. What happens if you want it out? Or if the company changes the chip function? Or it gets hacked? Would you need contracts drawing up – mobile phone plan style? Is the implanting company responsible for any subsequent health issues? The liability and litigation issues could be endless, and it will be interesting to see how companies handle that, now this place has set the ball rolling.

Global Inequality in Tech: Part Two

Earlier this year, I wrote what turned out to be a fairly depressing post on how jobs around the world and across many industries are slowly becoming automated, resulting in massive job losses and a resultant ever-increasing gaps in equality.

Much of the focus so far has tended to be on manual jobs, being replaced by robots, and causing a gap between those with digital skills and those without. Yet, while that’s absolutely true, a lot of digital and office jobs are slowly being replaced too. Front-line customer service is being replaced by chatbots. Last time, I mentioned an insurance firm using computers to automate customer quotes. There have been a lot of other examples in the past few months – it feels like we’re finally starting to reach that long-predicted AI point.

There are advantages to the rise of the computer.

This was my first reaction to the Venturebeat article linked above – that systems that can do calculations for me, sort emails, take notes etc. could potentially massive increase my productivity. In fact, in my current job much of the technology to do that certainly already exists, though not necessarily widely or cheaply (so we know that it soon will be.) This article from Digital Trends predicts that:

AI alone could double annual economic growth rates for some countries by 2035

However, the new technology simply doesn’t translate into new jobs. So not only will there be massive job loss, I wonder what will happen to the entry-level and graduate jobs of many positions. If there is no more need for the Marketing Assistant level-type roles, where is the traditional stepping stones, in my career area, at least, and many others? If people can’t gain  work experience in those low level roles, they may have to spend a lot longer in higher education to gain the skills necessary to actually advance, and even in the most developed nations that is a path increasingly only open to those with money and supportive families.

 

 

Global Inequality in Tech

After my last blogpost, I started reading up more on technology and global inequality. How much of a divide is there in the world? Is it such a serious social issue?

It turns out that the answers are ‘A very big one’ and ‘yes.’

Many of the issues stem from lack of internet access for a large proportion of the world’s population, which denies them access to education and training needed to socially advance or improve their communities. This is an issue that is being worked on through many angles (including the wifi drones that I wrote about last year) although there are plenty of other problems than just the hardware – including fair access under corrupt administration, and cultural issues or actually using it.

But in high and middle-income countries, lack of access is less of a problem, but technology is actually making equality worse over time. This article from the World Economic Forum explains it best, basically as jobs have become more automated, the world starts to become divided into those who still have marketable skills and those who don’t. Those who do can afford more personal technology, more education to develop those skills (and their children’s skills) and so the divide grows. Even with programmes to bridge that divide and ensure that everyone has access to useful job skills, countries are reaching a point where productivity can be high but there simply aren’t enough jobs for everyone to have one. I remember being amazed at this video of robots moving stock around an Amazon warehouse (exciting futuristic stuff!) and then quickly realising that this is a job that used to be done by people… and it isn’t just factory jobs either. Recently a Japanese Insurance firm began using a computer system that calculates customer payouts for them, making 34 employees redundant.

The scary thing is that the WEF article above (which it should be noted was written a year ago) both calls for a quick response to the issue but is unable to provide clear answers, only ‘innovative thinking’ to solve the problem. Clearly, we didn’t start solving it in 2016, and I have to wonder how many more robots will enter the workforce before we do.

Is tech about to hit a slowdown point?

Is tech about to hit a slowdown point? And possibly the more important question, does technology need to have a slowdown point?

This is something I began thinking about after reading an article from TechCrunch: “Consider ethics when designing new technologies“. This article explained that as technology becomes an integral part of almost every aspect of our lives, ethical issues will result in lack of consumer confidence and therefore a lack of early adopters for new types of tech.

Technology has been progressing at an almost exponential rate in the past few decades. But if it hits a point where not enough people trust the tech to make it worthwhile to produce, will the curve of progress finally start to level off?

If it does, this might be a much needed change of pace for the world as a whole, if not for the tech industry itself. The gap in global equality is already huge, and not only do we have countries unable to compete economically, but there’s a massive social gap too. Technology has brought us together in global communities, but it risks dividing us again with a loss of level communication.

Blogpril April 9th – Wifi Drones and the World  Part Two: Facebook’s Experiments

http://fortune.com/2015/07/30/facebooks-solar-power-drone-internet-earth/ – Article from fortune.com.

After yesterday’s ramblings, I decided that I should do a bit of reading and discover whether anyone has actually looked into the kind of technology that I was thinking about (drones powering global wifi coverage) and it turns out that Facebook is working on exactly that! – Using larger scale drones, operating at a higher altitude than air traffic, to ‘beam down’ a wifi signal that will cover a large area in parts of the world where it’s difficult to provide standard Internet.

While this is clearly a way off being properly implemented, it’s an amazing project and the fact that it’s already in a testing stage suggests that not too far into the distant future, we could see a truly connected global network. The political implications of that are something that I’m going to consider in tomorrow’s blog.

Blaugust Day 24 – Technological Confusion

Today – A meandering blog post that didn’t really go anywhere or have a point. I apologise.

Technology has moved on at ridiculous speeds over the last few years, and it seems like it’s getting faster all the time. I hear a lot of people bemoaning how hard it is to keep up with new tech, to get their head around new ways of thinking and doing. This is something I’ve never had a problem with – yet! I’ve always felt pretty comfortable embracing different little bits of machinery into my life.

What I never anticipated though, was how quickly I would forget stuff as soon as something new came along.

Here’s an example, at my current job, I have a work phone I use for contacting teams of casual staff who do promotional work for us. It’s a Nokia, but it’s basically like a Blackberry, little and square-ish with a horizontal screen and a querty keypad.

When I was first given it, I had absolutely no idea how to unlock the keypad, and this worried me. I used phones far older than this in my teens, how did I not remember this? (centre top button – left bottom button incidentally) I had a standard nine-buttoned fat rectangle of a Nokia until I was twenty-one, but somehow as soon as I got a touch screen, my brain just ejected any info on older phones. I occasionally found myself picking up the phone and tapping the screen without thinking. I also discovered that I’ve developed a totally different way of texting on iphones, where I approximate where the right letters are, and somehow predictive text has adapted to knowing what I meant to say. It’s funny how quickly the habits form. Working without predictive text actually felt right relearning an old skill.

There are certainly older computer skills that I’ve lost – when I was a little kid I had a PC with Windows 3.1, but if you asked me to navigate to the C drive in DOS now – well, I’d have to have a few goes at it, at least, even though it would have been so under my fingers back then I wouldn’t even have had to think about it, the same way I barely have to think about typing in my computer password.