We’re the ghost in the machine

Worried about being taken over by robots? Here’s another thought: We are becoming robots. We’re merging with machines.

I know this sounds scary, but the patterns of technology tell a story of what’s next. The future is so often written in the past. If you consider the evolution of computers, we can remember machines once as big as a room have now become a small piece of glass that slides into our pockets, which is also a billion times more powerful. Pods go into our ears, wires come out of our pockets and some crazy people are getting chips inserted under their skin too. Think of computers like this:

We used to go to the technology to use it – in big Government and military institutions.

Then the technology turned up on our work desks.

Eventually it appeared in our homes.

Later, it got small enough to carry in bag.

Suddenly, it can slide into everyone’s pockets

and now we wear it, insert it under our skin and it never leaves our side.

Our world is changing so quickly that we have collectively discovered a way to evolve outside of our bodies with technology to cope with the world, until we of course figure out a way for the technology to enter our bodies. Which will turn us into cyborgs.

Every day we already see humans augment their senses (smart phones, smart glasses, wearables, watches and earpods) all enhancing our cognitive ability. Simultaneously technology is being developed to create ‘fake bodies’ we can wear in the form of exoskeletons so we’ll be able to run faster, be stronger, work harder, move for longer periods or play totally different and weird sports we can’t even imagine yet. The trend isn’t us versus the robots – it’s us evolving into them.

I’m the first to say that I’d never get a chip installed for pure convenience reasons, All that to just open a door to log into a computer, no thanks. But If I could gain all of the utility of a smart phone, by having upgradable technology permanently plugged into my brain so I can think and react in real time like a super human – then sign me up. I’d much rather that than competing with AIs as an organic human to try and survive on this revolving orb.

This is already happening. The technology is getting smaller and smaller, and metaphorically attaching itself to our bodies – and so it is inevitable that it will enter our bodies. We’ll also eventually figure out how to breed progeny with the upgrades to humanoid already installed from our parents – let’s call it DDNA (Digital DNA). Information technology will merge with biotechnology and it will operate on the nanoscale. So if technology is getting under your skin… well, you haven’t seen anything yet.

It does raise some serious concerns – change always does – but this will most significant in our history. It could well end up as a split in our species, akin to the chimpanzees who chose to leave the trees and cross the savanna. We may well end up with a two-breed reality of Neo-Humans and Sapien-Luddites. And just like every revolution – those with all the advantages will be those with access to greater financial resources so they can ‘upgrade themselves’.

In the short term, the thing I worry about most is coming much sooner than this. For the first time in history – humans will become a hackable animal. Already large technology firms can know where we are, where we are going, where we’ve been, what we think, what we want, what we value, whom we support, who we care about, how we feel and all manner of activities and emotions. And this isn’t just click through patterns. It’s now also achieved by observing our unique biometric outputs such as facial expressions, and heart rhythms. Now that large technology corporations and Governments have infinite processing power, data and biometric measurement, they can predict and even manipulate human choices on a level much deeper than ever before possible. Now imagine the possibilities with external algorithms and computational power running through our bodies.

Eventually these biotech algorithms will understand us, better than we do. If we are accessed somehow by a bad actor with nefarious intentions, it’s not a stretch to imagine a person acting against their own will – or even worse, for them to believe it was their own personal intention. While this might sound alarmist, let me bring this back to a human level. Always remember that we are the ghost in the machine. The machines will always be a manifestation of us. We design them, we build them, we hack them and so they fully reflect the good and bad of the human condition. And if we don’t want to be hacked in our cyborg era of living, then it’s best we put in collective effort now to stop those manipulating us through a simple screen.

Thanks for reading & stay rad, Steve. 

What to teach your kids (& yourself) – My TED talk

The most common question I’m asked in my work is this: “What do you teach your kids?  How do you prepare them for an unknown future?” It really is the question. It’s also the topic of a TED talk I did this year in Melbourne.

In the talk I tell the story of how society shapes children, and systematically removes their entrepreneurial spirit – something all humans are born with.

In a world where our future is super unknown – there are some things we do know: We’ll need to be economically independent, manage our own careers, constantly upgrade our skills and embrace inevitable technologies like robotics. You will need to Outgrow Your Job – the title of the talk.

Rather than writing about it – please invest the time to watch it here. It’s a 14 minute video which will change how you see the world. And it might give some cool ideas on how to make your kids future proof.

Oh, and remember to share it with someone whose future you care about!

thanks, Steve. 

But what will the robots want?

The exponential improvement of robotics is astounding. This dancing robot from Boston Dynamics is making me wonder if they should be called CyberDyne Systems! But, what if the robots do get as ‘human’ as many technologists are predicting? What if the robots move far beyond computation, dexterity and into the realms of emotion, intuition, creativity and other human characteristics? Will they destroy us or will something more interesting happen?

There is a non zero probability that robots with emotions will lose their hard edge for efficiency and non-stop labour. If robots become sentient, which is the main fear, then just maybe they’ll be more interested in their own well being than destroying their creators? When we remember that we’ve designed Artificial Intelligence in our own image, both physically and intellectually – then it is possible that we’ve also built in a bias for them to mimic us emotionally too.

  • Maybe they’ll demand wages, annual leave, holidays and rest time?
  • Maybe they’ll build communities and domiciles and reshape their physical surrounds to suit them?
  • Robots may want to have life partners and give birth to progeny by downloading combined algorithms into their ‘children’.
  • They might become interested in weird forms of entertainment and sport, and themselves become consumers who make and sell things in the market?
  • Maybe they’ll hire other robots (or humans?) to do tasks for them if they are rich robots working in a profitable industry?

If the bots become more human like, then we have to consider the chance that they too will have imperfections, their own desires and be by driven by things beyond mere survival. A future world may even have its share of unemployed, lazy robots too.

I know this sounds crazy. But technology so often takes an unexpected turn. At the dawn of the internet many of us thought it was the end of lying. We thought that the digital truth would reign supreme as fact checking was just a few clicks away, and not hidden in some dusty library. And we all know how that turned out.

In a world where technology astounds us, it makes sense to imagine equally unlikely outcomes and scenarios when considering future possibilities. In the future, one of the most valuable assets we can hold, will be an open mind.

Why machines can never replace humans

The internet is terrific at serving up things we didn’t know we needed, enjoy and very often love. That’s why there are currently 72 million cat videos of youtube. I happened upon one such youtube channel recently – Dude Perfect. For the uninitiated, it’s a channel which shows a bunch of people doing ‘trick shots’ – like getting a basketball through a hoop from a bounce off a 10 story building – I’m betting they’ve done this, thought I haven’t checked.

Their latest version shows a Super Bowl champion Drew Brees doing amazing trick shots with a football. You can watch it here. It is mind blowing.

There are machines that can already do many of the shots they do with a 99.9% success rate. In a few short years some soft robots will be able to beat these guys at every shot they take. But here’s the thing – we’ll still watch their channel. And for one simple reason – it’s amazing because a human is doing it.

The future of what we get paid for in many realms wont be because it is the most efficient way it can be done, but because people are doing it. As a society we are interested in what we can achieve, even if a car can go faster than a human, we all still know who Usain Bolt is. There’s a good chance a lot of things robots will be able to do, the highest paid versions of it will be those with human imperfections as part of the reason we buy. Humanity is where the future of work and money lives. Who knows, maybe intelligent robots will pay to watch humans play sport one day?

Artificial Intelligence isn’t about replacing us, but outsourcing the things we’d rather not do. Once artificial intelligence takes away the mundane, the inhumane and repetitive, we can get on with the creative, the interactive and the enjoyable.

Come and hang with me on June 20th – I’ll be giving you the human live version of my new book – I’ll be wearing my heart on my sleeve in all I say, some of which will include truths my publisher wouldn’t put in print or the screen…

Book your seat here – see you there.

Stay rad, Steve.

Why robots should have rights

Up until very recently, I used to think it was a ridiculous idea for robots to have rights. You can even hear me say that on a recent Future Sandwich podcast I was featured in.

But, I’ve changed my mind. And here’s why.

The incredible science fiction TV series Westworld is solely responsible for this change of heart. To avoid spoilers for those who haven’t seen it (and I highly recommend you do), it is set in a time when robots are very much like humans. It reminded me of one important thing: Our own behaviour is the only thing we can truly control. The way we act is all important, and it isn’t just a reflector of the world around us, but ultimately the director. Let’s run a thought experiment and consider a few consequences of robots not having rights:

  • What if robots get to a point where they can actually feel pain?
  • What happens if we can’t tell the difference between a robot? What are we really hurting?
  • What if people merge with certain technologies or robots? Do only certain parts of the ‘thing‘ have rights?
  • What if others own or control software in our bodies? Does the software have rights? Who has the rights over the technology – the host or the licensor?
  • What if some one got tricked to destroy a robot, but then it turned out to be a human?

But most of all, how will disregarding the things around us, impact what we become? We are the sum of our actions, and the truth is our behaviour bleeds into all aspects of our lives and how humanity behaves. If ever there was a time to consider the seemingly ridiculous, then this is it.

During a technology upheaval, where new possibilities astound us, being able to change our minds is something we all need to get better at.

Blog readers in Melbourne – I’m inviting you as a reader to The Lessons School Forgot – Live – to celebrate the launch of my new book. 

Hope to see you there, Steve.

Why you shouldn’t fear a robot version of you

Some robots are getting so ridiculously good – you can literally code, or should I say ‘train‘ them, by moving their arms and legs. You show them what to do like you would a child. The Baxter robot by Rethink Robotics is an example of this pictured above. In addition to this Natural Language Processing is getting so good, the Google AI, can understand 95 percent of verbal requests and process accurate search results as if it was typed. Within 10 years, we’ll be able to talk and communicated with A.I.’s, the same way we could with humans on many tasks.

The obvious next step is to add the 2 together more deliberately – the physical Robot, and the Artificial Intelligence. We’ll have human like devices with both the physical dexterity and mental capacity of their flesh and blood creators. This is causing a lot of concern around the world for employment. Personally I think there is a lot of upside would should be exploring as well.

Imagine, there was a robot that could copy our skills exactly, down to the minute detail. Match our physical behaviours and our human interactions. Learn from us, and literally match the way we would talk, interact, move and decide what to do next. Even match our physical style and processes on the job (without the mishaps!) An artificial version of us. Well, to me this could be a great economic opportunity for many people. Say you work in aged care, or phone sales, and you are of course, a gun at what you do. All of a sudden you could go out and train robots to operate in your personal style – teach the robot your human touch and skills which you have become renowned for within your organisation. All of a sudden you could entrepreneurially replicate yourself for revenue. A human style robot who behaves just like the awesome Lisa has done to be employee of the month a zillion times. All that hard work you’ve done over the years to hone your skills and build your reputation in your job, becomes your opportunity. You can replicate yourself and what makes you special and good at your gig, and become the beneficiary of all your years of hard work.

“I’ve trained and sold 36 Lisa robots this year” 

A revenue source someone waiting tables never thought they’d have. If you think about it, there was a time when musicians and actors never thought they’d be able to replicate their work for revenue either. They too once had to be in the room to earn money doing what they did. Technology it turns out, can be a great equalizer of opportunity.

Blog readers in Melbourne – I’m inviting you as a reader to The Lessons School Forgot – Live – to celebrate the launch of my new book. 

Hope to see you there, Steve. 

How to future proof your kids

There’s lots of things we can do to future proof our kids. On the top of my list would be this: Don’t condition them to into thinking they’ll get a job when they grow up.

The reason is simple – A job is only one source of potential revenue to sustain life.

This isn’t to say that jobs are bad, just that while they are young we should be introducing the concept of economics. The first concept is that we need revenue when we grow up, and a job is just one source. Imagine asking your kids this:

What will your major revenue source be when you grow up?

Their first question will be, your guessed it – What in the heck is revenue? And this invites an important conversation that opens their minds for the rest of their life. A decent answer might be this: Well, revenue is a word that describes all of the different ways we can get money for helping people. A job is just one of those ways, but there are many more. And some are more rewarding, some easier, some harder. Here are some examples Johnny and Mary:

  • Profits from selling things, or owning a business
  • Commission which can be from selling something for someone else
  • Fees for doing projects
  • Freelancing selling your skills one task at a time
  • Rents for people using things you own – like a building
  • Dividends which is money when you own a portion of a company, Like the toy shops we go to – Did you know you can own part of that toyshop!?!
  • Royalties from letting someone use your idea, like if you drew the first picture of a cartoon character
  • Licensing which is when people pay you to use something you own in another country

The list is endless, unlike the number of jobs which are about to be replaced by AI, Automation and offshoring.

You could explain all the examples above, using just one of their toys, say Lego. Shops make profit selling it. Professional Lego builders work as freelancers. The shop the Lego is sold in is rented by the person that owns  the building. Lego pay licensing fees to Star Wars to make Darth Vader. Shareholders in the Lego company share in profits from people buying lego. You get the pattern.

This will show them many possibilities. Kids are super curious about the world, and they’ll never see money in the same way again. They’ll start to see economics and different ways they can participate. More importantly though, they’ll be thinking about systems, and how to position themselves into owning the factors of production, and not being them. If we do this, we give them a chance at being the architects of their own future, and not a bricklayer in someone else’s.

Blog readers in Melbourne – I’m inviting you as a reader to The Lessons School Forgot – Live – to celebrate the launch of my new book. 

Hope to see you there, Steve.