Category Archives: futurism

When Parents Look As Young As You: Speculation And Implications

Can aging be reversed? | Wall Street International Magazine

A while back, I was sifting through some old pictures and I found a few of my parents when they were younger. Some of those pictures were a bit faded, but some held up remarkably well. A few in particular depicted my dad when he was in his 20s. It was fun, seeing how my parents looked in their youth. They certainly had plenty of stories behind each picture.

Beyond the stories, there was also the uncanny resemblance. My dad in his 20s looked a lot like me and my brother do now. I definitely have my dad’s facial structure. More than one relative has commented how similar we look whenever I share a picture of us.

My brother definitely inherited my dad’s old hair style. There’s this one picture of my dad in a hammock with long, uncut hair and it looks eerily identical to how my brother styles his hair. Overall, you can definitely see the resemblance.

Naturally, peoples’ appearances change as they age. It’s a normal thing. We can all marvel at how our parents looked in their youth, but that doesn’t change how different they look now. Most people don’t have the luxury of looking like Keanu Reeves in their 50s. As they get older, age will affect their appearance, their energy levels, and their mental state.

With all due respect to my wonderful parents, their age does show. When we stand together for family pictures, you can tell who’s the parent and who are the kids, even though my brother and I are full adults. I don’t doubt my age will start showing soon enough. It already has in some respects.

However, what happens if we suddenly gain the ability to either stop aging at a certain point or completely reverse it?

What if our parents could look the same age as us when we turn 30?

How would that affect us personally?

How would that affect us as a society?

These are not entirely rhetorical questions. It may sound like something that requires futuristic technology, but it’s not as far fetched as we think. Reversing or stopping the aging process in living things isn’t like breaking the speed of light. We know it can be done because there are animals that do it all the time.

Certain species of turtles never seem to age out of their adult prime. Other species basically age in reverse. In biology, it’s called negligible senescence and it’s a subject of significant interest for the treatment of aging. While humans do have a lifespan that seems built into our biology, we’re steadily developing the tools to hack that biology.

The technology is new and unrefined, but the incentives for developing it have never been greater. We already have an aging population. Helping people live into their 90s is nice, but what good is living that long if you can’t enjoy life as you did in your youth?

That technology is still a ways off, but like I said before. There’s no hard rule of biology or physics that prevents us from reversing the effects of aging. The research into the mechanisms of reversing aging altogether is ongoing and anyone who develops treatments are sure to gain a chunk of the multi-billion dollar anti-aging industry.

How and when this technology becomes mainstream is difficult to predict, but if and when it does, it raises some major implications. Setting aside the issues that come about from a population that doesn’t get weaker or less energetic with age, what does that do to how we carry ourselves around family?

That’s a personal impact of this technology that I don’t think enough people contemplate, mostly because they think it’s impossible. However, there are people alive today who may live long enough to see this technology mature. At that point, they’ll have to deal with having parents that look the same age as they do once they turn 30.

Imagine, for a moment, going to a restaurant with your parents. To you, they’re your parents and you know that. To everyone else, however, you’re just three people hanging out at a restaurant. If you look the same age, how can you tell the difference between a family getting dinner and a bunch of friends hanging out?

Things can easily get more complicated and awkward from there. Imagine you’re a guy meeting your mother for lunch or a girl meeting her father for coffee. From the outside, you don’t look like a parent and child. You might look like a couple on a date. I can only imagine how tense waiters might feel if they find out a cute couple are actually parent and child.

Add grandparents who don’t age to the equation and the complications only compound. When your family unit becomes indistinguishable from a co-ed dorm in college, how does that affect your perspective? Beyond the awkward realizations that the cute girl you’re hitting on is as old as your grandmother, how do parents and kids relate to one another when they look alike at a certain point?

As kids, we know our parents are our parents because they’re older than us. Even as adults, most of us reserve some level of respect and reverence for both our parents and elders. Just looking older will garner a certain reaction. What happens when technology removes appearance from the equation entirely?

We all know young people who are wise beyond their years and old people who are as dumb as a kid. When we all look the same age, those distinctions will become blurred and muddled. How that affects our personal perspectives, as well as our society in general, is difficult to fathom at the moment. Given the rapid pace of biotechnology and all the money at stake, that moment might come sooner than we think. As such, we should start preparing ourselves for the awkwardness that’s sure to follow.

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Self-Driving Cars Are Already Saving Drunk Drivers: The Promise And The Implications

Self-Driving Cars: Everything You Need to Know | Kelley Blue Book

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 10,497 people died in traffic accidents caused by drunk driving in 2016 alone. That accounted for 28 percent of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. A non-insignificant chunk of those deaths were children. Even if you’re not good at math, you know that is not a trivial figure.

There’s also a good chance you know someone who has been hurt or worse because of a drunk driver. This sort of thing is personal for me because one of my cousins was killed by a drunk driver many years ago. He wasn’t even drinking. He was just unlucky enough to be in the back seat of the car at the time.

It’s an issue that has existed for as long as cars. It’s also an issue that policy makers and car manufacturers have tried to address through awareness programs and safety features. However, these measures can only do so much. So long as human beings are drinking and driving cars, this will be an issue.

That dynamic will likely change considerably when self-driving cars enter the picture. To some extent, they’re already making an impact. You can buy a car today that has some measure of self-driving features. They’re still not fully autonomous, but we’ve taken the first critical steps. From here on it, it’s just a matter of refinement.

Even though it might be years before self-driving cars are common, they’re already making an impact and it’s not just in terms of sheer novelty. Very recently, a Tesla Model S, which has an autopilot feature, did something cars of old could never do.

It saved a drunk driver who passed out behind the wheel, which likely saved or prevented serious injuries to others around him. Here are the details, according to the site, Telsarati.

Teslarati: Tesla Autopilot prevents drunk driver from making a fatal mistake

As explained by the Eastern Police District on its official Twitter account, a 24-year-old Tesla owner ended up passing out while driving his Model S. Fortunately for the driver, the vehicle’s Autopilot system was activated, which allowed the Model S to stay in its lane without causing trouble to other drivers.

Upon detecting that its driver was unresponsive, the vehicle eventually came to a stop and engaged its hazards. The man was later attended to by emergency services. No one was injured in the incident.

The police noted that the Tesla driver, who was found unconscious in the Model S, was evidently drunk, though he denied that he was driving. Video evidence showing the Tesla owner passed out in the driver’s seat have been shared online, however. The police stated that necessary tests have been taken, and that the Tesla owner’s driver’s license has been temporarily suspended. A case has also been filed against the driver.

Such an incident could have easily been a lot worse. It is very easy for drunk drivers to harm themselves, after all, but what’s even worse is that they could very easily harm other people just as easily. These scenarios would likely not be as prevalent if vehicles are capable of safely stopping on their own once their human drivers are incapacitated.

The bolded text represents the most relevant details. Without these features, this incident could’ve played out like so many other drunk driving tragedies. A drunk driver passing out behind the wheel would’ve, at the very least, led to the car going off-road and crashing, thus resulting in significant injury. At worst, the driver could’ve hit another car, thus compounding the tragedy.

However, thanks to these emerging systems, that didn’t happen. The safeguards in the car worked. The only real harm done involve a hangover and a DUI. Compared to the alternative, that’s far more preferable.

We should not understate the importance of this development. Think back to that 10,497 figure from 2016. Thanks to the autopilot system in that Tesla, the figure for 2021 will be at least one less. It doesn’t eliminate the tragedy of drunk driving all at once, but it’s a start and an important one, at that.

Driving is inherently dangerous, but a lot of that danger comes from the people behind the wheel and not the machines themselves. Anything operated by a human is prone to human error. An autonomous system, even if it isn’t a full-fledged artificial intelligence, can and will mitigate those errors.

That’s not to say those same autopilot systems aren’t prone to error. They certainly are, but remember that this technology is still very new. The first cell phones couldn’t send an email or reliably play streaming video. That took time, energy, and better hardware.

At this very moment, car companies and tech companies are putting in all that work. There is a lot of potential profit in refining this technology. However, I would point out that you can’t put a price on human life and, as it stands, thousands will continue to die every year because of traffic accidents, especially drunk driving. This one incident might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still one tragedy averted, one accident prevented, and at least one life saved. For anyone who knows the pain of losing a loved one to drunk driving, that’s worth celebrating.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, robots, technology, Uplifting Stories

Would You Shop At A Store Run Entirely By Robots?

Will Smart Machines Kill Jobs or Create Better Ones? - The Washington Post

Recall the last time you went to the store. It doesn’t matter if it was your corner grocery store or some big box department store. All that matters is you went there to do some basic shopping, as we all end up having to do at some point. With that in mind, try and remember how many store clerks you saw.

Maybe some were working at cash registers.

Maybe some were stocking shelves.

Maybe some were sweeping floors or cleaning up messes.

The chances are you saw at least several. I remember seeing at least three the last time I went to a grocery store. That’s fairly typical. I know I used to see more before the days of self check-out lines, but I always saw people working at these stores, diligently doing the things necessary to keep it running.

For most of us, that’s a mundane sight. For every store we go to, we expect there to be human beings working there to keep it going. It’s part of the infrastructure that keeps these stores stocked. On top of that, seeing other human beings contributing gives us a sense of comfort in that this place is being run by real people with real faces.

Now, try and imagine a store that has no people working at it. You walk in the door and you never see another human being carrying out the various operations we expect of a functioning store. All that is now done by machines and robots. They’re the ones who stock the shelves, handle your money, and clean the messes.

Does that change the experience?

Does that make you more or less inclined to shop at that store?

These are relevant questions because, as I’ve noted before, robots and artificial intelligence are advancing rapidly. Automation is an ongoing trend that promises to have major economic ramifications. Some of those ramifications are already here. It’s one of the reason coal mining jobs will never be as prevalent as they once were.

Other ramifications haven’t arrived yet, but they will eventually come. The technology is there. The incentives are there. It’s just a matter of investing, refinement, and scale. Eventually, it will reach retail work, a sector that employs nearly 10 million people. That will have a major economic impact for large swaths of people.

Unlike other forms of automation, though, it’ll be a lot more visible.

Most of us never set foot in a factory where cars are made, much of which is done by robots. Most will never set foot in an Amazon or Walmart warehouse, which already use robots at a significant scale. The impact of just how much work is done by robots these days is not visible to most ordinary people.

That will not be the case with stores and retail work. Like I said, we all have to get out and shop every now and then. Even though online retail has become more prevalent, people still go to traditional brick and mortar stores. Even as online retail improves, that’s not likely to change.

However, how much will that experience change once robots start doing the jobs that humans have done for centuries?

How will that change the experience?

Will you, as a consumer, shop at a store that had no humans working there most of the time?

If you think this isn’t that far off, think again. Below is a video from an AI channel on YouTube that shows a robot using a bar code scanner for the first time. The process is a bit cumbersome, but the robot is able to handle it. It is able to receive instructions. Given the nature of how robots improve and refine their programming, it’s not unreasonable to assume that future robots will be able to carry out retail tasks more efficiently than any human worker.

It may not happen all at once. You probably won’t just walk into a store one day and notice that everyone was replaced by a robot. Like self check-out, it’ll likely happen gradually. Once it gets to a certain point, though, it’ll become mainstream very quickly. The incentives are just too strong.

You don’t need to be an economist to see those incentives. Robots don’t need to be paid. They don’t slack off on the job. They don’t get sick or tired. In theory, they could keep a store open 24/7 without ever paying overtime. For big box retailers like Walmart, the potential profits are just too large to ignore.

It won’t stop at stores, either. Restaurants will likely undergo a similar process. There are already working robots that can cook meals from scratch. Once they get refined and scaled, then it’s also likely you’ll one day eat at a restaurant entirely run by robots.

Would you be willing to eat at such a place?

Your answer will probably be similar to the one I asked earlier about whether you’d shop at a store run entirely by robots. Personally, I don’t think I’m ready to shop at a place that had no humans working in it, if only because robots sometimes break down. However, within my lifetime, it may get to a point where stores and restaurants run by humans become the exception rather than the norm.

Are we ready for that future?

I don’t know, but it’ll come whether we’re ready for it or not.

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The Promise, Perils, And Potential Of Elon Musk’s New Tesla Worker Robots

Tesla Promised a Robot. Was It Just a Recruiting Pitch? | WIRED

We’ve all had jobs that are laborious, boring, and repetitive. In fact, for most of human history, those were pretty much the only jobs there were. If you didn’t spend 12 hours a day in a field or factory, doing the same thing again and again, you didn’t have what you needed to survive. Only royalty and the wealthy got to enjoy leisure of any kind.

These days, those types of jobs are still there. Even though we live in an age of increasing automation, there are still plenty of jobs that are hard, repetitive, and draining. Anyone who works in an Amazon warehouse can attest to this.

I have some personal experience with those jobs. I once worked a job at a fast-food restaurant that probably could’ve been done by a trained monkey. I hated it and wouldn’t want my children having to do that kind of work. The fact that many people still have to work these jobs to make endsmeat is tragic.

The prospect of eliminating these jobs with technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence has always been intriguing. I’ve written about it before, both the artificial intelligent aspect of it and the social implications. Unlike other ideas about the future or future technology, this is one trend that’s already happening. Automation is a real thing and it’s not stopping anytime soon.

However, Elon Musk is once again looking to make another massive leap and enrich himself even more in the process. In addition to working on electric cars, commercial space flight, brain/computer interfaces, and flamethrowers, he now wants to create a legion of humanoid robot workers.

Basically, he wants to create the robots in “I, Robot,” minus the part where they go haywire and try to kill everyone. I wish I could say that was a joke, but we already have killer drones, so I think that would be in poor taste.

Musk made an official announcement of this effort on behalf of Tesla. Below is an excerpt of the story, courtesy of The Verge.

The Verge: Elon Musk says Tesla is working on humanoid robots

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says his company is working on a humanoid robot and that it will build a prototype “sometime next year.” The humanoid robot will leverage Tesla’s experience with automated machines in its factories, as well as some of the hardware and software that powers the company’s Autopilot driver assistance software.

Musk, who has spoken repeatedly about his fears of runaway artificial intelligence, said the Tesla Bot is “intended to be friendly,” but that the company is designing the machine at a “mechanical level” so that “you can run away from it, and most likely overpower it.” It will be five feet, eight inches tall, weigh 125 pounds, and have a screen for a face. The code name for the bot inside the company is “Optimus,” he said.

The robots will be designed to handle “tasks that are unsafe, repetitive or boring,” the company’s website reads, but little else, at least at first. (There, the bot is simply called “Tesla Bot.”) “I think essentially in the future, physical work will be a choice, if you want to do it you can,” Musk said.

Musk revealed drawings of the robot near the tail end of his company’s “AI Day” event, where it showcased some of the artificial intelligence and supercomputer technologies that it’s working on with the goal of one day powering self-driving cars. The company also had a mannequin version on the stage, which wasn’t working.

Now, before I continue, I want to make a quick disclaimer. I am not about to gush over Elon Musk and anoint him the bringer of a new techno-utopia. He might be one of the world’s richest human beings, but even he has limitations. I know I’ve gushed over Elon Musk in the past, but I’ve since tempered some of my attitudes.

I’m aware that Musk has a reputation of overpromising and failing to deliver. The article even points that out. I’m also aware that Musk, like many billionaires, has done some shady things in the past. You really can’t get as rich and successful as him without being an asshole to some extent.

At the same time, you cannot overlook the man’s success. He didn’t invent the electric car any more than Steve Jobs invented the personal computer or the smartphone. He just took existing technology, combined it into a new product, and successfully marketed it in a way no other human being had done to that point. He was so good at it that he became even richer than he already was.

Like it or not, he succeeded. He thinks big and tries to deliver. Even when he fails, he gets people to push the envelope. He underestimated just how difficult it was to create a self-driving car. I have a feeling he’ll do the same with these robots.

However, I also think that he will do more than anyone to speed up the ongoing trends in automation. Like I said before, this is not some new, fanciful technology. Robots exist. They already work in factories, doing work that used to be done by humans. They aren’t humanoid, but that’s because they’re limited to just a single task.

These humanoid robots will offer something different. They’ll be able to perform a wider ranger of tasks. The robots that make cares can’t be reconfigured to make something else. These Tesla bots could at least begin that process. Even if it’s flawed and unsuccessful at first, that’s still progress. Pretty much all technological advances are like that in the beginning.

His timing here might actually be just right. In recent years, companies like Boston Dynamics have shown off just how capable robots have become. They’re no T-1000, but they’re getting to a point where they can walk, run, lift, and jump as well as an ordinary human. With some refinement, they’ll be able to do even more.

Just like he did with the electric car, Musk could create the first true fleet of robot workers. They wouldn’t be able to replace every human working a laborious job, but they would be able to take the place of some. At a time when there’s a growing labor shortage, there’s definitely going to be a market for that sort of thing.

Personally, I don’t think Musk is going to be able to deliver functional robot workers as quickly as he claims. However, I do think he’ll get the ball rolling for a new industry. He’ll demonstrate that this technology is possible and there’s a growing market for it. In the same way other companies have started making electric cars, they’ll also start making robot workers.

Even if he only succeeds in part, though, that does raise some major concerns. Stories about workers being exploited aren’t difficult to find and the COVID-19 pandemic only made those stories more relevant. I don’t doubt for a second that if companies could replace their workforce with robots and get the same production, they would do so in a heartbeat.

I suspect that some are already cheering Musk on behind the scenes. Those same people probably won’t give much thought to the larger implications of a robot workforce. The prospect of a large population of people who aren’t working, have no job prospects, and are unable to earn a proper living does not bode well for society.

While people like Musk have advocated for a universal basic income of sorts, the politics behind that are messy to say the least. Given how politics rarely seems to keep up with technology, it’s unreasonable to expect it to be ready for a robot workforce that does all the laborious jobs that people used to do. It’s definitely cause for concern. In that sense, perhaps it’s a good thing that what Musk seeks to do probably won’t work exceptionally well, at least at first. However, even if he fails, it’s only a matter of time and engineering before someone else succeeds. At that point, we won’t be able to avoid the larger implications.

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How Should A Robot Look Before You Welcome It Into Your Home?

karalunaria — ok so upon 3 minutes of google it's the mascot...

There was a time when people were skeptical about having a computer in their home. I know because I’m old enough to remember people like that. It wasn’t that they were paranoid about them, although a few certainly were. They just didn’t see the need.

Then, computers became smaller, more affordable, and more useful. They went from being these big, bulky machines that took up an entire corner of a room into being a sleek, decorative piece of hardware that did so much to improve our lives. From information to communications to masturbation, computers revolutionized our lives.

It’s a common trend in technology. When it’s new and undeveloped, people are wary about having it in their homes. Go back several decades and people felt the same way about television. Go back a century and some people were reluctant to allow electricity into their homes. It takes some people longer than others to come around, but they eventually do when the utility is just too great.

This brings me to robots and for once, I’m not referring to sex robots. While they could very well be part of this conversation, I’m going to set that kinky angle to this issue aside. Instead, I’m going to stick to robots in general, specifically the kind with a body and some mechanism for doing work.

We’ve watched in recent years how quickly robotics technology is advancing. A while back, I highlighted a video from Boston Dynamics that showed one of their robots dancing. Even before that, this same company demonstrated a robot that could run and navigate basic obstacles. While it was certainly no Terminator, it was still no Wall-E.

These robots exist. Every year, they’re being improved and refined. Within the next decade, it is likely we’ll have a robot that can move, react, and navigate its surroundings like a human. It may not have human level intelligence, but it will have the body to match our capabilities in every way.

When this day comes, the world will be a very different place. It’ll definitely raises issues regarding robot workers and robot soldiers, but that sort of impact won’t be as direct for most people. The real change will come when we have the ability to have a robot in our homes that can do almost any kind of work a human could do.

By that, I don’t just mean a virtual assistant like Alexa or Siri. We already have those and they’ve already become an increasingly popular feature for many homes. These assistants can help us with shopping lists, music playlists, and schedule reminders. They can’t do the dishes, clean the bathroom, cook our meals, or make our beds.

Having a robot that could do all that would be nice. It would be like having a personal maid and a personal secretary. There’s certainly a market for it and the rise of virtual assistants has already laid the foundation for that market. However, that still raises some important questions.

How should that robot look before you welcome it into your home?

Ignore for a moment the paranoia about a robot turning evil. Assume, for the sake of argument, these robots are as functional as your typical Roomba. They don’t have advanced AI. They’re not sentient or self-aware on the same level as Rosie from “The Jetsons” or Hal 9000. They just these big tools that do all the work you’d expect of a maid, butler, or servant.

Would you welcome that robot into your home if it looked like one of the Boston Dynamics robots?

Would you welcome that robot into your home if it looked completely indistinguishable from humans, like Kara in “Detroit: Become Human?”

Would you want that robot to look only mostly human, but still be distinctly machine, like Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation?”

These are all relevant questions if these robots are going to be part of our lives. For some people, a robot that looked too human might be too jarring. It would be difficult to see them and remember they’re just a robot. Some people might be fine with that, especially when sex robots are involved. However, for a robot that’s primarily a helper, that might not be ideal.

For robot servants, it might be more beneficial to everyone if they didn’t look too human. In fact, having a human-like body might even hinder a robots ability to do its job. That’s why most robots you see in factories don’t look human at all. They take the form of whatever helps them do their job.

Maybe a perfect robot housekeeper doesn’t look human. Maybe it looks more like a droid from “Star Wars” that has multiple arms, a head with a panoramic camera, and four legs like a dog. Depending on the home its in, it might even need to be able to adjust its height. Such a robot may be good at its task, but would it be too weird and bulky to allow in our homes?

No matter how human they look, these robots would have to appear to us in a way that we’re comfortable being around. We have to be willing to just leave them in our homes for most of the day, possibly with pets and children, and trust that they’ll do what we want them to do. That kind of trust will take time, just as it did with computers.

It may ultimately take longer to welcome a robot into our homes than we did with computers, but once the benefits and utility get to a certain point, it may be too appealing to ignore. I don’t claim to know what typical household robots will look like before then. I just know they’ll have to look a certain way for us to embrace them as part of our world. Naturally, we’ll still probably embrace sex robots sooner, but it won’t stop there. Robots will become a larger part of our lives eventually. They may end up having a greater impact than any new technology since electricity.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, robots, technology, Thought Experiment

It’s Official: I Am Ready For Self-Driving (And Self-Parking) Cars

There are a lot of emerging technologies that I genuinely hope I live long enough to see and I’m not just referring to sex robots. I’ve written about how certain technologies could open the door to a bold new world for humanity, as well as a few that could be the end of humanity as we know it.

Some of these advances are farther off than others.

Some are probably so advanced that I won’t live long enough to see them, but hopefully my kids will, if I’m able to have them.

One technology, however, is a lot closer than most realize. That technology is self-driving cars. I’ve talked about them before. It’s fair to say this is not some advanced speculative tech on par with warp drives and light sabres.

There are already working prototypes and advanced testing going on. While it’s far from becoming mainstream and there are real challenges we’ve yet to overcome, this technology is coming. It doesn’t break the rules of physics. It’s just a matter of time, investment, and refinement.

Well, after returning from my vacation this past week, I’m ready to make a larger statement about this technology. I try not to give too many personal opinions when I talk about this sort of thing, but I’m going to make an exception.

I’m very ready to embrace self-driving cars sooner rather than later.

I’m also very ready to embrace cars that can park themselves or just find a decent parking spot to begin with.

Why am I suddenly so eager to support this technology? The reason is simple. My travels this past week have reminded me just how much I dislike long drives on roads with little to know features. It also reminded me what a pain in the ass parking can be whenever I visit a major city like New York.

Just getting to my destination, navigating traffic jams and delays along the way, can be a test in frustration. It can also cause pain in my back from being so focused for extended periods. It can also drain me mentally, so much so that it’s hard to enjoy myself once I get to my destination.

I would absolutely love it if I could just get into a car, enter my destination, lay back, and sleep for most of the way. If I have to be awake, I’d love to use that as an opportunity to write some more sexy short stories or catch up on some shows. That would make me a lot more eager to travel and a lot more willing to go to more distant destinations.

At the same time, parking can be just as big a pain. This past week, I swear I spent a good half-hour just looking for parking and a good long while getting to it. It wasn’t cheap, either. That only compounds the pain.

It didn’t completely ruin my vacation, but it did temper it at times. I feel like everyone would enjoy a life with freer frustrations and self-driving cars can go a long way towards that. Say what you will about the technology or the companies behind it. When it eventually arrives, I’ll be the first to try it. If nothing else, I’ll be happy to just be able to enjoy the open road once again.

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Filed under futurism, Jack Fisher's Insights, technology

Why Amazon Accepting Bitcoin Would Be A Game Changer (And Why They Might NOT Do It)

Jeff Bezos Directs Amazon to Accept Bitcoin and Other Popular  Cryptocurrencies: Report – Bitcoin News

In all the years I’ve been browsing the internet, I’ve never seen something so divisive or so disruptive as cryptocurrencies. Yes, that includes both video games and internet porn. Crypto’s impact has been that profound. That impact is likely to continue in unexpected ways for years to come.

However, there is still plenty of uncertainty and confusion surrounding cryptocurrencies. I recently had dinner with my parents and my mother asked me to explain it to her. I tried. I’m pretty sure I failed. I tried to simply frame it as digital money, but that didn’t even come close to explaining what cryptocurrency is, how it works, and why it has become such a huge industry.

There are far smarter people than me who can explain what cryptocurrencies are and how they work. This video here does a decent job of explaining it to beginners who aren’t particularly tech savvy.

While I’ve been following the rise, fall, revival, and growth of cryptocurrencies for years, I didn’t actually buy any until very recently. I even wrote about my experience, which ended up being somewhat mundane. It was no different than using an ATM.

That’s somewhat illustrative of where cryptocurrencies are right now. Buying currencies like Bitcoin has never been easier. You can download any number of wallets for free on your phone. If you don’t want to link your bank account to it, then finding an ATM like I did is very easy.

If you have any spare change lying around, you can turn it into Bitcoin. That’s where we’re at now with cryptocurrencies.

The harder part at the moment is actually spending Bitcoins. While you can find numerous online merchants who take Bitcoins, you can’t exactly use them to pay your bills, buy your groceries, or just purchase something on a whim. That’s one of the biggest barriers to cryptocurrencies in general. Using it is more cumbersome than regular cash. That’s why most see Bitcoin as an investment asset rather than a usable currency.

That could change very soon, however. The reason for that change could come from the largest retail entity on this planet, Amazon. If ever there was a company that could completely change the way we see and use cryptocurrencies, it’s this one. It may ultimately make Jeff Bezos even richer than he already is, but let’s table that concern for a moment.

This isn’t just me speculating. There was a recent rumor among the business world that Amazon was looking to start accepting Bitcoins as a payment method. While Amazon ultimately shot down that rumor, they did not say they would never accept Bitcoins.

In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s only a matter of time before Amazon starts accepting cryptocurrencies in some capacity. There’s just too much money to be made from doing so and Amazon, like all big businesses, is always looking to grow. This would be one way of doing that and it’s impossible to overstate the larger impact that would have.

For one, it would send shockwaves through all currency markets, crypto and otherwise, more so than a million tweets by Elon Musk. Suddenly, this asset isn’t just an investment vehicle anymore. It’s a form of money with an actual use.

Amazon is already the biggest retailer in the world. It’s also becoming one of the largest grocery chains. It still has some competition, mostly through companies like Walmart. None of them accept Bitcoin yet, but you can be reasonably certain that as soon as one of them takes that leap, the others will follow.

Beyond just being a novel payment method, Amazon accepting Bitcoins could have a far broader change. One of the main driving forces behind the development of cryptocurrencies is that this is money that has no boarders. It doesn’t matter where you are in this world. You could be in America, China, or the middle of Africa. So long as you have an internet connection, you can access this currency.

For companies like Amazon, that means accessing a customer base that has been traditionally inaccessible. There are over a billion people in this world who have no bank accounts. In some parts of the world, their currency just isn’t usable for companies like Amazon. Converting them to other currencies is already a hassle. Bitcoin could change that.

By accepting Bitcoin, Amazon and other retailers like it have the potential to the entire world in ways that weren’t possible until recently. If they’re going to keep growing, they need those customers and, like it or not, these people need Amazon. Opening more people up to an accessible market can only help get goods to people who need them.

All that being said, I can also understand why Amazon and other large retailers might resist accepting cryptocurrencies. Beyond them just being too loosely regulated, their volatile nature could be a problem for large retailers.

I can attest to that volatility personally. When I bought my first Bitcoins, the price was around $35,000. Then, it shot up to over $60,000 for a while. A few months later, it crashed to the point where it was worth less than my initial investment. It eventually recovered, but that’s a lot of instability for a currency.

That’s something I’m sure Amazon is aware of. By taking Bitcoins as payments, they’re also accepting its wild volatility. All those Bitcoins that paid for all those goods could be worth a thousand dollars one day and worth a fraction of that the next. Even if Bitcoin represents only a small portion of payment, that’s sure to create some anxiety among investors.

Given the current state of the economy and the world, as a whole, I understand why Amazon would hold off on diving into cryptocurrencies. For a large, publicly traded company, anything that makes the stock price or the overall value of its assets less certain might just be too much to handle for now.

It may not happen this year. It may not even happen next year. However, I’m not among those who think all cryptocurrencies are a scam, a scheme, or a fad. These aren’t Pokémon cards or Beanie Babies. This is a valuable tool for the digital world that has the potential to open up exchange with everyone, regardless of where they live.

That tool still needs refinements. Bitcoin certainly has its flaws. That’s beyond dispute. Amazon is aware of those flaws, as well. As they are refined, currencies like Bitcoin will gain more acceptance. Amazon and other big retailers will be part of that process. When that day finally comes, expect a whole new world to emerge. I don’t claim to know what kind of world that’ll be, but I’m excited to see how it unfolds.

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Filed under Bitcoin, Current Events, futurism, technology

Why We Should Embrace Synthetic Meat (As Soon As Possible)

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If you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance you drank milk at some point this year. You probably drank a lot more of it when you were a kid. The fact that you’re reading this proves that you didn’t die, as a result. That may not seem like a big deal, but compared to 100 years ago, it counts as a noteworthy feat.

Between 1850 and 1950, approximately a half-million infants died due to diseases contracted by drinking milk. If you do the math, that’s about 5,000 deaths a year, just from drinking milk. Keep in mind, these are children. That’s a lot of death and suffering for drinking one of the most basic substances the animal kingdom.

These days, death by drinking milk is exceedingly rare. Thanks to processes like pasteurization, milk is one of the safest substances you can drink. If anyone does get sick, it’s usually from drinking raw or unpasteurized milk. However, it’s so rare that most people don’t think about it. It’s just a normal part of how we manage our food and nourish ourselves.

I bring up milk because it nicely demonstrates what happens when we apply technology to improve the quality, safety, and abundance of our food. Despite what certain misguided critics may say, many of which probably haven’t experienced extreme starvation, this has been an objective good for humanity, civilization, and the world, as a whole.

Modern medicine and the Green Revolution, championed by the likes of Norman Borlaug, helped give us more efficient ways of producing massive quantities of food. Now, there’s another technological advancement brewing that might end up being more impactful. You’ve probably seen commercials for it already. It has many names, but for now, I’m just going to call it synthetic meat.

It’s almost exactly what it sounds like. It’s the process of producing meat through artificial processes, none of which involve the slaughtering of animals. For those concerned about animal welfare and environmental impacts, it’s the ultimate solution. At most, the animals contribute a few cells. The rest is grown in a laboratory. Nobody has to get hurt. Nobody has to go vegan, either.

It seems too good to be true and there are certainly aspects of synthetic meats that are overhyped. However, unlike other advancements like Neuralink or nanobots, this is already an evolving market. The first synthetic burger was made and consumed in 2013. It was the culmination of a long, laborious effort that cost upwards of $300,000.

Those costs soon came down and they came down considerably. By 2017, the cost of that same meat patty was around $11. People have paid much more for expensive caviar. That’s impressive progress for something that’s still a maturing technology with many unresolved challenges. With major fast food companies getting in on the game, the technology is likely to progress even more.

It’s here where I want to make an important point about this technology. Regardless of how you feel about it or why it’s being developed, there’s one aspect to it that’s worth belaboring.

We should embrace synthetic meat.

In fact, we should embrace this technology faster than others because the benefits of doing so will only compound.

I say this as someone who has tried an impossible meat burger. It’s not terrible. I wouldn’t mind eating them regularly if they were the only option available. That said, you can still tell it’s not traditional beef. That’s because this meat isn’t exactly the kind of cultured meat that’s grown in a lab. It’s assembled from plant proteins and various other well-known substances.

Ideally, synthetic meat wouldn’t just be indistinguishable from traditional beef. It would actually be safer than anything you could get naturally. Meat grown in a lab under controlled conditions can ensure it’s free of food-born illnesses, which are still a problem with meat production. It can also more effectively remove harmful byproducts, like trans fats.

In theory, it might also be possible to produce meat with more nutrients. Imagine a burger that’s as healthy as a bowl of kale. Picture a T-bone steak that has the same amount of nutrients as a plate of fresh vegetables. That’s not possible to do through natural means, but in a lab where the meat is cultured at the cellular level, it’s simply a matter of chemistry and palatability.

Meat like that wouldn’t just be good for our collective health. It would be good for both the environment and the economy, two issues that are rarely aligned. Even if you don’t care at all about animal welfare, synthetic meats has the potential to produce more product with less resources. On a planet of over 7.6 billion, that’s not just beneficial. It’s critical.

At the moment, approximately 70 percent of the agricultural land in the world is dedicated to the meat production. In terms of raw energy requirements, meat requires considerably more energy than plants. That includes water consumption, as well. Making meat in its current form requires a lot of resources and with a growing population, the math is working against us.

Say what you want about vegetarians and vegans when they rant about the meat industry. From a math and resources standpoint, they have a point. However, getting rid of meat altogether just isn’t feasible. It tastes too good and it has too many benefits. We can’t make people hate the taste of burgers, but we can improve the processes on how those burgers are made.

Instead of industrial farms where animals are raised in cramped quarters, pumped full of hormones, and raised to be slaughtered, we could have factories that produce only the best quality meat from the best animal cells. It wouldn’t require vast fields or huge quantities of feed. It would just need electricity, cells, and the assorted cellular nutrients.

Perhaps 3D printing advances to a point where specific cuts of meat could be produced the same way we produce specific parts for a car. Aside from producing meat without having to care for than slaughter animals, such a system would be able to increase the overall supply with a smaller overall footprint.

Needing less land to produce meat means more land for environmental preservation or economic development. Farming, both for crops and for meat, is a major contributor to deforestation. Being able to do more with less helps improve how we utilize resources, in general. Even greedy corporations, of which the food industry has plenty, will improve their margins by utilizing this technology.

Increased supply also means cheaper prices and if the taste is indistinguishable from traditional meat, then most people are going to go with it, regardless of how they feel about it. There will still be a market for traditional, farm-raised meats from animals, just as there’s a market for non-GMO foods. However, as we saw with the Green Revolution in the early 20th century, economics tends to win out in the long run.

It’s a promising future for many reasons. There are many more I could list relating to helping the environment, combating starvation, and improving nutrition. Alone, they’re all valid reasons to embrace this technology and seek greater improvements. If I had to pick only one, though, it’s this.

If we don’t develop this technology, then these delicious meats that we love could be exceedingly scarce or prohibitively expensive in the future.

Like I said earlier, the way we currently produce meat is grossly inefficient. At some point, the demand for meat is going to exceed the current system’s capacity to produce it in an economical way. At that point, this delicious food that we take for granted might not be so readily available and the substitutes might not be nearly as appetizing.

The issue becomes even more pressing if we wish to become a space-faring civilization, which will be necessary at some point. If we still want to enjoy burgers, chicken wings, and bacon at that point, we’ll need to know how to make it without the vast fields and facilities we currently use. Otherwise, we might be stuck dining on potatoes like Matt Damon in “The Martian.”

While the situation isn’t currently that urgent, this is one instance where a new technology is the extra push. You don’t have to be a major investor in companies like Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods. Just go out of your way to try one of these new synthetic meat products. Let the market know that there’s demand for it and the machinations of capitalism will do the rest.

I understand that our inner Ron Swanson will always have a craving for old fashioned burgers, steaks, and bacon. Those things don’t have to go away completely, just as traditional farming hasn’t gone away completely. However, when a particular technology already exists and has so many potential benefits, it’s worth pursuing with extra vigor.

The planet will benefit.

The people will benefit.

The animals will benefit.

Our society, as a whole, will benefit.

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Filed under biotechnology, CRISPR, Current Events, Environment, futurism, health, technology

An Artificial Intelligence That Can Debate: The Promise And The Perils

Even in an era as divided and chaotic as this, there’s still a place for reasonable debate on important issues.

Yes, I understand it’s hard to say that with a straight face these days.

Yes, I’ve been to comments sections, Reddit, and 4chan.

Yes, I know how ugly the discourse is right now, but that’s exactly why I’m bringing this up.

In general, people are curious. Even though they cling to cherished beliefs and refuse to change their minds when confronted with evidence, we’re still curious about things that are different. It’s not always honest, but it’s a powerful feeling. Even if you despise those on the other side of the debate, a part of you will still wonder why they hold the opinions they have.

That’s why debate is such a powerful tool. Humans are such a social species by nature. We’re hard-wired to interact, connect, and discuss things with one another, even when we don’t agree. It may frustrate us to no end, as anyone who has debated a creationist can attest. However, the fact we keep doing it is proof, in my opinion, that there’s still value in the process.

Regardless of how you feel about the merit and value of debating, the whole process might become more complicated in the near future. That’s because IBM, the same company behind Watson, the Jeopardy playing computer, just created an artificial intelligence that can debate at the same level as a skilled human debater.

Here’s an excerpt from a piece in TechXplore on this new system. It’s not as scary as some of the things we’ve seen from Boston Dynamics lately, but it’s still intriguing.

TechXplore: IBM’s AI debating system able to compete with expert human debaters

IBM has developed an artificial intelligence-based system designed to engage in debates with humans. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the team members describe their system and how well it performed when pitted against human opponents. Chris Reed with the University of Dundee has published a News & Views piece in the same journal issue outlining the history and development of AI technology based around the types of logic used in human arguments and the new system developed by IBM.

As Reed notes, debating is a skill humans have been honing for thousands of years. It is generally considered to be a type of discussion in which one or more people attempt to persuade others that their opinion on a topic is right. In this new effort, the team at IBM has created an AI system designed to debate with humans in a live setting. It listens to moderators and opponents and responds in a female voice.

Now, before you get too nervous, it’s worth noting that this AI is far from the kind of advanced artificial intelligence systems I’ve mentioned before. This is not the kind of AI that will become Skynet or Hal 9000, no more so than Watson or AlphaGo. This is a system is very much a narrow AI, as in it’s made to excel at a specific task.

We have AI’s that can beat world class chess players and Jeopardy champions. This AI just happens to excel at debate. However, that has implications that go beyond simply outclassing the best human debaters in the world at the moment. In fact, this is one form of AI that might not need human-level intelligence to incur a major impact.

Take a moment to think about how erratic and inconsistent most debates are. No matter how intelligent or informed you are, it tends to get messy fast. That’s why so many comments sections and Reddit threads devolve into shouting matches and personal attacks. The end result is people becoming more angry and unreasonable, which can have major real-world consequences.

However, what would happen if every debate on any issue included someone who was better than the best debater on the planet? Even if the two people on each side of the debate were dumb and inept, such a presence would have a major impact on the discourse.

That’s because winning a debate has little to do with how well someone knows a particular subject. It also has little to do with how forcefully and clearly someone explains a topic. Again, people who debate creationists know this all too well. Winning a debate doesn’t mean proving your expertise. It means proving the merit of your argument.

An AI that can do that may not convince someone that they’re wrong about something. However, losing a debate tends to have a lasting impact. Just ask any aspiring politician. It can also lead people to question their beliefs, even if they still cling to them. That, alone, can be powerful.

For proof, look no further than the story of Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of the infamously hateful and dogmatic Westboro Baptist Church. She was as locked into her beliefs as anyone could possibly be. She was raised by religious zealots and indoctrinated into strict religious dogma from the time she was a child. She’s not someone whose mind is prone to change.

Then, she got into a discussion with someone on Twitter of all places. That person began a conversation. It started as a nasty debate, but it evolved into something that led her to question her beliefs. Ultimately, she left that hateful and bigoted environment. She’s now an activist against the same religiously motivated hate that she once fostered.

It’s a powerful story, but one that couldn’t have happened without a debate. To date, people have only been able to have those debates with other people. Not everyone is equally skilled. In fact, I would argue most people are woefully unskilled at debating anything and I include myself in that category. I am not good at it, either. I freely admit that.

Now, there’s an AI system that can theoretically win any debate the same way other systems can defeat any chess player. That does hold promise if it can be used to temper the heated rhetoric that has caused real-life hostilities. At the same time, there are reasons for concern.

What side would this system be on?

Moreover, who decides what position these AI systems take?

If no one decides, then how does the AI determine which side on a debate it takes?

These are relevant questions because if you have an AI that can win any debate, then the side it takes really matters. That can be used for good when countering dangerous disinformation, like those from the antivaxx crowd or hate groups like the Westboro Baptist Church. Like any tool, though, it can be weaponized for ill.

I can easily imagine political organizations getting a hold of these systems and trying to use them to benefit their agenda. I can also see some trying to use it to spam message boards, social media, and Reddit threads to derail certain movements or arguments. That’s a powerful tool and we can’t be certain that those using it will use it responsibly. That’s the dilemma with all technology. It can be used for good and for evil. With technology like artificial intelligence, the stakes are a lot higher, as are the perils. This technology may not be as dangerous as a more advanced AI, but it could be a precursor to just how disruptive this technology can be.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, technology

What Keeps Bitcoin From Being A (Bigger) Part Of Our Future

I consider myself an enthusiast of technology. On many occasions, I’ve wildly speculated about emerging technology and expressed unapologetic excitement about certain trends. In general, I have the utmost respect and support for those who share this passion. I don’t always agree with their outlook or speculation, but I get where they’re coming from.

Then, there are Bitcoin enthusiasts. I’ll just come out and say I have mixed feelings about them.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to diminish what a remarkable technology Bitcoin is. It is a complicated and, at times, confusing technology. Even the Wikipedia page only does so much to explain what it is, where it came from, and why it matters. That’s not surprising. There was plenty of confusion about the internet too when it first emerged.

While I don’t consider myself an enthusiast, Bitcoin has sparked my curiosity. I do sometimes look into major news stories and developments surrounding the technology. The fact that it has lasted over a decade and made some people legitimate millionaires is proof enough that Bitcoin has real, tangible value. Those who keep saying that Bitcoin is just a fad or will crash are becoming increasingly scarce.

I’m convinced that Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies like it, are here to stay. They’ve proven that they have value in an increasingly digital landscape. As the internet becomes more prevalent and accessible, their role will only grow. That being said, I’m not yet convinced Bitcoin’s role will go beyond a certain point.

Those who say Bitcoin is the future of money are likely talking in hyperbole.

Those who say Bitcoin and the blockchain are the most revolutionary technologies since email are also likely exaggerating.

I don’t doubt for a second that these people believe in what they’re saying. I just haven’t seen enough to warrant that kind of enthusiasm. The issue isn’t as much about the merits of the technology as it is about how it’s being used. I’m not just referring to its role in the illegal drug trade, either.

At the moment, Bitcoin is fairly accessible. If you have a smartphone and an internet connection, you can download a simple wallet for free. If you do a quick search for a Bitcoin ATM, you can purchase Bitcoins with the same ease you would when purchasing a gift card. It’s what you do after that where the issues arise.

What exactly can you buy with Bitcoin that you can’t buy more easily through other means? That’s not me being facetious. This is where I tend to diverge with Bitcoin enthusiasts. I understand that some major ecommerce sites accept Bitcoin, namely Overstock. I’m also aware that more and more retailers are accepting Bitcoin.

However, the only ones taking advantage of that option are those who go out of their way to use Bitcoin. For most people, especially those who aren’t as tech savvy, there just aren’t enough benefits to warrant the extra effort. On top of that, Bitcoin does have some lingering flaws that are hard to work around. Then again, you can say the same thing about traditional money.

None of that even begins to highlight the growing issues associated with mining Bitcoins.

Now, that could change. It’s not a certainty, but it is a possibility. Like any new tech, the issue isn’t always about whether or not it works. Bitcoin clearly works and it’s been working for nearly a decade. It’s whether or not there’s a “killer app” to entice ordinary people to go through the effort of learning about, acquiring, and using Bitcoin.

The problem is that, thanks to incidents like the Silk Road, the primary use of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies like it have been for the purchase of drugs or other illicit services. Regardless of how you feel about the politics surrounding illegal drugs and services, that’s the reputation Bitcoin has. It’s just a way for criminals and their cohorts to operate.

That’s not a killer app. It’s also not sustainable.

In order for Bitcoin to play a bigger part in our future, it needs to have a good, meaningful use. It took cell phones decades to find that. Just being able to make phone calls, remember phone numbers, and occasionally host a game of solitaire wasn’t enough. Other apps like music, video chatting, and cameras had to get into the mix before the public and the market embraced them.

That’s what Bitcoin needs. I don’t claim to know what that entails. I think Bitcoin has to get to a point where using it is as simple as using a credit card or debit card. It also needs a particular use or product that will justify the physical and financial investment. That use also can’t be illegal. It’s no secret that the internet owes much of its early growth to the porn industry, but porn isn’t illegal.

Bitcoin, in my opinion, will need something bigger than porn. It might also need to wait until more parts of the world are connected to broadband internet. Maybe it involves voting, enforcing contracts, or the development of new peer-to-peer networks, such as Open Bazaar. I don’t know. I’m not smart enough to figure it out at the moment.

In the meantime, I’ll certainly keep an eye on Bitcoin. I don’t deny it has its uses in the current world. It’s just too limited right now. Whether it has a large or small role in the future that awaits us remains to be seen.

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Filed under Bitcoin, futurism, technology