I talk about artificial intelligence a lot, both on this site and on my YouTube channel. It’s not just because Artificial Intelligence has the potential to be one of the most important technologies that mankind will ever create. It’s a topic of genuine fascination for me. I’ve always been a fan of the science fiction stories that can be told about AI. I also have a keen interest in how it may ultimately impact the real world.
However, as much fun as it is to speculate on the future of artificial intelligence, it’s a bit more productive to understand what it can do for you right now. I feel like AI has become a lot more mainstream with the rise of programs like ChatGPT. It’s very likely that other programs like it will emerge in the coming years and be very disruptive to multiple industries.
Granted, these AI systems are nowhere close to becoming sentient like Skynet or Hal 9000. We honestly don’t know when we’ll reach a point where an artificial intelligence will be as sentient and as intelligent as an average human. But for the time being, there are a growing number of tools powered by AI that are helping people within multiple fields. I’ve used quite a few of them. I’ve even shared some of the work I’ve done with them. And I can use these tools, then anyone can.
So, in the spirit of exploring this new world AI is creating, I’ve created a brief list of current AI tools that I hope others might find useful in whatever it is they do. Whether it’s writing, graphic design, web development, cooking, or personal interaction, there’s probably an AI tool to help you. While these tools might be limited in their use at the moment, it’s likely just the early versions of something that’ll become much more refined in the future.
And if you have other AI tools you find useful, please share them in the comments.
Whenever I talk about artificial intelligence, I often talk about the possibilities and potential it has for the near and distant future. I admit I sometimes to a bit overboard with the speculation and the hyperbole. In case I haven’t made it abundantly clear already, I am not an expert. I do not consider myself exceptionally smart or well-informed on this topic. I just find it very interesting and quite tantalizing, given how much I’ve seen computer technology evolve over the course of my lifetime.
However, in talking about artificial intelligence, I rarely get a chance to talk about some actual tools and products powered by AI that we can use today. That’s just the nature of technology like this. It takes a while to develop and refine. It also takes a while to actually create a usable product with it that don’t require a Masters Degree in computer programming.
But this past year has seen the rise of a new type of AI-powered product that is making its presence felt. It’s called AI-Generated art and it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s art entirely created by an artificial intelligence that uses massive amounts of data on art, shapes, and design to craft artwork based solely on text suggestions.
It’s not entirely new. For a number of years now, there have been AI systems that can essentially create photo-realistic depictions of people who don’t exist. That, alone, is an impressive feat and one that has some distressing implications for those worried about fake IDs, identity theft, or catfishing. However, these new AI-Generated art programs have the potential to do so much more.
While the mechanisms behind it are very complex, the interface itself is very simple. A user just enters a brief description of what kind of artwork they want. Then, the program processes that and crunches the data. Finally, it generates an image. Sometimes, it takes a few seconds. Sometimes, it takes a bit longer, especially if the prompt is more elaborate. If you want to see a good example of what it can create, just check out the brief, but hilarious skit John Oliver did. Just don’t watch it while eating cabbage.
Aside from the inherent comedy gold that can be mined from this technology, just take a step back and consider the larger implications of these tools. These are prompts being entered by people who probably don’t have much in terms of art skills. And as John Oliver noted, some are being entered by people who aren’t entirely sober. While the images they generate don’t exactly look like masterpieces or anything someone would mistake for photo-realism, it’s still remarkable they’re as good as they are.
In seeing some of this art, it actually reminds me somewhat of early video game consoles that began rendering 3D graphics. I’m old enough to remember the somewhat clunky transition between 2D to 3D graphics. Just look at early Playstation games or games like Super Mario 64. They weren’t exactly polished, but they were a step in that direction.
Now, compare that to a typical game on the Playstation 5. In the span of just 20 years, the graphics and renderings have become so realistic that they’re navigating uncanny valley territory. With that in mind, imagine what these AI-generating art programs will do with that kind of refinement. I don’t know if it’ll take 20 years or longer, but it does create some tantalizing possibilities.
Ordinary people could conjure detailed, photo-realistic backgrounds for games, portraits, or stock art.
Ordinary people could conjure elaborate scenes and illustrations for stories they wish to tell.
Ordinary people could create artistic depictions of elaborate fantasies, including the sexy kind.
This is especially intriguing for someone like me because, as I’ve noted in the past, I cannot draw worth a damn. I have practically no skills when it comes to creating visual artwork, be it with a pencil or a computer program. I’ve never had that skill. I’ve tried many times in the past do develop those skills. I’ve never succeeded. I’ve always been better with writing and words. And I’ve been perfectly content with that.
Now, this technology gives someone like me an opportunity to craft images to go along with my words. It opens the possibility that I could one day write a story, sexy or non-sexy, and supplement it with real, vivid depictions of the characters and scenes. That is definitely something I want to pursue. I have experimented a bit with the AI art programs, but they’re still someone limited. I won’t be incorporating them into my sexy short stories anytime soon.
But if these programs continue to improve, then it’s only a matter of time before I craft a story in that manner. Honestly, that really does excite me, more so than a lot of the promising news surrounding artificial intelligence. I understand there are aspects to the technology that may never happen or just won’t be happening within my lifetime. But these AI art programs are real. They exist now and they’re going to be refined, like most emerging technology. It remains to be seen how fast they’ll achieve a higher quality, but I will certainly be watching it closely.
Please note that most of these services are limited and none allow anyone to create images that are overly pornographic or outright illegal. However, you can still create some legitimately good images, which you can save and use in whatever way you please. I’m already hoping to use some for my YouTube channel.
But even though this technology is especially intriguing to people like me with no art skills, I don’t deny it has actual artists very concerned. There has already been one instance where an AI-generated artwork won an art contest, which the real artists did not appreciate. It’s not just that an AI like this won without putting in the effort an artist usually would. In many cases, these programs used art other artists had created to refine its code. Over time, these programs could conceivably put those same artists out of work.
I can totally understand that concern. Who would hire a talented, but expensive artists to create images if they could just use an AI program to create it in seconds and for free? Do you really think big companies like Disney, Warner Brothers, and Universal wouldn’t fire their entire art team if they could get the same results for a fraction of the cost? They’re billion-dollar profit-driven companies. You know they would.
Even if this technology doesn’t completely replace real-life artists, it’s still essentially doing most of the work. On some level, it dehumanizes the artistic process, even more so than a camera. A camera can only render the image in front of it. These programs could conceivably conjure images that nobody has ever seen or imagined, a feat that once belonged solely to artists.
What does that mean for the future of artists?
What does that mean for the future of art?
I don’t claim to know the answers. I’m not even sure how to speculate on something like this. Again, I have no art skills with respect to drawing or creating images from scratch. I’m the kind of person who will embrace this technology more than most, so I’m going to be somewhat bias in that regard.
But artists and governments are starting to take notice. China has already made waves by attempting to ban AI-generated media that isn’t appropriately marked. While that may temper some trends in this field, it’s not going to stop it. There’s just too much to be gained at this point. The genie is out of the bottle and there’s no putting it back.
It’s sure to cause more issues, especially as the technology becomes more refined. It probably won’t be long before a major problem occurs because someone used AI-generated art in some nefarious way. Some are already trying, but they can only achieve so much, given the limits of technology.
That will eventually change. If you’re reading this, you’re likely to see some AI-generated artwork that you’ll mistake for something real. At that point, even concerns about deep fakes will be minor in comparison. Only time will tell.
Until then, non-artistically inclined people like me can start contemplating what thoughts and ideas we can one day make real.
When it comes to upgrading technology, I like to be near the front of the line. That’s not to say I’m the kind of person who will camp out in front of an Apple store for two weeks to get a new iPhone. I love technology, but not that much. I’m more inclined to wait just long enough for the early bugs to be worked out before I completely buy in.
That’s what I did with smartphones years ago. I was not among those who immediately jumped into buying an iPhone when it first came out. I actually waited longer than most to buy my first smartphone, mostly because I felt like there were too many shortcomings to warrant the cost. Once I felt ready, though, I went for it and I don’t regret it.
For certain technologies, I don’t mind being near the back of the line. It’s not that I’m against it or have no faith in it. Sometimes, it’s just cost prohibitive for me and I don’t see gaining widespread use for an extended period. That’s why I never bought a Segway or a Sega Dreamcast.
Like my first smartphone, I like to wait until I’m reasonably certain that this technology is a good long-term investment. Sometimes, I end up waiting longer than I should, but I think that’s important, especially for something I know I’ll use a lot.
For that reason, I’ve never been inclined to consider an electric car. Unlike smartphones, I am not very knowledgeable when it comes to cars. I’m also not big on making my car flashy or stylish. For me, a car is just a means of getting from one point to another and nothing more. I get that cars mean a lot more to certain people, but that’s just not me.
On top of that, I’ve never actually purchased a brand new car with zero miles on it. My first car was a used car that didn’t have GPS, Satellite radio, or even a means of plugging in my smartphone. However, I didn’t mind because it was my first car. I just needed it to get from place to place.
My second car, which is the one I’m driving now, is a lot nicer, relatively speaking. It was also used. Specifically, it’s my parents’ old car. They sold it to me nine years ago when they decided to buy a new car. This one has more features, including GPS and an auxiliary port for my phone. It has served me well for many years.
However, it’s starting to accumulate a lot of miles. It’s also starting to show its age in some places. On more than one occasion, I’ve had to pay for some rather pricy repairs to keep it in good condition. It’s almost at a point where the idea of buying a new car is starting to appeal to me.
This time around, for my third car, I want it to be new. I want it to be a car that can last with minimum repairs. Not long ago, that would’ve eliminated most electric cars from consideration. Now, I’m not so sure.
The more I contemplate the possibility of a new car, the more serious it becomes. Over the past several years, I’ve seen more and more electric cars on the road. In my own neighborhood, I know two people who own Teslas and I frequently see them on the road. In addition, electric vehicle charging stations seem to be popping up everywhere. Nearly every major shopping center in my area has at least one.
I also have noticed the increasing price of gas. Even if it isn’t as high as it was earlier this spring, I’ve seen a lot of price spikes over the past few years. That’s becoming harder and harder to overlook. Even though my car now gets pretty decent mileage, the cost of filling up the tank is starting to concern me. There’s also the environmental factor to consider, which is important to me.
At the end of the day, a lot of it will come down to cost. I’m willing to pay extra for quality, but only to a point. On that front, electric cars were always out of my range, but that too might be changing.
It used to be that most electric cars worth having would cost at least over $60,000, even with subsidies. That was how expensive they were when I bought my last car from my parents. Now, if rumors from Tesla are to be believed, there could be an electric car for as little as $25,000 within the next couple years.
That’s actually not much more than what my parents paid for the car I’m driving now. In the coming years, that cost could come down even more, especially as battery technology continues to improve and charging stations become more plentiful. By the time I’m ready to buy a new car, they might be the better long-term option over gas.
That’s why I’m considering an electric car this time around.
That’s also why I encourage others to do so as well.
This is not an automotive fad like station wagons or Hummers. Electric cars are a growing part of the market and that growth isn’t slowing down. Like the early smartphone market, there are plenty of shortcomings, but those shortcomings are slowly and steadily being mitigated.
Eventually, there will come a point where the advantages of electric cars are greater than traditional gasoline cars, with respect to fueling, maintenance, and even cost. That point is not that far off. It may seem like electric cars aren’t too appealing in the short-term, but what happens when the price of gas just gets too high to ignore?
Even if gasoline cars are cheaper and just more familiar to the average consumer, their value is still at the mercy of gas prices. Should gas ever get above $8.00 a gallon, then electric vehicles don’t just become appealing. They become the better long-term option.
That’s often my most pressing concern in buying a car. It’s a big investment and one I don’t intend to make light of. None of this is to say I’m definitely buying an electric car, but for the first time in my adult life, I’m seriously considering it. I think in the coming years, as the technology and the market continues to evolve, I won’t be the only one.
The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. This video is both a thought experiment and a deep dive into some of the concepts explored in the Matrix, both the original and The Matrix Resurrections. It explores the idea of creating virtual worlds that feel every bit as real as the real. It also touches on the larger implications of this technology while also asking under what circumstances we would willingly enter such a world.
What if there was a virtual environment that was so real and so lifelike that it was completely indistinguishable from the real world?
What if you had an opportunity to upload the entire contents of your mind into that environment?
Would you do it? Even if you didn’t have a full measure of control over the environment, would you still venture into this virtual world?
I’m not just asking these questions as another thought experiment, nor am I asking it as an excuse to talk about “The Matrix: Resurrections.” Yes, the prospect of another movie in the mold of “The Matrix” did inspire me to pose these questions, but I also think these questions are worth seriously contemplating.
Back in 1999, the year “The Matrix” first came out, the idea of an entirely simulated world seemed like classic sci-fi tech, the likes of which we’d never see in our lifetimes. That’s understandable. In 1999, the most advanced simulations we knew could only be rendered by a Playstation 2 and those hardly looked realistic.
Since then, computing power and graphics technology has come a long way. These days, graphics in video game consoles are so realistic that it’s nearing Uncanny Valley territory. It won’t be that long before we have computer renderings that are so advanced, so lifelike, and so realistic that our brains can’t tell the difference.
At that point, creating an entirely simulated world is just a matter of computing power, scale, and interface. Since brain/computer interfaces are already being developed, it’s not unreasonable to think that we won’t have a Matrix-like simulation available within the next 40 years. Many people alive today who are under the age of 50 might very well live long enough to see that technology.
Once we have it, we’ll have some important decisions to make. Some of those decisions will be societal. If people suddenly have access to a virtual world where they can be anyone, do anything, and immerse themselves in any conceivable experience, then what does that do to society? What does that do to people, communities, nations, and social structures?
Those are far messier questions to contemplate, which is why I’m not going to belabor them too much at this point. Instead, I want to keep this question within the context of individuals. Everyone’s circumstances and beliefs are different. As a result, that may impact whether you’d take advantage of such an opportunity or what kind of environment you’d seek to create.
Personally, if I ever had an opportunity to upload my mind into a virtual environment on par with the Matrix, I would do it, but the extent and circumstances would vary. I suspect others may feel the same.
If I could create my own personal virtual environment before I uploaded my mind into it, then I would certainly be more willing. I think that’s an important factor. The humans in “The Matrix” didn’t have any measure of control over the environment they were in. I think that would complicate any that anyone would have in such a world.
It would also depend heavily on my physical state in the real world. If this technology became available and I was old, weak, and in poor health, then I would certainly be more inclined to use it. That assumes that any technology involving human enhancement hasn’t progressed significantly and people still age, get sick, and die.
Like it or not, our physical bodies in the real world will break down. If the technology to manage and reverse that isn’t available, then virtual environments might be the only way we can continue to live in any meaningful capacity. I certainly hope that isn’t my only opinion when I get to be that age, but if it is, then that simplifies my decision.
It’s hard to know what sort of options we’ll have. I still believe that technology involving human enhancement and creating virtual worlds will advance in parallel. One would, by default, need the other in order to properly interface with these environments. As such, it would complicate any decision about venturing into virtual environments.
Then, there’s the actual nature of those virtual environments. If we can control what environment we go into, then that opens the door to even more possibilities. Within these worlds, you could be a billionaire playboy, a medieval king, a famous celebrity, or super athlete. From your brain’s perspective, it would feel every bit as real as what you’re feeling right now.
Whether or not our brains would accept it is a different story. I suspect there may be some who, once they enter these worlds, would never want to leave. There may even be some who willingly erase their own memories of the real world so that this new virtual world is their new “reality.” That’s exactly what Cypher desired in “The Matrix” and I suspect others might share that desire.
It really does depend on the person, their situation, and what sort of virtual world they seek to create. We probably won’t know the full impact until we create our first true Matrix-like virtual world. I sincerely hope I live long enough to see that. If you’re reading this, hopefully you get to see it as well. It should give you plenty of time to contemplate these questions and whether you’ll venture into those world.
I’m generally a fan of technology. The frequency with which I talk about artificial intelligence, brain implants, biotechnology, and sex robots should make that abundantly clear. I believe that many of the problems we face today will and must be solved through technology.
At the same time, I try to maintain a balanced perspective. I don’t deny that certain technologies are grossly overhyped and doomed to fail. Just ask anyone who bought a Zune. I’m as prone as anyone else from succumbing to that hype, but there are times when it’s either empty or shallow.
Every now and then, a technological advancement comes along that has potential, but is hindered by one too many opposing forces and I’m not talking about conspiracy theories. I’m not among those who think the governments of the world are censoring technology that allows a car to run on water. I just don’t trust governments to be that competent when it comes to keeping technology.
Sometimes, technology is just too late or has too many things working against it. Maybe if it had come a few decades earlier, it could’ve been a bigger deal. It just entered a world that could not accommodate it.
That’s generally how I feel about 3D printed houses.
Now, a lot has been made about 3D printing. It’s a legitimately exciting field that is producing real-world advances. It’s one of those emerging technologies that is just starting to grow. It’s already developing into a wealth of new fields and, with some refinement, this technology will have a profound impact.
When it comes to houses, though, I think it’s too late and too limited. That’s a shame too because housing is a real social issue. As of this writing, there is a major housing shortage from those actively seeking to buy new homes, as well as an ongoing homelessness problem that has plagued many major cities.
It’s true that we need to more homes and the current processes for making them just isn’t cutting it. The idea of using 3D printed homes is a novel method of addressing that issue, but I have a feeling this is one of those methods that just can’t get the job done.
This technology is real and there are people actually living in these houses. The problem isn’t the hardware, the software, the logistics, or even the materials. The problem is the nature of the market it’s trying to impact.
Mass producing houses is not like mass producing your typical widget. Just making lots of units isn’t going to drive down the price or the cost of living in them. Housing is one of those products that is constrained by forces beyond its control, namely location.
That old saying about location, location, location among realtors actually carries weight here. Even if a 3D printed house only costs $15,000 compared to a typical $115,000 unit of similar size, it’s not going to sell if it’s located in the middle of nowhere. People generally want to live close to where they work, where they grew up, and where their family resides.
That’s not a technical limitation.
That’s just human nature and market forces.
I say that as someone who has had to navigate that market. Several years ago, I bought my first home and I can attest that location matters more than style. Some of the homes I saw weren’t exactly appealing, but the price was right. There were also some very nice-looking units, but they were way out of the way for me.
It really didn’t matter to me whether the home was 3D printed or not. What mattered was its location, its proximity to important areas, and having connections to quality utilities. Those are all factors that 3D printing can’t do much to address.
Granted, those codes are there for a reason. They’re important with respect to ensuring your home won’t collapse on you one day, but they add complexity to the process. Even though 3D printed homes can be built up to code, they still add more moving parts to the process.
Even without those parts, there’s still the matter of general market forces. Like I said, housing is a unique product. You can make all the 3D houses you want. You can’t change the location or the nature of the land.
That’s why housing is so expensive in certain areas, like San Francisco and New York. The demand is high, but you can’t increase the amount of space for homes. Even if you used 3D printing to make all those homes as cheaply as possible, the demand will keep those prices high. You’ll still end up paying six figures for a unit that might have only cost a fraction of that to make.
You can call that unfair or price gouging all you want. That’s just what happens with market forces. When you have a limited amount of space to work with and a location that everyone wants to live in, it really doesn’t matter how cheap it is to make a home. The cost isn’t going to change that much.
That’s not to say this technology is completely useless. I can definitely see 3D printed houses serving a purpose, especially in areas that haven’t been well-developed over the past decades. I can also see it help with developing nations that need a cheap, quick way to make lots of units in an area with limited infrastructure. I just think that if you’re hoping for this technology to reduce the price of a home, you’re hoping for too much. Technology can do amazing things. It can take us to the stars, cure disease, and literally reshape the face of the planet. It just can’t do squat about basic market forces.
Nobody can predict the future. As someone who often talks about the future and future technology, I like to belabor that. It’s an important disclaimer because if the future were that easy to predict, then there would be no need for lotteries, fantsy sports, or the stock market.
It’s like my old political science professor once told me in college. Nobody knows anything. He said that in the context of a lesson about politics, but I think it also applies to many other fields. Technology, economics, and finance are definitely among them.
I’m certainly no expert in any of those fields. I like writing and telling sexy stories about technology. I’m not the least bit qualified to make informed predictions about it or any related subjects. I’m not dumb, but my expertise is limited to comics, sexy short stories, and football stats.
Having gotten that out of the way, I’d like to give a brief layman’s opinion about cryptocurrencies. I know that’s a chaotic subject, at the moment. The recent rise of multiple cryptocurrencies has made headlines, albeit for absurd reasons at times. However, I think it’s safe to say that this is not another passing internet fad in the mold of planking.
This technology will likely continue to evolve and improve with time.
I say this as someone who has followed the news surrounding cryptocurrencies for years. I also say that as someone who recently purchased his first stash of Bitcoins. As of this moment, I only have a few hundred bucks in my Bitcoin wallet. I’ve also seen the value fluctuate significantly. I’ve even had a chance to spend them, which was surprisingly smooth.
After this experience, I wouldn’t call myself a full-fledged Bitcoin enthusiast. I’m not planning to invest all my money into Bitcoins anytime soon. However, I genuinely believe this technology has great value. I also believe it’ll become an integral part of our future, with respect to finance and the economy.
At the same time, I can’t help but note its limits. I’ve even highlighted a few of them before. Bitcoin has many benefits, but I think its value is somewhat skewed because it just happens to be the biggest in terms of market cap, as well as the most well-known cryptocurrency.
When most people think cryptocurrencies, the first thing they think of is Bitcoin. That gives it a huge benefit over other cryptocurrencies, of which there are many. That benefit is likely to fuel its value for years to come.
However, having used it and followed the growth of cryptocurrencies more closely in recent years, I do not believe it’s the most valuable cryptocurrency on the market. I also don’t think that Bitcoin, in its current form, will succeed beyond a certain point.
Many people compare Bitcoin to digital gold and I think that’s a fairly apt comparison. Bitcoin, like real gold, is mostly a store of value. That’s what it was designed to be and, for the most part, it fulfills that purpose well. A bar of gold and a stash of Bitcoins will function in primarily the same way.
In terms of value and utility, though, that’s where I think Bitcoin falls short. Even gold has more uses beyond being a store of value. I think if cryptocurrencies are to achieve more than just functioning as digital money, they need to do more.
For that reason, I believe Ethereum, the second-most popular cryptocurrency in terms of market value, may have more value in the long run. It’s not a meme currency like Dogecoin. The technology behind Ethereum actually makes use of the features that have made Bitcoin so valuable.
Whereas Bitcoin is mostly raw math and data, Ethereum is more like an operating system or a programming language. With it, users can create smart contracts, which are essentially digital contracts that are self-enforcing. That means no middleman or lawyers are needed to enforce a signed agreement.
For anyone who has ever had to deal with lawyers or contracts, it’s hard to overstate the value of such a feature. Since many contracts already involve money, Ethereum essentially tightens that connection. In the same way Bitcoin allows people to be their own bank, Ethereum allows them to be their own legal team.
In a world that has only become more connected and digitized, especially after a global pandemic, there’s considerable utility in that. I would argue that utility will make Ethereum more useful than Bitcoin in the long run.
That’s not to say it’ll eventually usurp Bitcoin or all other cryptocurrencies. I think Bitcoin will always benefit from the first, as well as the most well-known. I just think that benefit will only take it so far. Gold is useful, but it’s not nearly as useful as electricity, oil, or even steel. Those assets have tangible, measurable utility. Ethereum offers that on top of being a store of value.
Now, at the moment, smart contracts and other programs run on Ethereum aren’t exactly mainstream. That’s to be expected. This technology is still relatively new. People aren’t quite sure what to do with it yet.
Then again, the same could’ve been said back in the mid-2000s when smartphones came out. It took a while for developers and entrepreneurs to create the kinds of applications that would go onto make billions. It wasn’t just one app or one use. The phones were just a platform. The value came once people started building things atop that foundation.
With Bitcoin, there’s not much of a foundation. Its only app is as a store of value. That’s akin to a flip-phone, which can only make phone calls and store numbers. Granted, even flip phones still have utility, but they’ll never be able to do what a basic smartphone can do.
I don’t pretend to know what sort of applications or programs Ethereum could help create. It’ll probably take more than one for it to truly show its value. I also don’t pretend to know when those sorts of applications or programs will come along. The potential is there. It’s up to people far smarter and more ambitious than most of us to realize it.
I could still be dead wrong about this. Given the malleable nature of cryptocurrencies, it may be the case that Bitcoin eventually gains the same function as Ethereum. For all I know, an entirely new cryptocurrency could emerge that’s better and more valuable than any created to date. That’s entirely possible. Like I said, nobody knows anything about what the future will hold. We just know we’re creating some incredibly valuable tools with cryptocurrencies. We just haven’t figured out how to maximize their value. One day, we will and we’ll all be richer because of it.
I’m not an expert on much. I don’t consider myself exceptionally smart on matters that don’t involve superhero comics, NFL football stats, and quality romance stories. I make that disclaimer because I don’t want to give the impression that I know more than I know.
That kind of perspective is important, especially if you’re going to talk about complicated issues with not-so-clear solutions. I’ve attempted to talk about some of those issues on this site, some being much more complicatedthan others. I don’t claim to have shed new light on a subject or changed a few minds, but I like to think I still contributed something.
Turning back the clock or just trying to ban automation at a certain point is not a viable solution. There’s just no way to enforce that in the long term and it’ll only get more difficult once artificial intelligence gets to a point where it can match the capabilities of an ordinary human. At some point, we’ll have to adapt and that includes changing how we live, work, and play.
The living and playing part have their own set of unique challenges, but I think the work aspect is more pressing. When most people express concerns about automation and AI, they revolve largely around the economic impact and understandably so.
Historically, people have had to work in order to earn money or resources to survive. Whether you’re on a farm in the 10th century or in a city in the 20th, this dynamic has remained fairly constant.
Automation, especially once supplemented by artificial intelligence, will likely upend that dynamic completely. It’s entirely possible that, at some point this century, we’ll develop machines that can do practically all the work humans have had to do in order to survive.
That work includes, but isn’t limited to, farming our food, mining raw materials, producing our goods, maintaining our streets, protecting our homes, and even governing our society. Since machines never tire and are prone to fewer errors, what other jobs will there be? I don’t doubt there will be jobs, but what form will they take? More importantly, will they pay enough to large swaths of people?
I don’t claim to know the answer, but I suspect they won’t. The dynamics of labor markets just can’t function when the machines are capable of doing so much more work than large swaths of people. Even if those people don’t work, they’re still going to need money and resources. How will they go about getting it?
For that reason, I’d like to submit one of those policies that could be implemented with or without universal basic income. I call it the Individual Automation Matching Dividend, or IMAD short. This policy would work like this.
All adult citizens within the borders of the country will have a piece of identifying information, such as a social security number, voter ID number, or driver’s license number, turned into a special digital token.
That token will be ascribed to a machine/robot/android that is currently active and conducting work that had been done by humans at some point in the past, be it manual labor, service roles, or something of that sort.
The productivity and wages of work done by these machines will be indexed to a minimum annual salary of approximately $78,000 in 2021, which will be adjusted for inflation on a yearly basis.
Any work done by these machines that exceed the value of that salary will be diverted to a national welfare fund to provide extra support for those who were sick, disabled, or otherwise in need of resources beyond that of a healthy adult.
No citizen will be ascribed more machines than any other and any machine ascribed to them that is lost, damaged, or obsolete will be replaced in kind by the state.
I apologize if some of what I just described is confusing. I tried to write this out like a lawyer or someone proposing a new policy to a future government. For those who don’t care for legalize, here’s IMAD in a nutshell.
Once you become an adult, you get your own perfect worker robot. That robot may take many forms, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just say it’s an android in the mold of those we saw in the “I, Robot” movie. They can work without rest, do everything a healthy adult can do, and have roughly equal to greater intelligence.
You’re given this robot by the government to basically act as your work avatar. So, instead of you going out to work every day to earn a living, this robot does it for you. The work that robot does will be compensated, but the money will go to you. Basically, you get paid for the work your android does. It’s more a dividend than a wage.
Remember, since the robot doesn’t age or get tired, it can work 24/7/365. In principle, you won’t even have to meet it. It just works all day and all night on whatever job requires labor, be it construction, assembly, shipping, farming, cooking, etc. You just get all the money, up to about $78,000 a year.
The results, by and large, were overwhelmingly positive. With that kind of money, people could create more comfortable lives. They could buy homes, start families, plan for retirement, and make investments. It makes sense. When people have this kind of money to work with, they have the resources they need to create prosperous lives.
The idea behind IMAD is to mirror that by leveraging the added productivity afforded by automation. It’s not some large blanket package of money like a universal basic income. It starts with an individual, acknowledges the work that they have historically provided for a society, and supplements that with technology.
I’m not saying it’s a perfect proposal. I’m not even saying it’s smart. For one, it assumes that one human-like android is enough and that we can control the artificial intelligence necessary for them to operate on a large scale. That’s still an ongoing issue. I’m sure there are plenty more problems I haven’t thought of, but that’s exactly why I’m sharing it.
Surviving a future with intelligent machines is going to be challenging enough. However, we can’t just stop at survival. We want to prosper. We want to live, love, and build better futures for ourselves and our loved ones. Technology like automation and AI can help us get there, but only if we use it wisely. It’s a big if, but one that’s worth working towards.
There a great many technological advancements that are touted as “game changing” or “revolutionary,” but very few end up delivering on that promise. I still remember all the hype surrounding the Segway and the Virtual Boy.
Granted, these might have been just a byproduct of market hype, but there was a genuine belief that this technology would revolutionize the world. It just didn’t pan out.
However, there’s one technology that I haven’t really touched on. Arguably, it’s the most needed technology in the world right now. It wouldn’t just revolutionize the world as we know it. It might literally save it.
That technology is nuclear fusion.
Now, there’s a reason I haven’t talked about it much, aside from it not being in any particular area of expertise for me. Nuclear fusion doesn’t exactly have a lot of sexy implications like AI or human enhancement. It also has a bit of a bad reputation among those who speculate about the future.
If you’re not laughing, don’t worry. It’s not a very good joke and it’s not the least bit funny in the grand scheme of things. That’s because nuclear fusion, if we could get it to work on a large scale, would effectively solve the world’s energy problems. It would largely eliminate the need for oil, coal, natural gas, and most other forms of energy.
If it sounds too good to be true, then you’re starting to get the joke. However, this is no magical fantasy power source on par with Dilithium Crystals. Fusion power is very real. We feel it every day. It’s what powers the sun. It’s what powers all the stars we see in the night sky.
Most people who passed high school physics know what fusion is. Basically, you take a bunch of hydrogen atoms, the most abundant element in the universe, and fuse them together under tremendous pressure and heat. The end result is helium, the second most abundant energy in the universe, and a whole lot of energy.
Unlike nuclear fission, which splits larger atoms into smaller atoms, this form of power doesn’t rely on heavy radioactive elements. As such, it produces next to no waste or greenhouse emissions. It also allows us to use seawater as fuel, since all you need is hydrogen. As a power source, it is as close to perfect as you can get.
Naturally, countless engineers and scientists have spent years trying to make fusion a viable power source. For decades, it was promised to be the ultimate solution to our energy needs. However, no matter how many times someone said viable fusion was close, it never came to be. That’s where its reputation as always being 30 years away came from.
On top of that, fusion research has had a few famous frauds. The whole failure of cold fusion was not a good look for the industry. I suspect that affair convinced too many people that we would never have fusion.
Now, there are some legitimate engineering and scientific reasons for why fusion has been so difficult. Again, I’m not an expert and I’m not qualified to explain those reasons. I’ll just say that it often comes back to making a fusion reaction self-sustaining and containing the massive heat required to keep that reaction going.
These are not challenges that require us to break the laws of physics. These are mostly engineering challenges that require study, refinement, and new materials. In the same way you can’t expect blacksmith’s from the 17th century to make a modern car, you can’t expect our current engineers to make a fusion reactor without the necessary components.
Despite what jokes and skeptics may say, we have made real progress. Very recently, an experiment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that utilized high energy lasers set a new energy record. That may not mean much to the average person and it certainly doesn’t mean that fusion has been perfected. It just means we’re getting closer to that magical break-even point.
That’s the point where the energy we get out of the fusion reaction is greater than what we put into it. To date, plenty of labs have created nuclear fusion reactions. They just take way more energy than they give off. Over the years, that difference has gotten smaller and smaller. Once it crosses that break-even point, then we have fusion and that will be a game-changer.
I cannot overstate just how much the world needs that kind of game-changer right now and I’m not just referring to the lingering damage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every year, we get increasingly dire reports from the IPCC about the impacts of climate change. Despite what politicians and oil lobbyists say, we’re fueling these impacts with our reliance on fossil fuels.
Fusion, once refined and scaled, could do more than anything to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. It might not eliminate fossil fuels completely, but it will make them far less necessary for all the energy we need in the present and the future. I would even go so far as to say that nuclear fusion might be the only way to adequately power the future we’re trying to build.
That’s why it’s not helpful to make jokes about how fusion is always 30 years away.
Instead, this might be the best possible time to actively cheer on the people working on nuclear fusion. Only one of them needs to succeed at getting to the break-even point. Only one of them needs to succeed at making a viable fusion reactor. At that point, the world will start changing in a profound way.
It won’t happen all at once, but it will be one of the most welcome and overdue advancements in recent memory. I certainly hope that this advancement happens sooner rather than later. If nothing else, it’ll make the world feel less dire so that the other, sexier advances in technology can proceed.
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.
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?
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.