Rebooting Humanity 2.0

If you thought the impacts of industrial automation on factories and the middle class were harsh, please welcome the next wave — Artificial Intelligence. In a mere decade, technology has ushered us from industrial automation, right through the information age, and into the dawn of artificial intelligence (AI). Media all too often focus on shininess of the technology, but let’s not loose sight of the social perspective.

The mash-up of unstructured data processing, contextual machine learning and hyper-scale computing brought together the ingredients for AI. It is here and within reach of anyone interested in its development and exploitation. Not so long ago, AI and super-computing were stuff of state funded intelligence communities, secretive military organizations, and a handful of research universities. Now, it is more difficult to rent a DVD than it is to instantiate a purpose-built server stack in the cloud; all from your mobile phone. The “How-To’s” of modern cloud computing techniques are abundant, and freely accessible through code camps and online courses. The building blocks for AI are now in the hands of smart people, startups and corporate innovation teams. The result: obsolescence of white collar professionals.

Unlike its human counter part, AI never tires, runs on cents of electricity an hour, and is flawlessly accurate in its execution. White collar professionals escaped obsolescence in the industrial age, but these specialized algorithms and bots that chew through voluminous piles of legal documents, medical records, images and stock trades are a coming replacement. Slowly but surely outpacing humans with every record read across every industry touched.

Lawyers, doctors financial traders and other knowledge workers will fall to their bot compatriots. All but the top percentile in each industry may survive as thought leaders and subject matter experts/inventors. “Being the best in your industry” never rang more direly and true. The one thriving industry? Technology: computer scientists, data architects and software engineers and HCI designers. Everyone else, and that includes the bulk of humanity from white collar professionals to unskilled laborers, have to start thinking about re-framing, retraining, or retiring. AI, like the plague, is politically, racially, geographically, and religiously agnostic.

WAIT! THE SKY IS NOT FALLING, QUITE THE CONTRARY

It is darkest right before dawn, and indeed these are darker times of environmental destruction, profiteering and relaxing of moral standards. Pretty much the undesirable aspects prophesied by eastern philosophies in this: the last age — the age of vice (or kali). We are in desperate need of a reboot, one that redefines and resets the definition of progress, wealth and value.

My bet is on the millennial generation and those to follow. For one, many come with a genuine sense of altruism. Most are unencumbered by biases from conflicts or catastrophic events. And they are born into technology, wielding it like second nature and pushing it to unimaginable extremes. Millennials are the third generation lucky — benefiting from the social stability their grand parents fought for; financial security and wisdom their educated parents impart; and the freedom of mind to invent and explore using constraint free digital models and tools. Millennials are the generation with the freedom, the means, and the know-how to reboot humanity, to rewrite social values, economic models and moral standards.

I am optimistic when I watch kids see each other as just kids, absent of creed, color or discrimination. I am encouraged when I read about young entrepreneurs who pursue their dreams in medicine, material science, economic models, and social innovation free of profiteering motives. I am most impressed when I see more philanthropic support and wealth given back by young founders than of multi-billionaires in traditional industries like finance, pharma, and oil.

Warren Buffet is spot on every time he talks about America’s up-side. That up-side is the hidden potential inherent in every millennial entrepreneur in the US and the world.