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Letter sent on Jan 11, 2017

H+ Weekly — 2016 — A Year in Review

As I was looking at the list of the links I shared with you in 2016, I noticed many of them fall into one of two categories.

These categories are fear and hope.

The technology is changing the world faster than ever. We are getting more new things into our hands, but in most cases we don’t know how to use them. We might have an idea how we can use them, but we don’t know if it is the proper use or how it will affect us. What will be changed? Is this new thing good or bad for us?

That uncertainty is the fuel for fear or hope.

Some people are afraid that these new powerful tools will be misused and will bring more suffering than benefits. They warn us and paint dystopian pictures of the world.

Others welcome new things with optimism. They have ideas how to use these tools to improve our lives and make the world a better place. They experiment with new tools and learn how to use them.

From AI to robotics to biotechnology, you can see the same pattern of fear and hope throughout the year. Optimistic news and articles intertwined with pessimistic or ever fear mongering articles.

Artificial intelligence is here. Maybe it is not an artificial general intelligence checking out all the requirements needed to name it sentient, but we have now computers that can talk like a human and understand human speech, translate from one language to another and recognize objects in a blink of an eye. Not only that, computers can now generate convincing human speech from scratch, write news articles and even write screenplays and create art.

One of the biggest moments of 2016 was AlphaGo beating the world champion in Go. Many thought this will happen in the next 10 years, but it happened last year. AlphaGo’s victory was a huge thing and it put it next to such milestones in AI like DeepBlue’s victory over Garry Kasparov or Watson’s victory in Jeopardy.

While some were pushing limits of what computers are capable of, others were asking about the impact of AI on society and economy. Many of these questions were about automation and jobs being taken by robots, a theme that also was common in robotics. Lawyers, doctors, journalists and other white-collar jobs might be automated in the not so distant future, making the society as we know it a thing of the past.

As AI becomes more and more a part of our lives, it starts to raise more social questions. Due to how machine learning works, it can magnify biases in training data and therefore biases in us. By using biased training sets for these algorithms, we can unwillingly make a system that’s discriminates some groups of people.

I’m sure in 2017 AI researchers will try to go even further, teaching computers to do things we thought can be done only by humans and then surpassing us.

A lot of things happened in robotics, too. Robots continued to learn to walk, talk and speak. Thanks to the advancements in AI, robots were able to learn faster.

Some robots found jobs in hospitals or patrolling the streets and supermarkets. Drones were tested for delivering goods. Many of them were successful, like Starship’s delivery rover or recent Amazon’s drone delivery in Cambridge, UK.

But the big thing were the self-driving cars. They are here and will be on our streets very soon. Tesla, Google (now Waymo), Uber and Baidu are leading in this field, while traditional car manufacturers noticed the trend and desperately try to catch up. Self-driving cars promise to make the transport more effective and safer. But at the same time, their impact on the economy will be enormous. Thousands of people might lose their jobs and our economy might be disrupted in a way we haven’t seen before.

As with AI, many people raised their concerns about automation. Many manual jobs that required a human to do it are now in robots’ reach. Transport is just one of the industries that can be soon automated by robots. China is heavily investing in robotics and automation, replacing thousands of factory workers with robots. For example, Foxconn announced they replaced 60 000 of its workers with robots.

I’m looking forward to see what bio-inspired robotics will show us in the new year. That bio-hybrid robotic stingray might be a direction in which robotics is heading — into soft and organic biobots.

CRISPR continues to redefine what we can do with living creatures and we saw many interesting experiments and their results. Chinese scientists are leading here after they announced successful experiments with editing human embryos and even started experiments with CRISPR-based gene therapy.

CRISPR and genetic engineering opens new possibilities for disease treatment and prevention but gives a headache for bioethicists. I think CRISPR and genetic engineering will get the same attention from ethicists as AI had for some time now, if not a bigger attention.

Virtual reality. Well, it happened, too. You can go and get yourself a fancy new VR headset and dive into the virtual world. But I didn’t see that VR had the same impact as AI or self-driving cars. It’s still too new and we still don’t know how to use it properly. Maybe VR needs some time to mature and learn what it is.

We also saw a debut of Microsoft’s HoloLens — a mixed reality headset. In 2017 we might finally get to see what Magic Leap — one of the most secretive startups in the world — has created and see if augmented reality will became a thing used by everyone.

As for the newsletter in 2016. In the 52 issues of 2016 I shared with you 1055 links. That’s on average 20 links to news and articles I thought are worth sharing sent every Friday at 3pm.

I made a chart to visualise which topics were the most covered in 2016. I was surprised to see robotics in the first place. I thought AI would be on the first place.

I’d like to say thank you to all of you who are subscribed to the newsletter and read it every week. You motivate me to go through thousands (I’m not exaggerating!) links in my feed to find the ones worth sharing with you.

If you are not subscribed, please do so here. Every Friday I send a bunch of links to news, articles and videos talking about AI, robotics, transhumanism, biotech and other futuristic technologies. My goal is to give you a good overview of what is happening in these fields in a fairy short form.

I wish you all the best in 2017 and see you next Friday!

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