Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Plus Ca Change?

The Black Watch of 1974
When I started writing this weblog, ten years ago, not that many people in Thanet, compared with the present, had the Internet and Amazon sold books and little else. Today, super-high-speed broadband has just become available in Westgate; that's if you are prepared to pay £30 a month extra for the experience with BT.

Ten years on and it seems that everyone is shopping online and mostly at Amazon or eBay, iPads and tablet PCs are the gift of choice this year - how did we live without them -  and we are just emerging from the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s.

So what will the world look like in another ten years? You can be sure there's something making a big impact that none of us have thought about yet but in general terms the future, at least where the advances in technology are involved has become relatively predictable

With the good news from Government, we are hearing about jobs and growth; all those things we need to raise the standard of living and be competitive in a changing world. However, in China, workers wages are also rising and FoxConn Technology, which employs over over one million Chinese, assembling most of those high-tech goodies that will sit under your own Christmas tree, is on an ambitious programme to replace one million of its 1.2 million workers with robots over the coming decade. Labour costs, even in China, are now eating into the profits which once made its cheap labour so attractive. Google, a major disruptive force in the world, also wants to put together the definitive standard platform for a personal robotics revolution and is investing millions.

The Pebble Watch of 2013
As one example, a robotic hamburger kitchen already exists that can produce 360 gourmet hamburgers in one hour. McDonalds has enough profit to fund the development of automated machines that could provide a one year return on investment. Each McDonalds might need more than one machine. Each machine takes up 24 square feet and replaces the people who cook and the the kitchen too.

You see, the technology to automate humans out of many repetitive and semi-skilled jobs is now advancing so fast, that in the space of ten years, the world or work will start to look very different and for many, without professional skills, finding work may become much harder than ever.

All this is because as humans we are not good at recognising exponential rather than linear growth. We try and look at the future as a straight-line evolution of the past and today, with around eight technologies colliding, like genomics and robotics, we can't see clearly what's in front of us; the evidence appearing of the biggest changes since the start of the industrial revolution.

Let me take an example from a lecture I gave for KPMG's bigger clients last month.

Imagine that you are sitting in the top row seats of the FA Cup final at Wembley and the stadium has been made watertight. Far below, you see the captain of one of the teams and standing next to him is the referee, holding an eye dropper. He squeezes a single drop of water into the players palm and then one minute later two drops,  a minute after that four drops and then eight as the infinite eye-dropper carries on dripping water into the player's outstretched hand.

Sony's Smart Wig - It's No Joke
When does the pitch become covered with a film of water?

Some soccer loving mathematician has worked out that this happens in 43 minutes and you remark: "So what?"

But when does the stadium become filled to the brim with water and everybody has to learn to sink or swim? The answer to that is 49 minutes and is an example of exponential growth. Suddenly something that at first looks linear, suddenly leaps up dramatically and everything changes very quickly

From a technology perspective, we are now at roughly at the equivalent of 43 minutes since Moore's Law of 1965 which has processor power doubling every 18 months. The pitch is covered with water and subsequent changes to the landscape of work, the economy and with it, society, are going to start happening very quickly indeed over the coming five years, as all of a sudden, ground-breaking technologies swiftly move from the drawing board into the workplace and the living room.

In another ten years, with luck, I will still be writing this blog, if such things exist and perhaps drawing my pension in Bitcoins too; if these still exist but I promise you a bumpy ride, as all of a sudden, everyone realises that in the most part, distracted by gadgetry, we have been sleep-walking into a future that may look very different to the comfortable assumptions we hold today.


William Epps said...

Sounds exciting, but just hope medical science stays pace with it and we have doctors running around with gadgets like Bones out of Star Trek to replace intrusive and painful treatments.

Suppose it will be profit driven and, as with the lack of research currently into a new generation of antibiotic treatments because there is no money in it, the progress may not always be where it should be.

Simon Moores said...

Qualcomm have a $20 million prize for the first integration of ten medical applications into a star-trek style tricorder device or simply through an iPhone.

Even at present rates this will have a huge impact on medicine as personal devices will monitor our vital signs. I'm wearing one on my wrist now but next year's model will track pulse rate and cholesterol through an infrared sensor tracking blood flow through the blood vessels in the wrist

William Epps said...

That is promising from a diagnostic view point, Simon, but the lack of research into a new generation of anti-biotic drugs could take medicine back 100 years. Since the big pharmaceuticals see no profit in such research it may well need to be government funded.

Simon Moores said...

I agree. There's a huge crisis and nobody seems willing to come to grips with it. Post-op untreatable hospital infection contributed to the premature death of one of my own

Michael Child said...

I guess the thing that astonishes me the most at the moment at the incorporation of so much in the way of different gadgets in phones and pads. Looking at the technological options on offer in terms of buying Christmas presents for the children and teens this year there isn’t really very much on offer that isn’t available in their phone, pad or laptops. There is almost a sense that manufactures have shot themselves in the feet, looking at the arrays of independent, webcams, torches, games, alarm clocks, watches, microphones, music players and so on, here all discarded to the box, either because the battery is flat or if it doesn’t have a battery because it is already incorporated in all but the most ancient of technology. I have about 15 nephews and nieces and a budget for each of them of around ten to fifteen quid, in the past I have bought them technology addons, I am having a bit of a struggle this year, any ideas?

Barry James said...

The biggest issue is not technology but the elephant in the room. Using your example are we not at the stage of exponential population growth as there are not the resources to cope with the growth now unless we find the room to expand. We need the space race to recommence else we will implode.

Simon Moores said...

Actually Barry, population looks to stabilise oddly enough.

It's Africa and South America which have the biggest population problems, Europe and Japan have fast ageing populations, Japan worst of all. China will run out of steam in the 2020's as a consequence of a one child policy and India like China is suffering because of the abortion of millions of unborn female children which has caused an acute population imbalance.

There's a very good video on www.ted.com which explains the statistics. yes far too many people I agree with about 10 billion and far too many squeezed into the south England too!

Readit said...

The technology may increase exponentially but the resources to build the equipment are finite. In order to survive the human race will have to become more efficient and forward thinking

Not to mention factoring in increases in world population and food shortages

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic, but has anyone seen what passes for a Christmas tree care of the burgers of Margate? What a pitiful sight, it looks like a wonky reject tree that someones thrown some lights on out of pity. Compared to the, as usual excellent Turner effort its pathetic. Come on Simon, you're part of this rabble surely you can sort out a decent tree from your precept! Whats the point of talking about new technology when the councillors of Margate can't even put up a decent tree.

Simon Moores said...

I think you mean 'Burghers' unless of course the tree is sponsored by Burger King this year?

Sadly, the poor 'burgers' of Margate are cash-strapped and are more restricted in their shows of festive magnificence than previous years.

Anonymous said...

Better to take it down and get a smaller one. Cash strapped or not, care is what's needed and the person that put the lights up needs re-training! Seriously though, please take a look at it at night. It takes no more money to put this right, just a bit more attention to detail.

Anonymous said...

Richard Ash - Chair of the Margate Town Team got the tree etc. Not TDC this time.Thought he could do more considering the £100k he got from

Anonymous said...

What's the betting it won't be long before they've got a UAV that can pull an advertising banner behind it? Better get yourself future-proofed Simon!

Simon Moores said...

Now that would be nice but I fear the banner industry dies with me, given all the new European EASA/CAA regulations.