Earlier this year China hosted the world's first totally hack-proof video conference. That's a big call to make, but scientists are standing by it. You see, security was underwritten by the laws of physics.
Among the 5,500 or so satellites circling the Earth there is one called Micius, or Tiangong2. It was launched from the Gobi desert in 2016 as part a Chinese mission called QUESS. Without wandering off into the wild beyonds of entangled photons, which I only pretend to understand, let's just say that if you try to hack a message from Micius, then it will not be sent. If that sounds like inverting cause and effect it's simply because our language wasn't made for this stuff. Let's try metaphor.
Researchers at MIT have created a machine-learning algorithm that was nurtured on a strict diet of dark thoughts and disturbing images. Ah well, I'm sure they had their reasons. Perhaps Norman is intended as a partner for Shelley, the A.I. who was trained to write horror stories. After all, A.I. used to stand for artificial insemination. Boom boom. Anyway, the results from MIT's lab are much what you would expect: "where the standard AI saw a vase of flowers, Norman saw a man shot dead. Another inkblot that the standard AI interprets as a red and white umbrella, Norman sees as a man being electrocuted while crossing the street." So now we know that bent data sets lead to warped visions. Because we were always a little bit unclear about that, weren't we? On the bright side, gentle reader, Norman is not being left alone to plot a terrible revenge. "The team... now hope that by opening it up to input from internet users, it will become more balanced in its image interpretations." ie They are releasing Norman from the lab out onto the Internet. My only concern is that he'll fall in with a bunch of Russian trolls and deliver the mid-terms for Trump. More.
It sounds like some kind of goofy marijuana outpouring, but a new project known as the "SDG Trend Scanner" has a couple of very big hitters behind it. UNDP and RISE (more) have launched a new platform to monitor disruptive innovations worldwide, with the aim of harnessing them for the common good. Needless to say, you bad guys in yer island lairs can access it as well. You'll find the trend scanner here and the common good here. (I don't mean to sound ironic in any way; the Social Development Goals are bloody brilliant and any technology that can be used to support them is DOUBLE RAINBOW in my book). So hey, once we have a trend scanner and an A.I. to watch it, and capital investment as a service (see below) and a few robots for implementation, can we please just have the rest of the week off?
There's an old story, no doubt apocryphal, about the Bishop of Drumcree being asked the best route to Dublin. Allegedly he replied: "Well now, I wouldn't be starting from here."
Over the years I have been involved in many projects, most of which started out with little or no money. Some were successful, others sank without a trace. To tell you the truth, I've never been quite able to understand what made the difference. At the time, it seemed almost random. I think Niall Ferguson may have hit the nail on the head in his book "The Square and The Tower", which looks at the ongoing struggle in history between networks and hierarchies. Here's how he puts it:
You've probably heard of software-as-a-service (SaaS). There's also BaaS, DaaS, GaaS, LaaS, MaaS, PaaS, RaaS, TaaS... (more). But for my money, the best new aaS (pardon me) is CaaS: Capital-as-a-Service. Check out the website of a start-up that has been attracting worldwide attention: Social Capital. Their stated goal is to democratise access to capital. It's rather like an A.I. version of KickStarter. Now, I'm not an investor -- never have been and probably never will be -- but as a person who works with others to get ideas off the ground, this is economic disruption at its best. Ashley Carroll, the partner in charge of overseeing the project, describes the process of raising CaaS through Social Capital in these words: “No hoops, no $7 artisanal coffee chats, no designer pitch decks, no bias, no politics, no bullshit.” The beginning of the end for Silicon Valley? more
It seems likely that 2018 will go down in history as the year of the 3D-printed house. At the risk of hyperbole, this is a game changer. How many hours must you work, over the course of a lifetime, to pay off your mortgage? And if you don't 'own' a house, how many hours go into the weekly rent? Now, take that number and divide it by about 100. Because, roughly speaking, that's what is about to happen. You should soon be able to buy a 3D printed house for somewhere between $NZ4,000 and $20,000. The technology has been here for a while, but 2018 seems to be the year it is going mainstream. The most profound disruption won't be to our wallets, but to our working lives.
Duncan McLachlan is Creative Director at Igniter, a Wellington-based company that's working at the cutting edge of artificial intelligence and machine learning. He's also an old friend and a constant source of wonder. At the time of writing we're sitting in a Wellington cafe discussing an ingenious contraption he calls "the autonomous cloud simulator". I won't go into all the gory details - suffice it to say it's a stand-alone piece of computer hardware that the team at Igniter uses to create bubble-like Internet environments. Each has a stunning amount of processing power but, importantly, no connection at all to the Internet. This makes them very secure and, all things considered, the perfect tool for developing intellectual property.
"Data is the new oil but, like crude oil, it's not much use unless it's refined," says Rumi Shivaz, director of Midas Infomedia in Wellington. Rumi has spent a lot of time encouraging business leaders to look up from their statistics and pivot tables. "They're up to their necks in metrics and algorithms and combinatorics and performance indicators, but it's a long way from that data to information. And its even further from information to insight." Anyone who has worked in Wellington will know exactly what Rumi means.
I've been doing a bit of writing about "the sharing economy" lately. This is because I'm involved in a shamelessly ambitious project (datashare.co.nz) that aims to bring "big data" to everybody. More on that another day. If you haven't heard of the sharing economy, think AirBnB. It has fundamentally rewired the tourism industry. In 2017 Morgan Stanley predicted: "Airbnb’s cannibalization of hotels business will hover at approximately 50 percent for both business and leisure travel". As well as accommodation, there are companies that facilitate the sharing of transport, labour, storage, clothing, parking spots, skills, technical equipment, food, finance, household goods, office space and pet care... In fact, between 2013 and 2016 the amount of venture capital invested in sharing economy companies grew from $US 3 billion to $US 30 billion. For those that are mathematically challenged, that's a 900% increase in three years. The total is predicted to reach $335 billion by 2025 (more).
I joined the gig economy earlier this year. This is generally accepted code for being made redundant and finding bits & bobs of work to do, rather than a new job. Never fear, it's good fun and I'm in great company. In fact almost one third of working people across the OECD are now in the same boat. And there's a good chance you'll be joining us soon, if the trend continues. So hey, as dear old Alistair Cook once put it, in trying to sum up the reality of the American Dream: "Take up your cross and relax!".