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!".
There's a moral in here somewhere. Actually, I'm rather afraid to look for it. In 2017 Google's AlphaGo Zero challenged its predecessor to a world championship match of Go. Poor old Dad; the final score was 100-nil. This whitewash had nothing to do with increased processing grunt or slicker componentry. The key to AlphaGo Zero's victory lay in a simplified algorithm, which bypassed human training altogether. “We’ve actually removed the constraints of human knowledge and it’s able... to create knowledge itself from first principles, from a blank slate,” said lead researcher David Silver.
Futurists must be having a hell of a time these days. Before their crystal ball has even cleared "the next big thing" has been launched, upgraded, remodelled, out-done and sold off. Depending on how you feel about this sort of thing, the video below may be amusing, inspiring or frightening. Being a human, you might even experience all three at once. Enjoy such confuzzlements while you still can!
You need to know about this. D-Wave is a quantum computer. Its owners (perhaps 'trustees' is a better word?) have released an open-source software package so you can programme it yourself. It's called QBSOLV (so it must be serious). No more coding in raw quantum physics. Meh, you say? Although mainstream computers of this kind are more than 10 years away (according to the Davos crowd), when they finally arrive they'll be bigger than bubble gum.