Welcome to the Future of Technology
A look at which fields are strongest and how long until we all have robotic maids.
Just as interesting, I got to visit with 44 of my fellow information seekers from 15 countries and extremely diverse backgrounds, along with a dozen college students, as well as the faculty. The group ranged from very successful entrepreneurs to academics to relatively high-level government workers to starry-eyed young people just starting out. There were a lot more applicants than could be accommodated, and the staff did a good job of choosing a group of people who all "brought something to the table" besides their entry fee of $15,000. The days were typically 14 to 15 hours, and there was a lot of discussion amongst us on the topics of the day.
This week we depart from my usual letter on finance and economics so I can report on a few of the ideas I came across. Some truly grabbed my interest, some confirmed my thinking, and others quite frankly either disappointed or alarmed me. This will not be my normal narrative, but rather short observations cribbed from my notes and thoughts. As I am on (yet again) a plane to San Antonio for a speech tomorrow morning, there will not be the usual links; and in some cases I must confess I made notes without writing down the name of the speaker. Mea culpa. So, sit back and let me share what has been a great week. (And I suspect that a few of you will be happy that we are ignoring Greece for at least one week!)
I think the positive surprise takeaway (for me at least) was how far we have advanced in artificial intelligence and especially robotics. Artificial intelligence has been promised to us for decades, and has been a disappointment for so long that I have consigned it to the dustbin of my research. Ditto for robots. I mean, seriously, if the Roomba (a glorified vacuum cleaner) is the best we can do after decades of work, how are AI and robots going to change the world? This is hardly the world that I grew up reading about in Isaac Asimov's brilliant I, Robot sci-fi series some 40 years ago.
It is all well and good for a single-purpose robot to be designed to make a spot weld on a car, but a general-purpose robot seemed a long way off. As far as AI goes, I am reminded of the old joke about a young geek who specializes in AI sitting at a bar, and this gorgeous blond comes up to him and they begin to talk. One thing leads to another and they end up in her room, where he proceeds to spend the entire night telling her how good things are going to be. AI has been a lot of talk for decades, and as with our geek, not much more.
The robotic sessions were led by Dan Barry, a three-time astronaut and veteran of many space station adventures (as well as appearing on Survivor). What I saw onscreen and heard about has made me rethink my doubts about robotics. There are significant strides being made in mobility and utility in robotics. I saw robots walking on four feet through very difficult terrain, on ice, and up stairs. Robot "hands" are a lot further along than I had thought. Mobile robots on wheels, and walking balanced on two feet, are working today.
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