CMMA17: The future will shock you only if you let it

future futurist
DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED: Rohit Talwar, Futurist and CEO of Fast Future

Rohit Talwar, futurist and CEO of Fast Future, said that his job as a futurist is not to predict the future, but to prepare a range of scenarios so that we are not shocked when the future happens. Talwar shared a number of such scenarios onstage at the CommunicAsia2017 plenary on Wednesday.

To start, Talwar said, advances in artificial intelligence are being met with genuine stupidity. Governments and business alike are adopting a wait and see approach by which time it will be too late. Hope is not a strategy. We need to get our act together now for what some say will be mankind’s last invention.

Organizations need to look at the future in three time frames: The 1-12 month search for operational excellence, the 1-3 year search for growth and the 1-40 year long-term view.

In 30 years, buildings will be very different. It would be possible not only for walls to be grown, but also for them to double as DNA-based data storage. Such is the scale of change that countries, businesses and individuals need to understand going forward.

There are two major colliding forces that are changing the world: those who were born physical and those who were born digital. Those who were born physical think of living in cities buying houses and cars. Those who were born digital see everything as data. Talwar cited Google as an example, with its current products in the world’s most popular phone OS, self-driving cars, two airports and a company that plans to extend life expectancy by 50 years. For Google, all of those are the same – there is no difference, it is all just data.

Three years ago, we saw the world’s first laboratory-grown hamburger. It cost $350,000 and tasted terrible. Today, the same lab can grow a much nicer tasting hamburger for $11. In two years, the cost will be down to 50 cents. Such is the rate of progress.

Then there is AI and how Alpha Go has just beaten the world’s number one Go player 4-1. In the four games it won, the system managed to outthink the human and tricked him into making the wrong move. The human player resigned because he did not see how he could win.

But that is just the current generation of AI that can only do one thing. A Go AI cannot learn anything new without forgetting Go. The next generation of AI will be multifaceted and can work in many domains at once.

Banks in particular are “automating the hell out of themselves” and becoming commodities, signing their own death warrant. The boundaries of what is an exclusively human domain are being evaporated. Three of the Big Four accounting firms now extensively deploy AI. The question is: we can use AI to liberate human talent and truly differentiate business in the future?

Driverless cars are just the beginning and soon people might never own a car again. Mercedes-Benz envisions a future where they simply release autonomous cars into an ecosystem where they drive people from place to place and the revenue is shared with the car maker, the people who clean the car and the people who refuel it.

The flipside is that if we get rid of the need for humans, who will buy all the things technology can create? That brings us to the question of universal basic income, a concept many countries in Europe have been experimenting with, with varying degrees of success. Some have mulled the idea of a robot tax, or giving corporations that deploy robots targets for overall employment they must maintain.

The most important thing, Talwar said, is to give ourselves the ambitions and take on challenges even where people around us do not want us to succeed.

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