You are listening to the HumAIn podcast. HumAIn is your first look at the startups and industry titans that are leading and disrupting artificial intelligence, data science, future of work and developer education. I am your host, David Yakobovitch, and you are listening to HumAIn. If you like this episode, remember to subscribe and leave a review. Now on to the show.
Listeners, welcome back to the HumAIn podcast. Today our guest is Nikolas Badminton¹. Nikolas is a futurist. He is a speaker, a consultant, and he is an advisor to trillion-dollar companies and governments where he advises on where we are heading in the future. Especially with artificial intelligence, looking at the next 5 to 25 years down the road, and especially where we are today in and through this pandemic around AI with a lot of things going on. His advice is more timely than ever before. So Nikolas, thanks for joining us on the #HumAInpodcast.
It’s great to be here.
Although we don’t know yet, there’s all these words going around, such as black swans and black elephants, which we’ll dive deeper into the show. That’s great first to share with our audience a little bit about your background of getting into AI and how you’ve become this thought leader who’s doing fantastic work in this space.
So, about the age of 10 years old, I started programming computers and I flunked out of school. And I was one of those kids who sat in his bedroom, hacking away and hacking computer games and writing other games and applications. And I eventually made my way to university a little later than some, because I buck the trend and didn’t really graduate from school in the same way as most people do. And I eventually ended up in a program called Applied Psychology and Computing at Bournemouth University. I got a Bachelor of Science in that degree.
And what I did was I focused on some of the more challenging subjects there. And I looked at organizational design. I looked at the psychology behind that, but I also went into linguistics and artificial intelligence and using artificial intelligence to do a grammar checking and grammatical investigations.
It was pretty interesting in the early days. It didn’t work very well for single layer, neural networks, and then I dropped into the data world, massive data infrastructures using analytics, behavioral targeting of customers using data, way before all of the Cambridge Analytica situation. And it was a lot slower and it was a lot more basic, but it was incredibly successful from a profitability perspective for my clients.
So I spent about 16, 17 years in that, moved to Canada, went to work in advertising. And then ended up running my own events, talking about humanity and technology, doing some events with Amber Case, a cyborg camp, and running on conferences called FutureCamp, doing podcasts. And then suddenly I was writing a lot for people like the Huffington Post, and then a little bit for Forbes, and then a little bit of TechCrunch and people started calling me a futurist, which I thought was strange, but then it started to make a lot of sense.
And then I started to be hired to speak about artificial intelligence about six, seven years ago. And it was really just a nascent occupation there. And it just really started to catch on fire. So we really got into talking about the human ethics and the hybridity of humans and the machines very early on. Whereas a lot of people were suddenly making huge claims about automation, replacing hundreds of millions of people around the world, and robotics, and robotic process automation.
A lot of unqualified people talking about speculations of future worlds that were not really going to happen. So I grounded ourselves in talking about humanity, and that’s what I do. I talk about our future and its speculation at best, but really it’s a lot of fun thinking about the signals that we see today and speculating how that’s going to have a ripple effect 5, 10, 20 years into the future.
So I love that you just mentioned about the practical side of humans and machines. We’re seeing as we’re being socially distanced in our homes, a lot of the new television shows coming out on Netflix, HBO, and Amazon Prime, like Westworld and Devs and The Loop. And it makes you wonder, could the world be like this or is it something that we shouldn’t be worrying about just yet? So, it’s very futuristic. But are we moving to a James Delis Westworld? Are we moving to a Devs’ world with the supercomputer? What’s your take on some of these TV shows?
I remember the first Westworld with Yule Brenner and it was pretty fantastical at that point in time. But really, if you look at that, there’s a lot of moving parts there literally. Sentient AI and the independent thinking, AGI and really something that can act as a human, move as a human perceives, creates its own philosophy, creates some purpose, and we are a long way from that. I questioned people that are trying to give that to machines.
Because it’s very difficult. Because we can’t work out what it truly means for ourselves beyond a metaphysical and a discussionary, a philosophical bent. I’ve spent a lot of time at university looking at complexity theory, chaos theory, thinking about consciousness. And we’re not really that much more ahead than we were 25 years ago.
So it’s interesting as a debate around ethics and artificial intelligence, around a fantastical future. In a couple of hundred years, might we have someone that we can see in Westworld today at that point in time? Maybe, but that’s going to be a very complex engineered organism. Will it be biological? We don’t really know. We’ll be able to create artificial intelligence and programming like X Machina or the biological ideas around artificial intelligence? I’m not quite sure. A couple of hundred years, maybe. But certainly not in the next five, 10, 25, even 30 years.
If we segue away from Westworld and some of these futuristic or very futuristic ideas, I know you’ve had the opportunity to be involved with some docu series. And one of them in the last couple of years, The Age of A.I., where you give some more practical looking, as you shaped these conversations. Can you tell us more about that docu series and what that looked like?
So I was living in Vancouver. It was a couple of summers ago, and I was approached by a producer who worked for a company called Network Entertainment. And they were working with Team Downey, which was Robert Downey Jr.’s production company and YouTube, on this eight part series on #artificialintelligence.
And we had a coffee, me and the producer, and after an hour, she said, okay, we need to get you in the room with the script writers. Because we might be going into directions that may be not as pure as they should be when we’re actually thinking about artificial tones. I spent a few days locked in a room with script writers, looking at their ideas, really trying to understand what they’re trying to achieve. And what was really heartening was they wanted to tell human stories.
So I talked to them about dialing that up and saying, “This is about humans. This is ultimately about a hybridity between humans and technology. It doesn’t live on its own. They’re not robotics that are independent from who we are, that are suddenly trying to take over the world. There’s actual practical applications that are going to help us solve big problems”.
So that idea around humanity solving big problems using artificial intelligence, and really delving into some big ideas about what it could be is where we started. And we went through eight different ideas and areas, and I helped the script writers really structure what this should look like. And over time, I stepped away, and over time, they developed it. But I’m pretty glad that they stuck on the themes of humanity progressing forward because of this technology. And not about technology progressing beyond who we are.
I love how you mentioned you’ve had these eight different episodes that, as you’ve been shaping, it’s about humans and #machines together and in the world that we’re living today with this pandemic, with COVID-19 and Coronavirus, a lot of it is how can we get practical?
We were looking earlier on one of our episodes about the Google trends and we saw that during the whole pandemic, AI went down in the trends and now it’s back up at peak. People are bored. People want to get back into technology. They want to work. They want to make a difference. And so AI could be a very useful theme here. What are some of the things you’re seeing around AI in the age of this pandemic?
So it’s actually interesting. A company up here in Toronto called BlueDot actually noticed on December the 30th last year that there was a strange cluster of new kinds of pneumonias that were happening around a market in Wuhan. And it was the first company to really start waving the red flags. Not that it really did us any good, because China didn’t really act on this very quickly. They could have locked it down. These things are slightly unpredictable and the tracing and the uncontrollable spread wasn’t quite understood there.
So I understand things. There are no pointing fingers from here, but #BlueDot really stepped forward. And now there’s a bunch of other artificial intelligence companies that are stepping up to process that data, to help people look for discoveries for drugs to treat it, to look for new ways of considering proteins and how they’re structured in relation to the virus and how we could maybe even create #vaccines.
I find that to be incredibly useful, and that practical application is something that’s very important here. Now what’s really important, coming back to BlueDot, is that they’re a company that uses artificial intelligence, but it’s not independent of actual expertise. They do actually have humans and machines working together.
So they’ve got about 40 people. They have veterinarians, doctors, epidemiologists, engineers, data scientists, software developers, all working together. Because artificial intelligence just doesn’t wander off and becomes useful. It needs a lot of training. It needs a lot of guidance and a lot of that practical expertise. Sure, it might be able to start identifying patterns that we may not see as readily or as easy as AI, but our practical wisdom needs to be injected into the overall solution.
So thinking about these solutions, it’s incredible to see that companies here in 2020 can figure out when something’s going to happen before it happens. It reminds me of one of my all-time favorite movies, The Minority Report with Tom Cruise, where I’m thinking about, can we do the prediction? Is AI the magic cure or way to figure that out? I don’t know.
But I know a lot that people are talking about is that this event is so rare. In 1918 we had the Spanish flu. There was a flu that was probably just as contagious and probably deadlier than what we’re seeing today and had a tremendous impact on everyone, in all societies. We saw people wear face masks back then, we saw that the economy struggled around World War I and a lot of impact was seen. But the word’s been out on the street in Wall Street and with a lot of technologists. But are we experiencing a black swan? A lot of people have said this on CNBC and I don’t know, is that what’s happening?
A black swan is a completely unforeseen event that’s got a major impact in the world. To be honest, pandemics are one of the situations to arise. That’s been modeled relentlessly. It’s been prepared for relentlessly. It’s been forgotten by people conveniently. And now suddenly everyone’s popping up saying this is a black swan, that’s a black swan. A true black swan is like a meteor dropping on the earth and destroying New York, or suddenly Iceland being ripped apart by volcanic activity and everyone having to leave that country, or an alien invasion. These are pretty fantastical ideas, but true black swans, you can’t see coming.
This is a black elephant. The elephant in the room and the black swan. Well, if you’ve got a black elephant, it’s that black swan that’s been in the room for over a hundred years that everyone knows, that there’s a risk of it out rearing its head and causing a huge calamity, but we’ve just conveniently pushed it to the side and decided that the likelihood of that happening is a lot lower than we really want to pay attention to.
So it’s kind of ridiculous because we’ve seen SARS, we’ve seen MERS, we’ve seen Ebola. We even had Obama talking about the seriousness of pandemics four or five years ago. We had Bill Gates talking about the seriousness. We’ve had countries like Singapore dealing with the situation today very well because they had to deal with SARS, because they kept the situations and processes and traceability and the reaction force to a pandemic in place.
Because they knew that it could come back, and it could come back quite vigorously. And other places like Hong Kong and Taiwan have been able to deal with this. China really dealt with this in quite a hand-fisted way. I’m not sure whether they’re being truthful about their numbers. I figured that they’re not. And that’s speculation, obviously. But maybe there’s something there that they just really hand-fisted. They haven’t really worked out what it was, but they didn’t even think it was serious. You do have these wet markets in places like Wu Han and people are now pointing the finger at that.
It’s not that, it’s about the processes. It’s about the government readiness. And it’s about the human awareness of the situation. Absolutely no individual on the planet that was outside of government or military or doing foresight is really even thinking about this on a daily basis. So now this pops up and suddenly we’re all locked away. It seems completely fantastical and science fiction in a way, but it’s so real that it’s coming to slap us in the face every single day.
Although we’re seeing now, 77 days after the lockdown, Wu Han is opening back up, people are still using face masks, getting the temperature checked, but we’re seeing life beginning to resume in the new norm in China. But what’s so interesting is not just how can governments be more traceable? How can they be more governing in real time? But it’s thinking about these black elephants. I’ve never thought of it with that phrase before, but right now, from how you so perfectly gave that definition, Nikolas, is like another black elephant could be explainable AI.
We’ve been talking about, for years, that machine algorithms are going to go wrong. They’re gonna discriminate. They’re going to do things that are not right. We even have GitHub repos out there on awful AI examples similar to This Person Does Not Exist and other things out there. So I could see now that I’m hearing this phrase, the black elephant, it could be many different things occuring.
Absolutely. I’d never even thought about that myself, but Artificial intelligence, that’s misbehaving in the corner. Maybe the data sets that we’ve used were incorrect. I first came across AI in practical use. Around 23 years ago, I went for a job interview for an unnamed company in the UK. And I was interviewing for using lists, which is a really old artificial intelligence language to program Polaris missiles guidance systems.
But you think about it. If you’ve had that level of a focus and investment in artificial intelligence, in weapons systems, imagine if that reality of Skynet becoming Sentient becomes an actual reality. And maybe it’s seeding the black elephant with some really heinous code or training that’s been done by someone that’s got a grudge. Those kinds of things are really interesting to think about when looking at foresight and scenarios.
So basically black elephants do exist everywhere. I had this episode that’s going live in a few days. I spoke recently with Lorna Davis, who’s done a lot with B Corp and government activism. And we’ve talked about that for years.
Will the oceans get polluted with plastics? No, it’s going to happen in a hundred years. Here we are in 2020, it’s already happening. Big plastic farms nets. So it’s that these things can occur a lot quicker than we anticipate. And the results that we think are fantastical in our minds, are actually real. They’re not necessarily meteor showers or alien invasions, but they’re impacting humans.
I speak about climate change and I’ll be speaking about climate change for a long time. I worked with the United Nations on a program called Resilience Frontiers, which is around creating resilient solutions because the planet is getting warmer. We’re not going to be able to cool it down. It’s inevitable.
So using machine learning and data and analytics to do predictions using other practical solutions or a way from the normal ideas of technology like we’re talking about today. But when we start really looking at this and thinking about what truly is a black elephant, it’s those things that we denied, but stood there right in our face.
And climate change is the best example of a black elephant in the room. And the ignorance has been fueled by lobbyists in government saying, Hey, don’t worry. It’s fine. We’ll keep burning oil, fossil fuels is the future, unfortunately.
Now what we’re seeing with our lockdown and the stresses in government, in the workforce. So many hourly workers, poverty rates and whatever. It’s a symptom of industrialization that we’ve been caught in for 260 years. It’s going to be very difficult to escape the gravity of that. But maybe this new digital evolution, as I’m calling it, it’s going to help drag us away from this old world into a world of renewables, of artificial intelligence and biology, of being able to look at new ways of communication and new ways of electrification with super grids around the world, renewables and then transportation as well.
Communication, all does focus on transportation, because transportation is one of the big reasons as efficient as it is. It caused the spread of this disease or condition, COVID-19, to be that much faster because of how connected the world is.
But now we’re seeing, as you mentioned before, Nikolas, with BlueDot, we’re also seeing other Startups out of Singapore that are working on track and trace. We actually have this app out today called TraceTogether that if you’re a national in Singapore, you can install on your phone, and assuming you’re someone who has received COVID-19, you go into your quarantine containment, lockdown, and you create a geo-fence border around your apartment, and the government can track you and trace you in. Though, if you leave your apartment, in 15 minutes a government official is there to check, are you there or are you escaping?
The big idea behind this application, I spoke with a client at great lengths about this earlier, is the idea that everyone should install it. And everyone should turn on the bluetooth for this application so that they can actually trace each other and create networks out in the world. You don’t have to be infected with COVID-19, you’re just out there.
If suddenly someone that you’ve experienced in the past couple of days and suddenly has now got COVID-19, the government can now find you, lock you down, lock your friends down that you’ve chatted with and whatever. It is that ripple effect out. There’s a lot of discussion here around how much is this surveillance? How much is this utility and usefulness and protection for the individual? This is why Singapore has done really good locking this stuff down. And it’s a lot easier to deploy this kind of technology and what is ultimately a police state.
You’re right. And naturally, as someone who’s in the United States, I do think about data privacy, I think of GDPR and CCPA. So I come from those thoughts about surveillance, but when you’re in a society like Singapore, where there’s a lot more trust in the government and a lot more unity and working together in their system, you can think “wow”. We can contain things at the source and we help everyone rise above COVID-19 together.
I guess trust is a strange word to use somewhere like Singapore. is an island, it’s incredibly progressive. I actually really love going there. The people are awesome. The government locks it down and it is very authoritarian in a way.
It’s not as authoritarian as maybe somewhere like China. But they’re in charge. They lock it down. They tell you what to do. And if you break the law, you could actually spend some time behind bars. So I’m not sure whether it’s an open, loving trust between the citizen and the government punch like this.
The citizens will actually follow some orders as it were to help lock this down, just because it means it gets them back to normal life again. I’m going to pose this question to you, David. If someone came up to you and said in America, if you installed this application and you stayed in doors for the next four weeks and never left, and we’ll check, we could slow things down. What do you think would happen in America?
Today in America, that question was posed. You would have about 40 or 50 million people who would install it. And a ton of people who would not install it. And it would be on both sides of the political spectrum. What would help it be more effective in America is you would need to do like what Governor Cuomo is doing in New York, where he’s basically starting a movement, Stay at Home, where Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez and all these celebrities buy into it because America traditionally loves culture. And they think culture and the leaders that they look up to on different social platforms could help them be as effective. The reason might just be we’re a different culture than Singapore.
Absolutely. And Peter Drucker very famously said “culture, eats strategy for breakfast”. So you can have any strategy in the world and it could be communicated. It can be very clear. The bottom line is if your favorite musician or sportsman, sportswoman, sports person is starting to influence you to be safe and be at home and to give you a reason to be there because maybe they’re speaking to you on a nightly basis or whatever, in a broad sense, obviously, then maybe, yes.
I actually think in America, culture is freedom. And anytime you tell me that you’re taking my freedom away, I’m going to say, well, you know what? screw that. And that’s the mess that America’s got itself into.
What was it? 300,000 people went away on spring break. And there’s some technologies out there that actually show you from the beach down there in Florida, and you can see the spread of where those people went to afterwards and the networks and through tracking smartphone technology that people have got in their pockets.
And it’s incredible. The thing is, Singapore is very small. It can be contained and they’ve got ironclad rules around that. America’s very big. And the idea of freedom isn’t a bad idea. And democracy isn’t a bad idea.
This virus doesn’t care about democracy. It doesn’t care about freedom. It doesn’t even care to infect humans. It just does it. And we spread it from human to human, and now we’re in the situation that we’re in, and we’re in pretty dire straits for a good six months, probably in a lockdown situation. And we’re not going to get back to reality, as I was chatting to a client about earlier, for 18 to 24 months. So this is pretty significant. Sometimes we have to lean into the cultural icons to make people sit up and pay attention.
And my call to action for the United States is, if big tech is listening to the HumAIn podcast, if you’re Facebook, Google, Apple, Instagram, Snapchat, Amazon, we’re giving you our data every single day for applications, for social media and for purchases.
So there must be a good way that we can just take all that data. Give you the permissions. Here’s my data that you’ve been collecting for my whole life. Have it now, let’s start some track and trace because if we don’t, we know that there have been predictions out there, and some of them are big predictions, but they say up to 2.5 billion people could be infected with Coronavirus, COVID-19, maybe even up to 53 million people to die or succumb from the disease. But how credible is that? Where are we going?
So 1918, 1919 Spanish Flu. 50 to a hundred million people dead. That would downplay in the data at that point in time. What was interesting about Spanish flu is some of the final cases they came across over a similar virus, it was probably mutated from the original one back in 1918, 1919, were still popping up in 1952. So it’s not that incredible to think that this is going to go far and wide, it’s our response to it. So our ability to treat it, our ability to have health care that can help people that have it get over it in the more extreme cases for us to take things seriously and to stay at home and we can see cases for years of COVID-19.
When vaccinations pop up a lot of people will want to get it going and will want to get vaccinated. There’s a study that I was looking at earlier today. Last year, it found that 45% of Americans, about two and a half thousand Americans were polled. 45% of them actually said that they didn’t trust vaccines.
Not that they wouldn’t get them. It’s just, they don’t trust them. And right now we’re starting to do human trials. Probably 12 months at the earliest, we’re going to have a vaccination that could work well, or we hope works well. So who’s going to be first in line to get that? A lot of people are going to say no, they’re going to wait to see what happens to the people that go and get it first.
For me, I’m a data scientist by trade. So everything is about the scientific method. You’re going to create a vaccine. Perfect. Let’s do a randomized control trial, run it on 30 rabbits, 30 monkeys, whatever you want to. Of course, COVID-19, wouldn’t make sense in that case because it only seems to be human to human or certain animal transmission. But do a randomized control trial, do it for 30 people. Show me the results. Boom. Sign me up. I might not be number one, but I’ll be number thirty.
That’s not exactly how it works with vaccines, but yes, simplistically, absolute. They’ve already started #humantrials. And there’s actually a number of stages that they go through in terms of testing that. Yes, they’ll start with a smaller group of people, 20, 30 people, then it takes three or four months to see how it fares. Does it work? Has it created some sense of antibodies within the body to create resiliency? Then take it out to a slightly further group. And suddenly you’re 12 months into this study.
You don’t go 30. It seems to be working. Let’s release that because we end up at being in a situation where you could be affecting unborn children. You could be affecting brain development in children, as they’re growing up from 5 to 18 years old, you could be killing old people. It’s not that easy. So we need to be slow. And certainly with the vaccination, we’ve got no choice. But to be slow and steady, stay at home. Because if we don’t, we’re just going to see hundreds of millions of people dead around the world.
We’re talking about vaccines where some people have hesitancies to get them. But another thing that people have been not so hesitant to stop doing is shaking hands. We’ve heard that Dr. Fauci with the Trump administration in the US said, you should never shake hands again in your whole entire life. So I quote “shaking hands is not something you should do.” Why have people been so easy to stop shaking hands, but not necessarily get the vaccine?
I miss my friends. I want to hug some of my friends right now. I miss them so much. Shaking hands would be a luxury. Dr. Fauci said that because of this, it’s known that once you shake someone’s hand, within 10 minutes you actually bring your hand to your face and you smell your own fingers. It’s a human, biological quirk, and it comes back from the days when we were apes. We’re just checking out, pherormonally, are we trusted? Are we part of the same tribe in a way? So that’s why there’s this stop shaking hands. I actually stopped shaking hands about seven weeks ago. It was before people were shaking hands. I went to a training course for two days in Detroit and I was trying to build business relationships.
So I was doing what I called the pandemic fist bump. And I seem to disappear after doing a bunch of fist bumps to go and wash my hands. Every time. Everyone was looking at me very strangely, but now they’ve been emailing me back in. They’re like, we get it. We understand where you’re at now. So. Does it change the social fabric of who we are as humans? If you don’t shake hands and you stand at distance, if you’re in the same room as someone or in the same open space, you’ve still got those mirror neurons firing. You still got that attraction, whether they’re friends or lovers or potentials in either of those cases. And that’s a pretty good step towards keeping social cohesion.
So now I wonder, actually, what the new norm could look like. So whether that’s in six months or 18 or 24 months, could the new norm be that we go to in-person conferences and we actually say, Hey, Nikolas, we’re going to shake hands. And there, we take out a Purel gel. We wash our hands. We disinfect. Could that be the new normal? I suspect it might be that everyone will have these devices at conferences, infrared sensors, blue UV sensors, all these things everywhere.
That’s going to be part of the new normal. I like to think of some science fiction and some sci-fi films that make me excited to talk about this kind of crazy world. Demolition Man. No handshaking, high-five. He didn’t know how to use the three shells when he was going to the washroom. There’s no toilet paper in the future. There’s no physical sex in the future as well.
Are we going to end up in that situation? Some people would love to end up in that situation just because that’s how they work in the world. Humans love to be around others. They just like the sense of human touch. And obviously, we’re going to get back to that world.
Dr. Fauci will be shaking hands when the vaccination has been successful. So there’s a reason again why he said that, and it’s just because we’re strange creatures as humans. And you know what? if I was in New York, and I shook you by the hand, I’m going to be smelling my fingers in about 10 minutes.
It’s just like our beloved creatures. These dogs that we have came from wolves. We humans, we came from a line of species that have these habits just so deeply ingrained. And perhaps some of that is also what you mentioned around vaccines. We know many companies now are on this quest to find a COVID-19 vaccine. We’ve seen Bill Gates talk about it in his Ted Talk in the last few weeks. Where do you think we are, realistically, on that vaccine search?
We’re right at the beginning, we’re 2 maybe 3 months into it. That’s it. We’ve got another 12 months before we’ve got anything really hopeful to talk about, we’re clamoring for hope. World leaders are clamoring for hope. They’re trying to calm everyone down that there is some light at the end of the tunnel. I’m hopeful that we’re going to get that.
There’s very smart people in the world working together. Artificial Intelligence is playing its role. Analytics is playing, so big data and data science is playing as well. So, that’s really cool. These practical uses of artificial intelligence are really why we’re here and why we’re talking about this in this podcast and beyond.
What’s really interesting is that even without that, we’re not going to move as quickly as we can move today, in all reality. This is why in 1918, 1919, how did they deal with it? Phone calls, telegrams and in the end it was “lock yourself up and never come out, wear a mask”. If someone’s sick and you own the same thing, have we really progressed in a hundred years? It seems not. Do we have better tools to find a solution? Yes, we do. So, that’s the human evolutionary piece.
We actually evolve pretty slowly with technology. If you think about it, we still drive internal combustion engine cars, even when we’ve got better solutions with electric vehicles. But when did the internal combustion engine come out? It was the Benz brothers in the late 1800 How much does that truly evolve? Yes, we can go faster. Yes. We burn less fuel, but really we’re still on the starting blocks of so many parts of our lives.
It sounds like, as you mentioned, we’re in the starting part, we’ve seen some work coming out from Google DeepMind with their AlphaFold. We’ve seen work coming out as well from different universities and protein designs, but that is just the beginning stage. So it could be another 6 to 12 or 18 months till we get to good viable vaccines, which is why there’s causes where Bill Gates is saying, take the time now, commit money to Coronavirus research.
We’ve seen Jack Dorsey of Twitter, just set aside millions of dollars to say, we need to take action now. So I’m hopeful that the money will go into the right donor advised funds that will help us create solutions to come out with working vaccines.
We’ve got to remember who’s behind these solutions as humans, and even with the best machine learning and data sets, it’s humans that are shaping the future and we’re going to continue to shape the future.
We’re not going to hand it over wholly to any model. Because models can’t be trusted, data models and then this is kind of the dilemma: we want the future, we want it so bad right now. We want to imagine liberation from this industrialized world and it’s not going to be in our generation and it’s not going to be in our lifetime. In maybe a hundred years’ time, it’s going to be a really interesting time to be alive.
Because the world is suddenly going to be on the right track with digital evolution. A lot of the old male white world leaders or the old male world leaders, I should say, that get in the way of good policy decisions are going to make way for younger female leadership. It’s going to make the right decisions about thrusting humanity forward than we have done so far.
So thrusting humanity forward, that leads us to futurism. That leads us to the future of work. And typically we say the #futureofwork enabled by AI, but I even want to go so far to say the future of work is being enabled by COVID-19.
Think about the acceleration. I know it’s not a great thought, but there is a positive side that technology initiatives that companies were hesitant to do on digital transformation. We’re now seeing a lot of progression there, whether it’s remote learning with Zoom and Microsoft Team meetings, or then even offering opportunities for different employees to see how you could do workflows with tools that used to have to be in person. So I’m not fully sold yet on whether the world is going to be all digital or go back to all in-person or some hybrid. But what are you seeing for the future work? Both enabled by AI and COVID?
It’s really interesting. We say that we’ve been thrust into the digital future and it’s well, no, we’ve been thrust into sitting in front of computers, on screens, we’re talking about having meetings that may be just as productive as we would have on conference calls or in person in the office. Big deal. That’s what I say to that. Yes. Kids are at home. They’re not in school. They are being taught virtually by teachers, big deal.
This is not the absolute future of work. The absolute future of work is a fundamental reprogramming of how the industrial world works and gets out of the way for a true digital evolution of biology, communications, transportation, and energy.
And once we actually get to those foundational levels that are governmental support and international investment level, we can start transforming the world entirely from the foundation. And the future of work is that foundational evolution. More than it is using the gadgetry and software that we speculate might be the future of work. The reason I’m very skeptical about saying an app or a piece of software is suddenly going to thrust us into the new world is that it’s just a moment in time. Do you remember Windows 95?
I remember DAS.
But do you pine over it? Do you sit there at your computer that you sat at now thinking, I just want to play around with DAS for a couple of hours. No. Everything is temporary with #software.
When you look at true foundational change in the world, what I’m calling the digital evolution, renewable energy, digital super grids, a real time transfer of cheap, almost free energy around the world, mass electrification of transportation, completely new ways of communication using everything from artificially intelligent systems through to #quantumcomputing and civilizations being established on the moon or even beyond.
That’s when I’m talking about a true future of work, it’s a complete change in the foundations. So will things change? There’s going to be some people saying I do want to live on the road. I want to be a nomadic traveler and on the work, and companies are going to be going ”Yes, we trust you because we’ve seen that you’ve been able to do that during the #COVID-19 situation”.
And really the problem in progress towards a new future is that the companies that are heavily invested in the old world won’t trust any new thinkers. And invest in that heavily, invest in them to truly transform how the world will be. Now, this gets really interesting. Countries like China, countries like India are going to be the countries that drag us into this new world faster than countries like Canada or the UK or the USA.
Thinking about this future of work as fantastical or near to the future, as it may seem, there’s a lot of technology that can enable that. Some of that is different AI devices using #NLP and #computervision. But then another part though, we don’t give a lot of thought about as society is robots. And they’ve been around here for many years, but now they’re coming of age, if you will.
We’re seeing robots in hospitals, giving people diagnoses, or seeing robots as dogs, for those who want to have companionship in their aging years. Robots could be an interesting opportunity because robots can’t get COVID.
It’s true. But if someone with COVID-19 was to handle a robot and then passes it to you, it’s certainly a transmission device though. Discuss the philosophical ramifications of that in a society, in a community where robots are shared, maybe. So no.
Yes. Robots can be independent. I was reading a wired article and there’s robotics that’s helping nurses at the front line check on patients or wherever. That’s really cool. I don’t mind the idea of #robots. What I don’t really like about the idea of robotics is that we’re trying to get them to do things that are so human, that it is driving us backwards in terms of progress.
If we think about #artificialintelligence in robotics, taking a completely new track on how things should work, then we’re going to make bigger leaps ahead. What do robots have to look like a human? The word robot comes from Czechoslovakia and it’s the word for slave. Why have we created so many humans that are basically robots in their jobs today? Now, for example, call center operators. You train them, you give them a script. They stay to the script and then they leave.
It’s a perfect use case for an artificially intelligent bot to be able to do exactly the same job, because they’re exactly the same mechanism. When you’ve actually got robotics, you need to trust what that looks like. We’ve seen Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot. People are terrified by this.
We don’t have Michael from, it was Alien: Covenant? Michael Fassbender plays out a robot. So we’re going to have these strange “Robby, the robot” kind of characters taking us forward. But really it’s the robotics that don’t look like humans that do something very specific. Soft robotics that are coming out of MIT media lab and underwater robotics that just don’t look like anything that really existed before. They’re really interesting to me.
Robotics have got a huge role to play in the world. We need to stop chasing human style robotics that are suddenly going to walk like us and talk like us and just get back to basics on robotics that just do one or two things really well and without our intervention.
That couldn’t be better said. Why do we have to make things that look like us, sound like us and act like us because that’s relatable for humans, when instead of robots could be any device with a circuit chip with programming in any form. I’ve seen that there’s now like stingray robotics that are going down in the ocean to measure pollution levels.
There’s so much out there that’s possible and I’m excited for what that future looks like. It is one of humans and machines together. And right now we are in unprecedented times with the pandemic, but Nikolas, if we’re thinking about the call to action for our listeners, what would you share today about your hopes for the future?
My hopes for the future is this: that we come back to humanity and what it means to be alive, to be sentient, to be conscious, to create community and to understand exactly where we’re going together on this journey that is the human race. If we do that and we spend just as much time understanding that as we do working in new fields, like artificial intelligence, #machinelearning, #datascience, then we’re going to have a balance that creates a future with solutions that are truly going to change the world.
Nikolas Badminton, futurist. Thank you so much for being with us on the HumAIn podcast.
It’s been a blast. Thanks very much.
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