Looming advancements that excite me

I may expand on this post later, but in rough form here’s a list off the top of my head of upcoming advancements that I believe herald tremendous potential:

  • Blockchains – I’ve spoken about this before, but secure, distributed ledgers yield all kinds of cool apps, such as smart contracts, distributed and secure computing, non-fiat currency, disintermediated frictionless value transfer anywhere at the speed of light, democratized access to equity, a very complementary platform to connect the internet of things (especially the data those sensors generate), many functions of government (ownership, marriage certificates, voting), banking the 3 billion unbanked among many..
  • Apple’s own baseband tech – I can’t wait for an Apple Watch that is always connected. Right now this isn’t possible due to power constraints, but if Apple keeps kicking Qualcomm’s butt like it has been and keeps hiring baseband engineers, it will be able to develop its own wireless tech for its devices integrated into its A-series SOC’s. This also opens the possibility for Apple to really make its customers lives easier by mediating the carriers – imagine if you paid Apple for your data, and Apple negotiated with all of the carriers to provide the best data at the lowest prices. They would also be able to make some really interesting moves in mesh networking, if they decided to.
  • Wireless power – the Internet of Things is already taking off, but we still have to plug everything in. This isn’t so much of a problem for lamps or garage doors, but it is for anything we wear or take with us. Imagine a wireless power standard that could beam a couple of watts to any device in a room. Suddenly, wireless headphones and connected clothing seem a lot more feasible. As well, as wireless power becomes more ubiquitous, phone/laptop/watch battery life becomes much less of a concern. Devices could be engineered with absolutely no ports, making them more durable and aesthetically pleasing. I think the friction of plugging things in is hugely underestimated, and the use cases that will emerge from ambient power (even a small amount) will be truly amazing. There’s some promising technologies on the horizon
  • Solid voice and image recognition – “ambient intelligence” is a term often used to describe the coming age when we are surrounded by smart, connected devices and sensors. Benedict Evens often equates the proliferation of connectivity with that of motors a generation ago – my grandparents could count on one hand the number of motors in their lives when they were my age, whereas now we are awash in hundreds of invisible motors. The internet is going to become so ubiquitous that we will not be able to count how many connected things surround us. Artificial intelligence, like Google Now and Siri, will be very well positioned to “speak” to all of these connected devices and clearly, warmly control them by communicating with us. We’re very close to artificial intelligence that can understand us as good as we understand each other, and see the world as well as we do. As this artificial intelligence will always be connected, it will be able to access billions of databases around the world to yield unfathomable intelligence everywhere we go.
  • Genetic Engineering – life can be thought of as a huge store of engineering research painstakingly conducted over billions of years. J. Craig Venter, George Church, and others have been hammering on for some time about the potential that genetic engineering holds for us. As the costs of genetic sequencing have decreased faster than Moore’s law in recent years, we are finally able to take a peek under the hood of life and learn all of the secrets that it holds. We will very realistically be able to modify existing permutations of life to fit our desires  – e.g. planting a seed that grows into a house, engineering disease out of our bodies and engineering in superhuman strength, intelligence, endurance, even predisposition for happiness.
  • Solar Power – much like the costs of genetic sequencing, solar panels have become exponentially cheaper and significantly more efficient in recent years. They’re so good now that they can often achieve parity with, or even exceed, centralized grid-based alternatives. While this is applying difficult pressure to power companies in the short term, as progress continues energy will become cleaner, more reliable, and cheaper for the world’s economies. We still desperately need breakthroughs in batteries, but I’m hopeful that graphene, superconductors, or some kind of innovative energy storage solution will emerge to complement the rise of solar power.
  • Electric Cars – they’re significantly simpler, more efficient, and cleaner than internal combustion engine (ICE) alternatives. The Tesla S P85D can go 0-60 in 3.1 seconds (faster than the McLaren F1), carry five adults, and is so dependable that Tesla themselves offer a 10 year, unlimited mile warranty on the powertrain even if you don’t service it like they recommend. Combine this tech with wireless charging and advances in image recognition, and you have yourself a paradigm-shifting transportation revolution that will see transportation costs for individuals plummet and economy-wide capital efficiency soar.

There’s a lot more, those are just the ones that are top of mind. I’ve written this post fast and dirty, so forgive it for not being as structured or succinct as it could be.

Hardware and Software

I’ve been trying to figure out the most sustainable conceptual framework possible for “hardware” and “software” and lately I’ve been thinking in terms of energy and entropy/anti-entropic force. Basically, software is an emergent manifestation of electrons being moved and confined at many orders of magnitude of more volume and velocity than atoms with exponentially less energy required. I think it ultimately boils down to using energy, defined as anti-entropic force, to order the universe to store data and preserve the information they provide.

 

This is why I think that life, if understood as the naturally occurring application of energy in an anti-entropic manner, can exist as any permutation of something that uses energy. I think it’s entirely conceivable that human beings could exist on alternate substrates, be they carbon or otherwise. Considering every cell in our body is replaced every 13 years, and the atoms that our bodies occupy are constantly changing, it would seem that our existence arises as an emergent property of a very specific kind of order, facilitated by energy, regardless of the physical elements that are used to create that order. Energy and matter are, at their base levels, the same thing, and the universe as we experience it is the subjective realization of math itself.

The Robots Are Coming

Great article that catalogues, in a digestible format, the economic trajectory of humanity and the increasing importance of technology (and capital) in generating economic output. In a Caldor-Hicks economic framework, where output is a function of labor and capital, the importance of human labor is diminishing in relative importance to that of capital.

 In 1960, the most profitable company in the world’s biggest economy was General Motors. In today’s money, GM made $7.6 billion that year. It also employed 600,000 people. Today’s most profitable company employs 92,600. So where 600,000 workers would once generate $7.6 billion in profit, now 92,600 generate $89.9 billion, an improvement in profitability per worker of 76.65 times. Remember, this is pure profit for the company’s owners, after all workers have been paid. Capital isn’t just winning against labour: there’s no contest. If it were a boxing match, the referee would stop the fight.

Ethereum

Anyone who has spoken to me in the last two years about technology has inevitably heard my thoughts on Bitcoin. For those that don’t know, Bitcoin is a globally distributed ledger that allows for the secure, instantaneous, and nearly free transfer of value between any two parties in the world. It has been likened to digital gold, praised by libertarians as the panacea for government-issued fiat currencies, hailed as a remarkable invention for the 3 billion unbanked of the world. It has also been pandered as a colossal waste of computing resources, a pipe dream of out-of-touch technophiles, and a ponzi scheme.

While I could fill many posts going into depth on Bitcoin the currency and explaining why it really is a remarkable financial invention, for now I’d like to draw attention to the technology that underpins it. Computer scientists have been seeking ways to securely transact value across the internet for many years, but until now some big problems have stood in their way. Double-spending and compulsory trust in a central party have prevented many solutions from taking off. The reason email has become so woven into the fabric of our society isn’t Gmail, it’s the protocols that underpin the standard so that anyone who plugs into the network, be they an individual or a multinational corporation, can run their own servers and manage their own data. There isn’t any central “email office” of the internet – it’s a standard protocol that anyone can access. The same holds true for the Blockchain, the protocol that powers Bitcoin. Blockchains are just that – a chain of “blocks” (just a fancy word for ledger entries) that are mathematically based in cryptography.

Bitcoin was the very first permutation of a blockchain that made waves when it was proposed by its anonymous inventor “Satoshi Nakamoto” in 2009. Recognizing its legitimate innovations, computer science enthusiasts around the world began participating in the network, and since it has grown into the amazing ecosystem that we have today. In 1994, there was a small but very loud minority clamoring about a new thing that operated over telephone lines called the “inter-net”. While most people were unaware of the impact that the internet was going to have, a few smart engineers and investors saw its potential. Today, venture capital investment in the bitcoin ecosystem is exceeding that of the internet through 1994, currently around $500M.

One project that seeks to build on the same blockchain technology that powers Bitcoin is Ethereum. Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum’s creator, is working hard to mold blockchain technology beyond its financial applications into a fully-fledged (Turing complete) computer network. The possibilities this kind of technology presents are virtually endless – anyone could start their own currency with a few lines of code, issue stock, marriage certificates, run distributed websites, forge and sign impervious contracts, even establish a fully autonomous and decentralized corporation that can never be shuttered. To be clear, blockchain technology isn’t a new clever addition to the internet. It’s a paradigmatic shift for computing, and it’s very exciting to witness.