Artificial Intelligence and the future of humans

July 2nd, 2015, by

My recent blog:  AI – don’t expect a revolution created some interesting discussions around the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) and the future of humans.

On the more negative side issues such as loss of jobs in a variety of sectors but most importantly this time in areas such as medical diagnostics, financial planning, investment advice, insurance brokers, mathematicians and statisticians and so the list goes on for mainly middle class and higher class jobs. Little effect on plumbers, carpenters, electricians and other trades that require on the spot physical solutions.

Intelligent robots are other developments that create fear in some people, within the not so distance future they indeed could have more ‘brain’ power than humans and what does that mean for the human race. However, not just (the Hollywood) robots are  a ‘threat’, technology in general is changing this field, intelligent DNA design of babies is now also possible, so we could breed very specific people such as soldiers, musicians, doctors and so on. I am not quite sure which one of these two technological developments  is better or more frightening.

At the same time we also know that these technological developments will not stop simply because of fear and uncertainty, we humans are driven to use technology to in what we believe improves our lives and yes in many of such developments there are dangerous elements attached to that.

Perhaps a good example here is nuclear technology; this most certainly is another frightening technology with the ultimate invention of the atom bomb. However, in all reality nuclear technology is used mainly for peaceful purposes and has been very beneficiary for the medical industry, energy production and many other areas. At the same time we as global human beings have understood the dangers of this technology and have put international arrangements in place to avoid the misuse of this technology and despite some very serious disasters such as Hiroshima, Chernobyl and Fukushima, we have been able to manage these very dangerous aspects now for over 70 years.

While there will also be disasters with AI, if we do have good global arrangements in place they can be limited and any rouge elements misusing the technology will (eventually) be suppressed. I am not saying that these are not dangerous situations and potentially dangerous technologies it is up to us to use them in the appropriate.

There are far too many positive elements to AI – we absolutely need AI to address some of the complex and increasingly global social, economic and environmental problems – so there is no way stopping these developments from happening, but it is up to us to manage it. As we have indicated on many occasions we can’t keep on following the same linear way of human development that has basically guided us since WWII, we need some massive changes to policies, economic strategies, social priorities and technologies in order to move forwards to a world that has grown from 2.5 billion people in 1950 to one that will have 9 billion inhabitants by 2050. Nothing less than a global economic and social transformation is required to mange such a new world.

I believe that also thanks to new technologies – including AI – increasingly many of these new developments will be driven from a grassroots level – communities and cities – rather than from national or international levels.

Ever since we humans developed we have invented new tools and so far we have been able to use them to our advantage, admittedly the pace of change has dramatically increased and we do have problems with keeping up with that level of pace, at the same the pressure resulting from this can easily lead to ‘accidents’ that could have far reaching consequences, but than again we are facing this in other areas as well, I mentioned nuclear technology but biological warfare is another technology that has been with us for more than 100 years and yes this remains a threat and misuses do happen, but again we have been able as a global society to address this.

In all reality the full effects of AI will not be with us for another 100 years, so that gives us time to learn from what will be developed between now and than and accordingly we will put national and global legislation, regulations and arrangements in place as we have done in the past.

To a certain extend our human progress has been one of muddling along, innovations, breakthroughs in technology and the use of it is hard to plan and manage, it happens and we consequently judge what we as human beings like and those elements are being developed and along the lines of these developments we find ways to plan and manage these developments better. There is no reason to believe that AI will not follow a similar pattern.

How this all will end up for us human beings remains of course a question, there will be many more new jobs that we can’t even think about, but also will this lead to a different way of living. If we go back to our nomadic hunter-gathering forbears, they approximately used 40% less of their time that we do now to do their work. As long as it improves our overall lifestyle a different balance between work and leisure could also be upon us going forwards. The sharing economy facilitated by technology will most likely be one of the most important job creation areas, the nature of the job however, will change with those involved in the sharing economy taking a larger ownership role of their job, rather than relying on employers.

Far more important than technology are issues such as social global equality and human displacements because of political, religious or cultural differences, but again new technologies can be used – and are used – to build bridges between people and to include more people into the global economy and in general to empower people to make their own decisions and to think for themselves. Adding this brain power to the global human cause will only strengthen our global ability to address some of the other issues mentioned above.

Paul Budde

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Doubling the capacity of fibre optic networks

July 2nd, 2015, by

Electrical engineers at the University of California, San Diego have announced in the Journal of Science an advance that could double the capacity of fibre-optic circuits by extending the range that beams of laser light in fibre-optic glass wires, potentially opening the way for networks to carry more data over long distances while significantly reducing their cost.

The challenge for the engineers is that beams of laser light packed densely in fibre-optic glass wires need to be both amplified and recreated at regular intervals to send them thousands of miles. The process of converting the optical ones from light to electricity and then back again roughly every 100 kms is a significant part of the cost of these networks. The process also limits how much data they can carry.

In its report, the group described a way to “predistort” the data that is transmitted via laser beams so that it can be deciphered easily over great distances.

This is done by creating, in effect, guardrails for the light beams with a device known as a frequency comb — using very precise and evenly spaced signals — to encode the information before it is transmitted.

That has the effect of embedding a digital watermark in the original data, making it possible to transmit data accurately over much longer distances and dispense with the need to perform optical-to-electronic conversions at relatively short intervals.

The researchers said they had set a transmission record for a fibre-optic message, sending it just under 12.000 in a laboratory experiment without having to regenerate the signal. That experiment is not discussed in the just-published paper. Read more

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Greek financial mess causing mayhem to the telecom sector

July 1st, 2015, by

The financial storm which erupted in 2008 revealed the degree to which Greece’s extended period of strong economic growth had been artificially propped up by credit, and sheltered by its membership of the EU. The global economic turmoil exposed weaknesses in the country’s economy and in economic management. Among the government’s problems was a reliance on debt to support GDP growth, resulting in a high debt to GDP ratio. Financial incompetence led to the failure to address poor tax revenue, while political skulduggery and self-protection led to hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs having been created by both political sides during the last 15 years or so in a bid to garner votes. This inexorably led to high bills for wages and pensions which could only be met by increasing credit.

The economic mess has now come to a head, with the troika of creditors refusing to make compromises to a Greek coalition government which lacks the ability or political will to make the required domestic concessions.

No progress was made during the protracted negotiations held recently. The surprise referendum on whether the Greeks should accept the creditors’ bail out terms, even though these terms have since been withdrawn, has simply further poisoned relations between the Greek negotiators and the troika.

Soon after the referendum was called, Greece failed to make the €1.5 billion payment to the IMF by the end-of-June deadline – the first among advanced economies to do so. The country has emerged from five years of austerity indebted to an eye-watering degree, and essentially bankrupt. In a brazen last-ditch effort the Greeks appealed for a new €30 billion bailout to be rolled over two years, a proposal swiftly dismissed by European finance ministers.

All of this will prolong the already profound effect on the country’s telecom sector. There had been optimism on the market’s prospects after the sector was liberalised in 2001 (and when the stock market was still healthy). This encouraged a number of players to set up as telcos, and during the next few years a sequence of bankruptcies, mergers and rolling-door new market entrants radically overhauled the sector. The decline in revenue kicked-in from 2008, and continues still as customers cut back on discretionary spend, cut off fixed-lines and stop their pay TV subscriptions. The sector’s dwindling revenue has meant that its contribution to GDP has fallen steadily from a high of 4.5% in 2007 to 2.9% in 2013 and an estimated 2.6% by 2015, among the lowest in Europe.

The regulator has reported that operators’ turnover in 2013 dropped by 12.1% year-on-year. Gross profit among telcos has fallen from a high of €2.6 billion in 2007 to some €700 million in 2013 and an anticipated €400 million in 2015. The dominant telco OTE, itself encumbered by cost-cutting targets being implemented for fiscal 2015, reported a 2.4% fall in revenue for the first quarter of 2015, year-on-year, while EBITDA fell 3.4% and net profit fell 27.6%.

Investors are uncertain where to look for an advantage in Greece. However, telecoms as a sector is sheltered to a degree by the necessity of access. People will forgo most goods and services other than internet connectivity, and the test for telcos is to retain customer trust and quality services. The revival of the Greek economy, more than most others, depends on it.

Henry Lancaster, Senior Analyst

For more detail on the telecom sector in Greece see Greece – Telecom Market, Statistics, Infrastructure, Operators, Regulations and Analyses

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Computer transactions, not people, are driving the need for all-fibre networks

July 1st, 2015, by

Ever since we first became involved in developing policies and strategies for countries relating to what are now known as national broadband networks we have argued that those taking part in the strategic decision-making processes of designing these networks should look, not at what broadband can do now, but at what high-speed broadband can do to assist countries to create the best opportunities for future developments.

Key to this has been our prediction that high-speed broadband will be the catalyst for enormous changes in the economy and society in general. We have talked about e-health, e-education, e-commerce and so on. We said that in the not-too-distant future the majority of traffic will be based on IoT and M2M – this driven by developments in cloud computing, data centres, data analytics, smartphones, wearables and other computing devices. We also mentioned that the overall development of the highways for the digital economy has little to do with the traditional telecoms network and we urged the policy-makers to treat these networks, not as just another telecoms network, but as digital freeways essential for new economic and social development.

Assisted by the new ICT developments, this new environment will be what we call ‘trans-sectoral’ in nature – it will cut through the vertical silos in business, government and organisations such as healthcare and education and create instead far more collaborative and sharing business structures in a horizontal configuration. These transformations need to be led by government and business leaders from the top – hence ‘trans-sectoral’ and not ‘cross-sectoral’.

This being the case, for the last decade we have been suggesting to those in charge of national policies and the strategic design of such infrastructure that these networks need to provide:

  • affordable and ubiquitous access
  • enormous capacity
  • low latency
  • robustness
  • symmetric access
  • very high levels of reliability, quality and security

The combination of these requirements points in one direction only: all-fibre infrastructure.

Unfortunately, new network development is still mainly driven by the telcos which in most cases have successfully lobbied the politicians to support them in protecting their old and ageing infrastructure – and the old business models related to this – rather than building the highways of the future. They failed to build new high-speed broadband networks based on these principles in any timely way; instead they concentrated on their old business models and their old broadband services and used ‘access speed’ – and their estimate of the need for it – as the guiding principle in designing the network.

An interesting exception is Australia where Telstra, the incumbent telco, favoured an all-fibre FttH/FttP network. But the government in its infinite wisdom decided instead to continue to use the ageing copper and coax infrastructure. It is clear when one listens to the government’s rhetoric that it still fails to understand why such infrastructure is needed. They still talk about ‘speeds’ and video downloads and believe that 25Mbs is all that users need for the foreseeable future.

Interestingly, just looking at video streaming requirements alone the arrival of Netflix led to an increase of more than 30% in network capacity. Very few had envisaged such a massive uptake, yet video streaming is not even where the longer-term real game is being played.

If we look at the elements mentioned above, as well as the sharing economy and other developments mentioned below, in order to manage the computing power traffic generated by services, apps, M2M, IoT, wearables and smartphones, the digital infrastructure requirements of the future will have to be measured in terms of gigabits.

Slowly but surely most governments are starting to see the importance of the digital economy, and are accepting the reality that fibre is needed to properly develop this. What we didn’t envisage when we started to talk to governments about such policies in the early and mid-00s was the extremely rapid development of all of this – mainly thanks to the smartphone (computer) and the subsequent explosion of mobile apps and the consequential pressure on network capacity. Many telcos faced severe network problems with coping with the additional traffic. It is here that we really see how quickly the digital world around us is changing.

Those with the right vision have started to develop policies that will lead to FttH/FttP. The FCC policy in the USA that allows municipalities to bypass the tardy incumbents and build their own FttH networks is one example of this. Similar city-based developments are taking place in the Netherlands and now also in Germany. The smart city concept is slowly becoming another key driver of digital infrastructure.

Thanks to government leadership, Estonia is the first all-fibre country in the world and several North and East European countries are not far behind. Spain is leading the rollout in southern Europe. The biggest deployment of fibre network is in China, taking nearly half of all of the global connections.

Competitors to the telcos also see the future as being-fibre driven by organisations such as Google and Free in France. But whether on mobile or fixed networks the new services are increasingly seeing that traffic on the network is generated by these apps and services, without any direct involvement of the user.  By simply becoming a user of a service – and by giving the provider their consent to use certain data – these apps and services are continuously online to provide whatever they are set up for.

In parallel, services that have been arriving in recent years include collaboration tools, CRM, ERP, transactional apps, virtual desktop (cloud computing), video, trading desk and imaging apps, many of these are P2P services. Every action taken on any screen now triggers an avalanche of computer-to-computer transactions, all happening thanks to the internet backbone bus. It is clear that symmetry and low latency are key here.

The economic value of broadband is also becoming clearer. The more social economic activities that can be shared the higher its economic value, and broadband is facilitating this – people are taking to it like ducks take to water.

It comes as no surprise that other developments are happening in parallel here: the sharing economy is really taking off.  The traditional passive way of consuming is giving way to one where sharing is beginning to play a bigger role. This went from sharing ideas and content and remixing some of that to crowdfunding, and now to sharing people and assets (Uber, AirB&B, Divvy, BikeShare, CarShare, Freelancer, eBay, etc.) and a whole range of other services around P2P services. This will further develop into ownership sharing. Such a sharing economy requires ubiquitous access, otherwise one half of the population can participate and the other half cannot – or, at best, can only do so at a second-rate level.

This is also the key area where new jobs and new wealth is being generated. It is feared that the digital economy is shedding jobs faster than it is creating new ones. We tend to disagree with that but the sharing economy is definitely the key area that governments should foster to see the creation of new jobs. The other reality is that more new jobs will be based on people taking a much greater role in the ownership of that job, rather than relying on traditional employers offering new jobs.

In relation to wealth creation, the most valuable companies in the world are those who are the leaders in this economy. They themselves are low in assets and low in staff, building their models around the sharing economy and empowering their users.

It is interesting to see that because of the rapid pace of developments the old vertical structures mentioned above are being destroyed by these new ‘trans-sectoral’ structures, driven by community and other grassroots developments. It is clear that in many situations the traditional sectors failed to show leadership in establishing these trans-sectoral structures themselves. The Uber case illustrates this, with massive protests from traditional players around the world, trying to stop this aspect of the sharing economy (using the tactic of Fear Uncertainty and Doubt). Obviously their attempts will be futile – in the end the sharing economy will make sure that any negatives will be adjusted. And since people like the model it will prevail, perhaps for some time to come –alongside the traditional models, which will obviously now need to change more quickly if they are going to maintain their relevance in the market.

Policy-makers and business leaders will need to look at the broader picture of all of these developments; and they will have to develop far more holistic policies and business strategies in order to reap the social and economic benefits that they are generating. The ICT tools are there. They won’t go away and many will use them, leading to massive transformations. This will happen with or without national policies and strategies, but developments where the two can be aligned will increase national prosperity and create more and better jobs. It will empower people and create a better lifestyle for all.

Paul Budde

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Smart Highway all about communications, energy and light

July 1st, 2015, by

Last year I wrote a blog on the Highway of the Future in my home town Oss in the Netherlands. The builders of this road were in Australia and I caught up with their latest developments.

A lot has been written about intelligent highways since the eighties. However, until now the focus of innovation has been on the car.

A new approach was taken in the Netherlands by road builder and developer Heijmans and designer Daan Roosegaarde. The themes sustainability, safety and perception are key to the new smart highway concept they developed and are manifested in the latest technologies in communications, energy and light.

They are looking at smart highways on a large scale by innovating the road deck with designs such as ‘Glow-in-the-dark Lining’, ‘Dynamic Paint’, ‘Interactive Light’ and ‘Electric Priority Lane’. This makes the road sustainable and interactive through means of smart lighting, harvesting energy, and traffic signs that adapt to the road situation.

Glowing Lines Glowing Lines

Glow-in-the-dark lining absorbs energy during the day and glows in the dark. The lining emits light for as long as ten hours. A safe and sustainable alternative to conventional lighting for dark roads.

Early April 2014 the first Glowing Lines was constructed on the N329 provincial highway near Oss (Netherlands). This makes the project the first light-emitting highway pilot in the world.

Dynamic paint Dynamic paint

Temperature-controlled marking lights up and becomes transparent again, depending on temperature. The marking warns road users when the road deck can be slippery. Drivers experience direct interaction with the road deck.

Electric Priority Lane Electric Priority Lane

Induction charging offers electric cars the possibility to charge themselves while driving. Electric priority lanes stimulate sustainable transportation.

Interactive light Interactive light

Interactive lighting is controlled by sensors: it only turns on when traffic approaches. It is a sustainable and cost-saving alternative to continuous lighting. Interactive lighting can also provide speed guidance.

Dynamic Lines Dynamic Lines

Road deck markings can be flexibly adjusted, to show a continuous line or a dotted line. Dynamic traffic control, adjustable depending on the situation. Dynamic Lines contribute to capacity management.

Van Gogh bicycle path

This is an innovative bicycle path with a unique design comprising thousands of sparkling stones, creating patterns that charge during the day and emit light during the evening. The Van Gogh bicycle path makes use of the light-emitting techniques of the Smart Highway concept. An interplay of light and poetry and a modern interpretation to Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night painting. Cultural heritage and innovation merge in this new, public landscape. Location: Google maps 51.452084, 5.529805. It has also become a popular tourist attraction.

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