By Jeremiah Owyang, with co-contributor Ryan Brinks
Drones come in many shapes and sizes, and are coming to a front door near you. Retail, logistics, and the way we shop and consume will never be the same.
We call this trend the “Autonomous World” when robots are able to augment, supplant and replace human workers at greater efficiency. It’s happening in all walks of life, industries and sectors, but the one area that will be most impacted will be the retail and logistics space. Earlier this month, I was a keynote at Etail, where over a thousand retailers were present to learn about how on-demand workers and autonomous drones will impact their business models.
ISIS turns toy drones into killing machines. On the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is using hobbyist drones — the kind you can buy on Amazon — to send explosive devices behind enemy lines. Last week they used one to kill two Kurdish fighters (The Washington Post). The development is hardly a surprise; from the smelting of bronze to the splitting of atoms, humanity has always turned its technological breakthroughs into war-fighting tools. The U.S., of course, has been deploying relatively large killer drones for a decade. Now we’re seeing this type of combat make the equivalent of a transition from mainframe to PC scale — and it’s going to be in everyone’s hands. In warfare as in any other kind of competition, every time an innovation comes along, you need to weigh how someone with ill intent might use it against you. Because, sooner or later, they will. As technology writer James Gleick asked on Twitter: “Did we think we were going to perfect a cheap, lethal technology and keep it to ourselves?”
Obama wants a government stake in our AI future. As artificial intelligence and machine learning move into the mainstream of our lives, driving our cars and our business decisions, how do we make sure they have human values embedded in them? President Obama ponders that question in conversation with MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito (the interview is part of the issue of Wired that Obama has guest-edited). There have been times, during Obama’s eight years in the Oval Office, that you might have mistaken the president, a formidably rational decision-maker with a Spock-like cool, for an AI himself. Here he talks about open data, cyber-security, and post-automation employment with an easy familiarity and depth that suggests his interest lies deeper than a briefing memo. If we rely only on the private sector to build the AI future, Obama warns, we could end up with systems that don’t fully represent our society. As Ito says, “It’s been a predominately male gang of kids, mostly white, who are building the core computer science around AI, and they’re more comfortable talking to computers than to human beings.” Obama’s response: “If we want the values of a diverse community represented in these breakthrough technologies, then government funding has to be a part of it.” Today the White House also released two reports on AI (Quartz), focusing on human-machine collaboration, how to boost jobs, and ethics and transparency.