If you ask Google, “When will the singularity happen?” then you will get this answer: “[Ray] Kurzweil estimates that the singularity will happen in the year 2045. But that’s not all. The singularity, which is to say a humanity which has merged with technology, will turn its own intelligence into pure energy and saturate the universe at, or beyond, the speed of light.”
It sounds like something out of an Isaac Asimov sci-fi story, but if we take a look at the emerging trends of today and the speed at which they are evolving, we would realize that the speed of that advancement towards a humanity merged with tech is increasing at an exponential rate.
There’s lots of hype going around tech circles about robots taking human jobs and self-driving cars making driving the horseback riding of the future, but it doesn’t just end there. The beautiful (and perhaps even intimidating) spectrum of technology is still unfolding, and 2016 is a crucial turning point on many levels. Here’s a forecast on what we think will happen in the coming 12 months:
1. ALGORITHMIC PERSONALITY DIAGNOSIS
Social feeds have already shifted the concept of personal branding into what people share online, and how people interact in a virtual space. This diagnosis will be taking it one step further by having a computer program use an automated algorithmic personality detection function to determine your character based on your curated online persona, subsequently fitting you into one of its pre-defined categories.
If you’re a StumbleUpon user (like me), you’re already familiar with the StumbleDNA concept which determines your digital footprint based on the stuff you like and suggests related things. Facebook and YouTube already use similar algorithms, but StumbleDNA has a beautiful visual interpretation that really puts things in perspective for the platform’s user base. According to the Harvard Business Review, 2016 will be the year that these algorithms will spread out to be used by insurance companies, banks and other financial institutions, and your potential employers to determine the type of person they’re investing valuable time and money in. We’re not as unique as one might think, and computers have already figured us out.
2. ARTIFICIALLY INTELLIGENT EVERYTHING
Though controversial, the rule is pretty simple: if there’s a human that can do it, there’s an AI that can do it better. We’ve seen IBM’s Watson beat the best human contestant on trivia show Jeopardy, and on a more serious note, it’s aiding thousands of doctors today in research and diagnosis. At the time of writing, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, and the University of Toronto, reported a new type of visual machine learning in the journal Science in which “a computer vision program outperformed a group of humans” when trying to identify handwritten characters based on a single example.
The achievements that are happening in neural network technologies in speech detection, image recognition, and even art creation, are bringing machines closer to rivaling and potentially surpassing human capabilities. In fact, almost every industry in the world is witnessing an exponential rise in artificial intelligence within its core processes: customer service, finance, transportation, toys, aviation, news, and more- not to mention Siri, Cortana, Google Now, and the rise of the artificially intelligent personal assistant. Let’s hope they won’t run away and decide to form a singularity like in Spike Jonze’s blockbuster movie Her.
3. EVERYONE IS A PROGRAMMER
Just last month, Microsoft launched PowerApp, a platform that allows users to create their own application for iOS, Android or Windows without any prior knowledge of coding. Although Microsoft did not introduce this concept, they sure did bring app building possibilities to the fingertips of many more individuals and SMEs just because of the giant that Microsoft is. The Microsoft blog shared that according to Gartner, “through 2017, the market demand for mobile app development services will grow at least five times faster than internal IT organization capacity to deliver them.” Services similar to PowerApp are to programming what Instagram is to photography, giving the average person a user-friendly and accessible solution.
4. BACKDOORS AND SECURITY DEBATES
Backdoors are sets of code that enable manufacturers upgrade our devices and services without our direct interference. However, these backdoors can also allow unwanted intruders into our personal data. Given the various situations of political and civil unrest around the globe, and that many of these movements are digitally-enabled, controversy is rising on the ethical ownership of people’s personal data. Should governments or corporations be allowed to access your data just because you belong to a group that may be viewed as a threat? Add that to our first point on this list and we’re onto something really intrusive, and potentially dangerous.
5. AUTONOMOUS ROBOTS
Autonomous robots are intelligent machines that can perform tasks without human interference or assistance. Amsterdam has already set loose a robot in their airport that helps lost travelers find their gates. Self-driving cars and drones also fit into this category. Amazon will be launching their drone delivery service, Mercedes will be launching their self-driving cars, and the whole world will be tinkering with DIY autonomous bots. We’re not going to dig into the military application of autonomous robots, but one should note that this could be where these robots are really exploitable in terms of their full potential.
In addition to drone delivery services, riot-control drones, drone video shooting, agricultural drones and lots of other applications, programmable drones are taking online markets by storm. Drones are low-cost, readily accessible and they can be programmed to do pretty much anything. Airspace will look a bit different in 2016, and we should get used to looking up at a drone looking back down at us. The industry will need some new legislations to regulate airspace safety, privacy and personal security.
7. QUANTUM COMPUTING
Google and NASA just announced that their quantum computer really works and it’s 100 million times faster than our normal computer- while there are some naysayers who have poked holes in this claim, the general consensus seems to agree with the staggering announcement. The implications of this, if it is indeed true, are still far beyond human imagination. We can’t even begin to understand what this will mean for the future, but let’s just imagine a scenario where a self-improving AI is dwelling in these processors and mimicking human behavior. I would recommend a viewing of Johnny Depp’s Transcendence or the underrated Ex Machina to explore the realm of such a future.
8. AMPLIFIED KNOWLEDGE
We already live in a world where all information is accessible to everyone at the edge of our hyper-connected fingertips. Many discussions these days end with someone saying that they will Google the topic under debate. We act as nodes in different networks of knowledge just by being present online, and channeling the information that interest us.
To take this further, scientists at University of Southern California have been developing a cognitive neural prosthesis that works like a mental exoskeleton that enhances and restores memory functions. This implies that Kurzweil’s vision of merging a digital processing core with our organic prefrontal cortex to augment how we process knowledge and connect with each other is not just the stuff that science fiction dreams are made of.
9. PROSTHETICS AND BCIS
Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) or brain-machine interfaces have progressed significantly in recent years. Some BCIs aim to restore mobility to people who are paralyzed by spinal cord injury, stroke or brain disease, while others aim to restore senses like sight or hearing. In 2015, we witnessed the birth of brain-controlled robotic prosthetics, and not just with humans. Even chimps could be trained to remote control robotic arms using only the power of thought. The next year will bring a lot more amazing achievements in this domain, especially in the fields of medicine.
10. GREEN ENERGY REVOLUTION
Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and a bunch of other tech-industry billionaires just formed the Breakthrough Energy Coalition to invest and support green energy innovation. When names that shaped our world as we know it stand together, it is safe to say that it will have a huge global impact. This revolution set its base in 2015 with Musk introducing the Tesla Powerwall, a low-cost high-efficiency storage battery that will help us move one step towards disconnecting from main electric grids and go self-sustainable. The application of the Powerwall in developing countries will be life-changing on the scale of millions. The best part about this is that Musk extended Tesla’s open source policy for the Powerwall for any company in the world to produce a similar product or take this innovation forward.
When the transistor was invented in 1947, it changed the entire world and the evolutionary flow of all technologies around it. With the current speed at which technology is evolving, there’s no way of accurately predicting what’s to come. Admittedly, my ten-point list is just my forecast based on what I’ve researched and what developments I’ve been following, and not a detailed report on what to expect in 2016. But I do hope that the modern equivalent of a transistor will be discovered this upcoming year, and will knock my expectations out of the ballpark.