Your job, not your car, is killing the environment

The majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from non-residential sources

These days, everyone is more environmentally aware, and thankfully so. The amount of damage done to the environment by human sources is immense, so every step we take to mitigate this is a good one. Recycling, using compact florescent or LED lights, turning off lights in empty rooms, taking shorter showers and reducing the output from your furnace or AC are all good, environmental steps. Some people are going further, with solar panels on their roof, rain barrels for water conservation, and getting hybrid or even electrical cars. Clearly, all these steps are having a major impact, right?

Well, no, actually.

Of all greenhouse gasses produced, about 8% come from electricity for commercial and residential use, and another 6% come from buildings, including non-electric heat and cooking. That’s less than 15% of the worldwide emissions, with perhaps another 5% from personal vehicles. That means over 80% of all greenhouse gasses are produced by non-residential sources - meaning industry, agriculture, commerce, and transportation.

Fight the Power

Worldwide, the worst producer of greenhouses gasses is undoubtedly energy generation. Powering the various machines and marvels that make modern life possible is incredibly expensive and wasteful. Progress in being made here, with a significant push to greener energy, such as solar and wind, but it’s slow, and until we have better storage capacity, these sporadic, non-polluting sources won’t be able to fully take over. A further issue is that while people appreciate the benefits of green energy, most don’t want them in their backyards. Wind turbines are large and noisy, and hydroelectric  generators disrupt natural water patterns, including fish migration and other aquatic wildlife. Most of the best places for hydroelectric generator are environmentally protected reserves, meaning they can’t be built there. These issues slow down the proliferation of green energy production, but it is absolutely critical that it is pushed forward. Because it accounts for so much of the greenhouse gas emission, anything else that is done to reduce our carbon footprint is almost irrelevant in comparison. As an example, China produces more greenhouse gases for energy than the entire world produces on a residential basis.

Burning the Midnight Oil

Unsurprisingly, industry is the second largest sinner when it comes to pollutants. By its nature, industry tends to be both power intensive, using a large percentage of the energy generated and therefore responsible for those greenhouse gases, and also produces a great deal of their own. Smelting, refining, fracking, and manufacturing are all dirty jobs, and create their share of airborn toxins. While in some cases, like manufacturing, there is a move towards more environmentalism and having a cleaner process, other cases, like fracking, move in the opposite direction, making more mess and creating more pollution than alternative methods. All of these industries are power and machine intensive, requiring massive amounts of electricity and fuel to run. With the energy allocated proportionally, industry creates just under one quarter of the greenhouse emissions worldwide, just behind energy generation itself.

An Ill-Wind Blows

Agriculture seems to be a strange place for greenhouses gasses, being seen as the closest to nature that humans get. But while it isn’t as power and fuel intensive as industry, there certainly are pollution issues that arise from most types of farming. 
First off, land has to be cleared for fields, and while most current farmland has been clear for generations, that means that there are no longer trees there, soaking up the carbon dioxide. 
Secondly, there are the pesticides and weed-killer used to prevent plant loss.
But last, and certainly the worst, is cow farts. No, that’s not a joke. Methane is indeed a greenhouse gas, one far worse than carbon dioxide. Only because it’s produced in much smaller amounts than carbon dioxide is it not vilified in the press. 
There are ways that to reduce the greenhouse gas emission in farming, some of which are becoming more common. Many types of organic farming have a smaller carbon footprint, as well as being much more environmentally aware. Methane capture is also possible, if livestock are kept in an indoor facility. Farms also turn to green energy solutions, as they tend to have large amounts of space, some of which can be converted into solar or wind farms.

Getting There Isn’t Half the Fun

Cars are always seen as a major source of greenhouse gases, and for a good reason. Burning gasoline or diesel does create carbon dioxide, and one of the go-to images of air pollution is that of a gridlocked highway. Pair that with more than an quarter of a billion passenger vehicles, and you have a bleak picture.
However, emissions standards and testing have progressively improved over the past seventy years, meaning that while personal vehicles and cars do contribute to the issue, they aren’t a major part of it. Commercial vehicles, of which there are more than 120 million on the roads in the US, use more fuel, and are on the road more often. Their contribution is larger, but still not the largest part.
Air travel, both commercial and passenger, certainly contributes, but the limitations of size and the price relegate it to a less prominent role as a greenhouse gas producer. It’s not a negligible contribution, but it is certainly overshadowed by the worst contributor.
Ocean transports are the biggest offenders when it comes to transportation greenhouse gasses, with large engines burning carbon-rich fuels prodigiously to move truly massive loads across oceans. International trade has made it cheap to produce goods on one continent and ship them vast distances across an ocean to another, but the shipping process is about as environmentally friendly as a fleet of Humvees. 
As with everything, it’s possible to reduce the impact from transport pollution. More efficient engines, next-generation fuels and keeping things local all help with reducing transport greenhouse gases.

With a Bow on Top

Even if you drive an old, cranky diesel rig with a faulty catalytic converter to your poorly-insulated house where you keep your incandescent lightbulbs on 24/7, as well as your hot-tub and your old appliances that were built before “efficiency” became an industry watchword, you’re still contributing less to greenhouse emissions than even a modest business. It’s vital to realize that while personal contribution to reducing greenhouse gasses are important, they are miniscule compared to the other sources worldwide. The best thing we can do is vote with our dollars. Buy local, from companies that have a strong green record. Write or call your local government and ask them not only about green regulations, but also if they are energy and carbon aware. Personally tell stores you shop at that you will switch if they don’t improve efficiency, and write a comment card to that end as well. See if there are green electricity alternatives near you, and if not, contact one or more of them as ask if they are planning to expand into your area. 
    It’s not easy, but this is the only world we have. We should do our best to take care of it.

18 Things to Watch for in 2018

by futurists Richard Worzel & Kit Worzel

2018 is going to be remarkable in many different ways. Indeed, when we put together our lists for the most important changes ahead in 2018, we wound up with so many we decided we couldn’t discuss them all, and settled on 18 things for 2018 (catchy, right?) that we feel are highest profile, or of greatest interest and importance.

But because there’s so much material, please feel free to pick and choose, reading the items that catch your interest and skipping the rest.

And since every year is a mix of good and bad news, we’re going to start with the scary stuff, then end with the fun stuff:

Scary Stuff

The Potential for War – There are two parts of the world where war, even a nuclear war could break out: North Korea and Iran. In both cases, war might well be started by the United States – or more specifically, President Trump and/or the advisors around him.

In the case of North Korea, no matter what bombastic statements Kim Jong-Un makes, it’s unlikely he would be the first to pull the trigger. Not only has China said they would not back him up if he was the aggressor, but he knows that no matter how many other people wound up dead, he would die. Since he only cares about his own life, this is likely to deter him. On the other hand, President Trump doesn’t believe he would die, and he seems just as uninterested about the welfare of others, so he could well lash out against North Korea. If this happens (and we think it’s possible, but unlikely), it will be incredibly bad, and if the US is the aggressor, it could even lead to war with China.

Meanwhile, Iran has been a sore point for the US government since the Shah was overthrown in 1979, and has been getting progressively worse as they have worked steadily towards developing nuclear weapons. The US doesn’t want that, but has few good ways of stopping it. The agreement that the Obama administration reached with Iran is sort of the least-worst solution, delaying Iran’s nuclear program, but not stopping it entirely. President Trump doesn’t have the patience or forbearance for such a nuanced approach. Moreover, there is a significant faction within the military leadership that reportedly wants to invade and neutralize Iran. This is much easier said than done, as Iraq and Afghanistan have shown, but if this faction gets its way, the US is in for another very expensive, and very frustrating, Middle Eastern war.

Cybercrime Gets Even Scarier – 2017 would have been known as the year of cyber-terror except for all of the other things that happened. Last year showed just how damaging cyberattacks can get, with over $2 billion dollars lost from ransomware, data stolen from hundreds of millions of personal accounts including Equifax, voter data from the GOP’s data files, tax information stolen by NotPetya, and even the massive Yahoo hack from 2013 that was exposed in 2017, which resulted in more than one billion accounts being compromised.

There are several very important points that we can learn from these attacks. First, they are profitable, having made billions of dollars for the hackers. As a result, it’s estimated there will be a quadrupling of such attacks in 2018.

Second, companies that are hacked try to cover it up rather than notifying customers. And cover-ups prevent customers who’ve had data stolen from taking steps to protect themselves.

Third, these attacks reveal a massive downside for the Internet of Things (IoT). We wrote about the IoT a few years ago, and warned about the vulnerability of objects connected to the internet. After all, who puts a firewall on a Fitbit? The WannaCry hack exploited this lack of security, and used the processing power of internet-capable objects for its own purposes, as well as ransoming them. This means that one person’s lack of security on a router or smart thermostat is no longer just their problem, it becomes everyone’s problem.

Lastly, everyone needs to be better about updating security. Almost all of the security breaches of the past year happened because people didn’t install the latest security patch, or because they didn’t configure their security properly. We need a society-wide trend towards better security practices to prevent attacks like this from happening more frequently in the future.

Widespread Civil Strife in America – Strife in America seems likely, but the real question is: how violent will it get?

Strife could break out for several different reasons. The Mueller investigation could conceivable and credibly charge President Trump, members of his family, and members of his inner circle with collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice, or something approaching that. Trump would go ballistic over that, firing Mueller and attempting to castrate FBI leadership in order to bend it to his will.

Or, the midterm elections in November of 2018 could produce divisive results no matter how they end up. If the Democrats take over one of the House and Senate, then the US government will be even more deadlocked than it is now.

If gerrymandering, combined with voter suppression, deny the Democrats control of either house, even though they might gain a majority of the votes in all the relevant elections (which happened in 2016, where the Republicans won 49.9 percent of the votes in the House, but got 55.2 percent of the seats), then the outcry will be enormous. Or President Trump could do something truly egregious, such as starting one or more wars (see above).

Several movements also hold the potential to precipitate more strife through protest and counter-protests, from Black Lives Matter, to Time’s Up (the successor to the #MeToo movement), to LGBT+ protests against conservatives’ attempts to roll back history, to white supremacists, and more.

America’s political landscape has become incredibly polarized over the past several decades, so any of these things, or a range of other possibilities, could produce demonstrations that evolve into pitched battles.

Or, to put it more simply: It’s hard to think up a scenario where civil society in America has a quietyear in 2018.

Climate Change News Gets Worse – 2017 was the second hottest year on record, following only 2016. Indeed, 17 of the 18 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. Anyone who actually is qualified to have an opinion on climate change says that climate is changing, it’s changing faster than we thought, and extreme weather events are going to become both more extreme, and more frequent. Therefore, while it’s not possible to say what weather extremes we are likely to have in 2018, the floods, hurricanes, wildfires, cold snaps, heat waves, blizzards, and so on that we experienced in 2017 are probably milder than what’s going to happen in 2018.

Russian battlefield robots – In August of 2017, 117 experts signed a letter to the UN asking for a ban on lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS), also known as battlefield robots, that lack human controls. Despite the widespread support for this measure, Russia and China have stated that they will continue to develop – and potentially deploy – LAWS.

It is likely that 2018 will see the first fully autonomous killer robots deployed against humans in battle, and there is pressure that other militaries will not want to fall behind in this field. Experts worry that LAWS will lack judgement with respect to targets, and use of lethal force.

But regardless of the consequences, the push to create and deploy battlefield robots is on, and a new arms race begins.

Not Scary, But Startling or Unsettling Stuff

US Midterm Elections – There will be massive interest in the 2018 US midterm elections, which started even before the votes were counted in 2016.

We would love to tell you what the outcome of the highly-anticipated mid-term elections will be, but the truth is, that trying to predict the outcome is like throwing a dart in a hurricane. At present, it looks as if a Democratic wave will decimate the ranks of Republicans up for re-election, but as has been frequently observed, a week is a lifetime in politics, and we are many weeks away from November. However, there are three primary scenarios in prospect:

1) There is no significant shift in seats. In this outcome, the Republicans maintain control over the House and the Senate, and things continue as they have been for the past year, leading to massive unrest (see above). This seems unlikely at the moment.

2) The Democrats win enough seats to take control of the House, but not the Senate. This seems like the most probable scenario at the moment, and would likely mean that Congress would be stuck in complete gridlock, with neither party being able to push through legislation, especially as both parties maneuvered for political position in the 2020 presidential election.

3) There’s a Democratic wave, leading to an enormous shift, with the Democrats gaining control of both the House and the Senate. This could conceivably lead to the impeachment of President Trump by the House – although it would be unlikely that the Senate would convict him as that requires a 2/3 majority.

The Decline of Men – It’s our belief that men, as a sex, are in decline, both physically and socially. We’ve discussed this before, but for 2018, we have three specific concerns.

Young men in particular (but not exclusively) seem to be spending their time in online gaming and online pornography to the detriment of their ambition, their social interactions with real people. Add to that the emergence of sex robots, and you have a dangerous mix that threatens to stunt the social skills of a certain fraction of men, and undermine their ability to function successfully in society.

The second area of concern is that the cultural perception of men has declined to the level of Homer Simpson and the characters portrayed in such movies as The Hangover. In other words, men are being perceived as immature man-children, with nothing on their stupid minds but sex, food, and short-term gratification. This is not, in our view, a healthy environment in which to raise boys and have them become responsible people.

The third element will be the sometimes-violent reaction of men to the decline in their perceived status, especially as the rise of women (see below) means a relative lowering of their status. Add to this the emergence of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, with the vast number of accused sexual predators being male, and the environment is ripe for a backlash by some less-confident men. This could feed into the white supremacist movement, as well as increased violence towards women by a small minority of men.

In short, we see 2018 as an unsettling time to be a man, especially a young man.

The Rise of Women – The long push for female equality in all aspects of life, but especially in equal pay for equal work, has yielded some results, although nowhere near parity. What it has done is to lay the groundwork for a serious push for equality, which is, in our opinion, just starting now, triggered by the #MeToo movement, and its successor, Time’s Up. When we say “groundwork”, we would point to three things that portend the rise of women, and, we would argue, the eventual supremacy of women in society and our economy.

The first is that there are now female role-models for every role in society, up to, but not yet including, president of the United States. As a result, a young girl can consider a career, and find someone who has done what she wants to do – and therefore believe that she can do it. This is an often overlooked, but critical development.

The second sign is that there are now more businesses being created by women than men, and the businesses started by women are twice as likely to survive. This means that there will be more business owners and owner-operators who are women, and who have economic clout. In turn, this means that even businesses owned, operated, or managed by men will have to be respectful of women-run businesses if they want them as clients.

But the third sign is the clincher. Almost 60% of undergraduates in colleges and universities are women in North America, and that percentage is even higher in grad schools. This means that the leaders of the future are women.

And now that women are speaking out and confronting sexual predators (who are virtually all men), they are going to find that, collectively, they have power they didn’t suspect or hadn’t chosen to exercise. When that realization hits, they won’t be satisfied until they are given due respect, compensation, and security of person, and political parties that try to oppose them will be trampled in the dust. Not all of this will happen in 2018 – it will take time for this to unfold. But 2018 will see the beginning of this major social upheaval. Richard argued this at more length here.

The Rise of Robots, AI, and Automation Will Be Messy – We recently posted a blog discussing how automation was set to take over whole industries, and the impact will grow throughout 2018. In particular, as the push for a higher minimum wage gains force, we will see machines, AI, and automation replace humans in jobs that, to quote Forbes magazine, cover the 4 Ds: dull, dirty, dangerous and dear (as in expensive). This is both a good thing, as machines will be doing the boring, repetitive, dangerous work that humans dislike or could be injured by, but it also means that the job market will get more difficult for humans.

There’s a long-standing argument between what might be called the neo-Luddites and the techno-weenies over whether humans are going to be largely replaced by automation, which we discussed here. And there are strong arguments both ways.

We believe that no matter who is ultimately right, there will be widespread displacement of workers as automation at least changes who does what work as automation and robots offer more cost-effective solutions to some aspects of blue- and white-collar work. There will also be many new jobs created – but most of these will either be relatively low-paid service jobs, or will require such highly specialized education that they won’t be available to most job-seekers. And there will be widespread unemployment, often for long periods of time.

But the so-called rise of the robots will not be a simple process, and will often happen piecemeal, or in unexpected ways, and will often happen by having robots and automation work with humans rather than replacing them. Indeed, we believe that a hybrid robot/human model will turn out to be more effective than either on their own.

Self-Driving Cars Will Emerge, But Not Easily – The rise self-driving vehicles has been widely forecast, and gets lots of media coverage. There have been many scenarios of how wondrous and liberating they will be, freeing up parking lots in urban centers for redevelopment, reducing traffic flow, and unjamming traffic gridlock. And there are power economic motivations for the emergence of autonomous vehicles (AVs).

But there are at least two problems with this future. The first is that for these scenarios to materialize, people would have to very quickly get rid of their cars, and switch to a world where they relied solely on Uber-like AVs for everything.

I doubt if people will switch their behavior patterns that quickly. What about summer camping trips to national parks? What about snowbirds who drive to Florida or Arizona for the winter? Will they use Uber for that, or wind up renting a vehicle they don’t really like for the duration? Or will they stick with their trusty ol’ car, at least until it wears out or they want a new one, or just buy a new vehicle with self-driving capabilities?

And if we do make the switch away from personally-owned vehicles, how will there be enough AVs to deliver everyone to work during rush hour? And wouldn’t that mean there would be as much traffic on the highways as before, just with different vehicle owners?

Meanwhile, until most human drivers are off the highways, AVs won’t be able to operate efficiently or drive as quickly as they might because humans aren’t as predictable as AVs.

This brings us to the second problem: driving in urban environments is the biggest obstacle to AVs because of its chaotic nature, and the unpredictability of human drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. Indeed, long-distance trucking firms are considering a two-part operation for self-driving trucks: the trucks drive themselves over the superhighways and arterial roads to urban centers, and then are driven into the urban centers by human drivers.

Facing the Future – There are plenty of people who forget their phones, wallets, or keys when they go out, but no-one forgets their face. Bypassing fingerprints entirely, automated commerce, or a-commerce, involves having your bank account linked to your face, with your phone number as a password. This will be extremely convenient, as it involves using something you literally cannot leave home without, and the security involved is impressive.

It uses a 3D camera, so substituting a photograph won’t work, and even very sophisticated makeup will not move the same way your own face does, so the test that requires a person to smile or say a random word will be difficult to fool. After setting up an account with Alipay, one set of Alibaba-developed software that runs the verification, you’ll never be without a means of payment.

Naturally, there are downsides. For starters, your face is now codified in facial recognition software, meaning tracking you is now trivial. And since there is a massive facial recognition database for this to work off of, if it gets hacked, the hackers don’t just have your banking information – they have your face as well. Considering that researchers at the University of Washington have created digital dopplegangers of people, such as former President Obama, by use of AI and video, this could be a concern.

The Neat Stuff

Artificial Intelligence Gets REALLY Big – AI was a big story in 2017. It will be an even bigger story in 2018 and beyond. AI is already making big inroads in legal research, accounting & tax preparation, medical diagnostics, load management for electric power utilities, helping autistic children learn socialization skills, managing investments, and selecting music for your listening pleasure. But the interesting part is that AI is going to start appearing in places you won’t expect. We’re just guessing, but such areas might include:

  • Assessing the migratory patterns of birds, fish, and the global spread of infections.
  • Looking for ways to streamline Medicare billing.
  • Reducing your daily commute time specifically, and managing rush hour congestion generally.
  • Much more effective email spam filters & telemarketing blockers for your phone.
  • Plagiarism checkers for secondary, post-secondary, and graduate instructors.
  • Identifying autistic people, and assessing where they are on the autism spectrum.
  • Recommending a regular, automatic shopping system for your routine needs, then ordering them without your involvement, as well as recommending better choices, however you define “better”.
  • Acting as a lie-detector, but one you can download as an app for your smartphone, and then use with your friends, family, and casual acquaintances.

One specific application, which we’ll deal with in more detail later on, is the widespread adoption of AI in all aspects of health care.

Rent a Celebrity’s Personality to Be Your BFF – Another application of AI is the development of virtual assistants (also called genies, computer butlers, or avatars), like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, or Amazon’s Alexa, but now with individually customized personalities that respond to your personality. In effect, they will evolve into your best buddy, your closest companion (literally), and your online servant. This will become a big deal, as such virtual assistants will effectively become your representative in cyberspace, putting themselves between you and everything you do, or could do, online.

All of the major tech companies will want to be in this position: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft – and anyone else who thinks they can swing it, including companies we’ve probably never heard of.

As part of this, the virtual assistants will grow personalities that evolve to suit your preferences. But we also foresee the potential for a further, somewhat unexpected development: franchising the personality of a celebrity or a movie character to be your virtual BFF. Suppose you really like the Jarvis AI character from the Iron Man movies. Paul Bettany, who does the voice of Jarvis, would record enough text to enable an AI to simulate his voice for any given words, and the script writers would answer questions to allow your genie to imitate Jarvis’ verbal mannerisms.

Or, in the case of a real human celebrity, let’s say a singer named Fred Smith, Fred would enter into an agreement with Big Tech to franchise his personality to inhabit their virtual assistant in exchange for royalties. His voice would be recorded so it can be matched, and he would answer a range of personal questions (without getting too personal). The virtual assistant then adopts his voice, his attitudes, and his mannerisms in order to convince you that you have Fred Smith as your virtual companion.

And when you lose interest in Fred or Jarvis, you rent another celebrity personality to inhabit your genie!

Gene Therapy – Gene therapy has long been the promised silver bullet of medicine, with hopes to cure cancer, and diabetes, and even hemophilia, but has failed to deliver. Twenty years ago, a prototype gene therapy treatment resulted in the death of a young patient, and it put the entire field on hold. But 2017 marks the first year that any gene therapy techniques were approved for use in the US, starting with two specific forms of leukemia and lymphoma, and following with a type of congenital blindness. As success breeds success, we are likely to see more progress in this field, hopefully covering a wider range of diseases. 2018 is posed to be a great year for the field, and for those receiving treatment.

Reversing Paralysis – A traumatic spinal injury usually means the patient is paralyzed, likely for the rest of his or her life. This has long been the case, and while quality of life for such people has improved, there hasn’t really been any hope for getting them to walk again – until recently.

It has been found that putting special implants into a patient’s brain, and running wires to non-responsive limbs can bypass spinal injuries, restoring some degree of motion and mobility to those who are otherwise unable to move. The clinical trials have shown it is possible, and in 2018, it is expected that this treatment will begin proliferating, and hopefully even get to the point that the spinal cord injury can be bypassed directly, instead of restoring mobility to limbs

Renewable Energy & Battery Technology – Renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuelsin most cases. Saudi Arabia held an auction for companies wishing to build a 300 MW solar farm under contract, and the winning bid came in at 3.6¢ (US) per kilowatt-hour – without government subsidy. Solar power has dropped by 80% over the past 10 years, and by 99% since the 1970s, and continues to fall as economies of scale kick in and technology continues to advance.

Meanwhile, India commissioned a 100 MW wind farm in October, 2017 at an effective price of 4¢/kWh, which represents a 24% drop in cost since February of 2017. Renewable energy is now usually the cheapest source of utility-scale power.

As a result, coal consumption has dropped in every country except India. According to the International Energy Agency, “…5.3bn tonnes of coal equivalent were burnt in 2016, down 1.9% on the year before and 4.2% on 2014, the fastest decline since 1990-1992, when the global economy was in recession.” So, despite the best efforts of the Trump administration, renewable energy is the future, and fossil fuels are – mostly – the past.

Meanwhile, battery technology continues to advance, with the most interesting developments happening in the aviation industry. There are now small planes that are battery powered, and capable of flights longer than 200 miles. EasyJet is working with Wright Electric to develop an electric commuter plane.

The energy density needed to keep a plane in the air has long been an issue when looking at electric planes, but with newer battery technology, it’s becoming possible. This same technology will enable renewable energy to store enough energy to keep a regular supply of power to an entire grid, and to revolutionize electric cars and trucks.

All of this doesn’t mean that oil and gas, or even coal, production will disappear, but it does significantly reduce its upside potential, and means fossil fuel and electric power producers must innovate in response to the rapidly changing energy landscape if they want to survive.

Quantum Computing Approaches Commercial Feasibility – Quantum computers are unlike today’s digital computers, and do not suffer from the limitations of digital computers. Hence, while today’s computers are reaching the physical limits of speed, compactness, and storage capability, falling behind the growth rate predicted by Moore’s Law, quantum computers operate on a very different principle, derived from quantum mechanics, and are barely starting. Yet, the race of quantum computing is very definitely on, especially between Google, IBM, and a Canadian minnow, D-Wave.

But, so what? What’s special about quantum computers? Well, they have the potential to be remarkably faster at certain kinds of problems, such as encryption. A quantum computer could, theoretically, try all possible combinations of a password simultaneously, which would render our current means of securing privacy and personal and corporate accounts useless.

In real world applications, quantum computers could become essential to corporate and personal privacy, tackle problems beyond even the theoretical capacity of today’s computers, such as analyzing the interactions of different genes in your DNA, which would help us assess how our bodies work; selecting compounds to develop as pharmaceuticals without wasting massive amounts of time and money on dead end compounds; identify patterns in stock trading that defy current techniques; and solve problems involving the massive amounts of new data emerging from the Internet of Things.

But the most important applications of quantum computing are unknown because they have yet to be discovered or invented. 2018 will be a watershed year for the field.

3D Printing Gets Real – 3D printing is getting to be old hat as far as news goes, but every truly novel technology goes through a hype stage, followed by real results. We are now in the “real results” stage for 3D printing.

The developments we’re going to see include things like:

  • Super-strong parts, from replacement bones, to surgical instruments, to tools. 3D printing is creating things that are both stronger and lighter than traditional fabrication techniques, limited primarily now by our imagination.
  • 4D printing, also called active origami or shape-morphing systems. These are objects that are produced using 3D techniques, but which can be programmed, or even autonomously adapt to circumstance and need. Hence, they can change form, shape, or, potentially, size, according to temperature, humidity, light exposure, pressure, or other outside triggers.
    Think, for example, of a sweater that bulks up to retain more heat as the temperature drops. Or a sheet of material that can be slipped into a narrow opening, then caused to change shape – sort of like rolling up a model ship as a sheet, and then inserting it into a bottle before having it snap up into its ship-shaped form. Or performing plumbing repair by slipping a slim, flexible rod into a corroded pipe, then having it expand into a full-sized pipe upon exposure to water, repairing the broken pipe without having to replace it.
  • Speed and commercial accessibility. It used to be that 3D printing was a novelty, and only produced cute, cheap, plastic toys. Then it started to be used for more serious applications, in a wide variety of materials, from titanium to chocolate, but was painstakingly slow and still pretty expensive. Serious 3D printers, for industrial applications, are now dipping below $1,000, and can produce items much more quickly and inexpensively. Hewlett-Packard is furiously trying to lead the consumer/industrial thrust because it wants to dominate the market for ink cartridges – effectively repeating the successful model for inkjet (paper) printers. And eventually, 3D printing may rival more conventional fabrication techniques for speed, leading to a vast array of inexpensive, customized products.

Back to the Future

There’s no question that 2018 will be an interesting year. Whether we’ll enjoy it or not depends on what kind of “interesting” things happen. And while nasty shocks and unsettling events seem to capture our attention, never lose sight of the fact that overall, things have been getting better for centuries, and that’s likely to continue.

There are fewer really poor people in the world as a percentage than ever before in history. We are developing the ability to cure or treat diseases and conditions that have bedeviled humanity throughout history, and our standard of living continues to rise beyond what our ancestors would have believed possible.

We continue to be guardedly optimistic about tomorrow’s world, and remain firm in our beliefs that each of us has more influence over our own futures than any other factor.

And if we can help your organization plan and prepare for the future you want, so that you can turn the changes coming to your advantage, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Artificial Intelligence Is Going to Take Your Job (Probably)

By Futurist Kit Worzel

Artificial intelligence and robots are making incredible progress. Recently, Boston Dynamics released footage of one of their latest robots that can do backflips, and land them handily. It’s been over a decade since a human beat a top-class chess AI. We have self-driving car prototypes being tested, and getting ready for the market. And then they’ll be coming for your job.

AI is already used extensively in many fields to supplement work done by humans, most notably Google search. Any program that can search and compile data is an AI, even if it’s a basic one. Many of us now consult a different kind of more personal AI on a daily basis, such as Siri or Cortina. We’re seeing automation creep in to various tasks, including self check-outs, and fast food ordering via touch screen. But AI is going to do so much more than that. 

I can put jobs into three, broad categories when it comes to AI: Jobs that will be (mostly) replaced by AI, jobs that will be enhanced by AI, and jobs that will be mostly unaffected by AI. I am looking to 2040 for this, so the timeline is about15-25 years.

Jobs that will be replaced by AI and Robots

A) Manufacturing
Manufacturing is a field already dominated by automation, and that will not change anytime soon. AI and robotics are rapidly getting to the point where they will be cheaper than sweatshop labor in developing countries, and will make the location of a plant largely irrelevant. And since being close to your market is always helpful, this may lead to a mass return of manufacturing to the rich world. 

B) Online advertising
Online advertising is already partially done by AI. Advertisers will probably use AI for crafting and customizing messages soon, which will fail repeatedly before starting to produce quality, targeted ads. The real question is how advertisers intend to get past adblock, and other similar programs, which will also employ AI to thwart obtrusive ads. Finding where ads are best placed, will be well-received, and where the traffic would best suit a product/ad is something AI will become very good at, much better than humans.

C) Transportation
Planes already have autopilots. Cars and trucks will become self-driving, and also self-loading, meaning shipping things will be very strongly automated. Finding the correct transportation for you will also be much easier, as automated tools will produce a line-up of choices for you, with prices and times. In fact, that much already exists, it will just get more refined and easier to use. As soon as self-driving cars get the go-ahead, taxis, truck drivers, bus drivers, and even rental car agencies will all become endangered jobs. All types of public transport are included here as well, from trains to tickets. 

D) Telemarketing
Will be completely replaced by AI as soon as possible. No-one wants the job, no-one likes telemarketers, very few people listen to telemarketers, and paying people to do this is a waste, especially when automation never gets tired or discouraged, will sound more and more human, and will gradually find new ways to get people answering the phone to respond more positively.

E) Foodservice
There are already kiosks where you can just use a touch screen to order food, and I foresee automated kitchens in the near future. There may be some delay because the issues around food, and food poisoning are a real concern, as are preparing allergen-free servings. However, since Ray Kroc of McDonald’s managed to carve out a world-wide chain with minimum wage employees doing food prep without significant issue, I don’t anticipate significant delays in fast food that is untouched by human hands.

F) Procurement & supply chain management
This will be whittled down to top level management with AI assistance. A lot of these jobs are related to access to relevant information, where AI excels. All other jobs in this field will be gone.

G) Construction & carpentry
This is already happening. Precision work involving repetition is an area where robots excel. They will take over almost entirely, with only human supervisors left. Much like manufacturing, this will go where the products are needed, instead of where the workers are.

H) Accounting, bookkeeping, tax management / planning
This has been happening for years. Turbo Tax rules this world. Personal taxes and small business taxes are already predominantly done by tax programs, and there is no reason to reverse this trend.  

I) Corporate training, career management
Just think of it as LinkedIn with AI insight added.

J) Real estate (pricing, attractive features, staging)
Pricing, without a doubt, will be completely automated, as will searching. Staging and preparing houses for sale are holding out, still needing a human touch, but it is getting there, as staging databases are being built that will be accessible to homeowners, and AIs will design the staging, but not in my timeframe. 

K) Wholesale and retail
It will soon be possible to walk into a store, and ask your smartphone where to find a certain product. If you ask in advance, it could be waiting for you by the checkout, and all you’d have to do is scan it and pay.

Jobs that will be enhanced by AI

A) Health care
So, we already have AIs assisting in surgery. That will become both more prevalent, and more powerful, as instead of an AI assisting a surgeon, a surgeon will supervise an AI. This will be easier with planned surgery, and more difficult with emergency surgery, at least at first. However, having AI's ride shotgun in busy emergency rooms will give them a large database to pull from, and eventually give them the experience needed. AIs will also take over point-of-care, and patient management. Meanwhile, AIs will take over in the lab, because running tests with standardized results is something they could easily designed into medical testing processes. Even insurance billing could be handled, though the one big area I don't see AI in the near future is mental health, as we will get a better understanding of it before AIs can become serious partners.

B) Finance (banking, insurance, investments, corporate finance)
Finance and insurance involves crunching tons of numbers in all sectors. Gathering and processing that information can take days, if not weeks, or even longer. AI can mitigate that, dealing with the information in seconds. AIs will remove all of the low-level, grunt processing jobs, because they will be much more efficient at it. The remaining agents will also have AI assist them in finding new customers, and giving them competitive rates.

C) Legal
In the legal profession, precedent is one of the most important aspects of the job, along with precise wording of laws. AI programs can search and summarize thousands of pages of legal documents within minutes, meaning a lawyer could ask their AI to research an issue, go get a cup of coffee, and come back to read the comprehensive summary. It's even possible that public defenders and the like may be replaced with an AI that advises a person of their rights. It seems unlikely that we’ll see AI acting in a courtroom on its own, but may see them acting as an assistant for a paralegal as a low-cost alternative to a lawyer.

D) Sales & marketing analysis
I'll group sales and marketing together, as they fall under a similar heading here. Analysis means number crunching and assessing results, which plays to AI’s strengths. I would not yet rely on them to come up with creative solutions, but measuring customer satisfaction and looking into sales trends are both tasks they are well suited for. 

E) Customer service
Although automated systems handle calls already, the tricky calls can't be handled by AI – yet. As well, people appreciate talking to an actual person, it makes them feel valued, especially in unusual situations. Until we have Turing-capable AI (i.e., generally smart as opposed to smart at one specific thing), customer service will remain as AI-assisted, rather than replacing human CSRs. On the other hand, if I could call customer service and get an AI on the first ring who listens to my issue and gives me an prompt, correct answer, rather than a 30-minute phone queue where I have to punch in seventeen different numbers, I'd happily use AI customer service.

F)  Education
Education is a field where people are untrusting of AI, and many instructors/teachers/professors have tenure, so can't be replaced quickly. However, education outside of the public systems will change much more quickly. The armed forces and corporations already use AI for training. So, eventually educational games that use AI to teach children, and where AI can get steadily better in helping kids learn at their own pace, in the most effective way for each child will gradually move into the public space. There's a lot of skepticism over AI and education, and I foresee push-back here. I expect to see AI educational assistants in the classroom, but not at the blackboard.

G) Security (both physical and online)
This is interesting. Robots, security drones, and AI are better at watching things and noticing exceptions to routine than people, but people are still better at dealing with emerging problems. But there’s more to it than that. A respectable amount of security and police are employed mainly to ensure road safety and parking enforcement. With self-driving cars, that’s not only much easier to catch, but also to detect. It is likely that over 90% of road and parking policing will be done via AI.

With online security, I feel confident that AIs will eventually take over entirely because of the speed with which attacks can be launched, and with which hacking approaches can change, with only human supervision to provide common sense and human awareness. There is too much to do, and too much to cover in online security, so AIs will be integrated into firewalls. Of course, AIs will also be used by hackers, so it will be a never-ending race to maintain security.

H) Farming
AI and automation will assist farmers, but not replace them. Robots will do grunt work and help with crop planning, though. Farm work currently requires too many different jobs to be completely automated, and will still have humans at the helm for a long time.

I) Forestry, fishing, mining, oil exploration & production
In all primary industries, robotics will take over much of the more dangerous work, and AI will do the complex number crunching, such as finding fish, and oil, and minerals. Humans will still run the robots and supervise.

J) Social services
AI will enhance social services rather than replacing them. For example, a Florida researcher has used machine learning to help predict if someone will commit suicide up to a year in the future, based on exhibited behaviors. Apparently, most people with suicidal impulses visit a medical professional at least once before attempting suicide. Having an AI to check for these behaviors at a doctor’s office would drastically lower the suicide rate.

K) Scientific research
AI will be a huge asset in scientific research. Having a computer able to quickly correlate vast amounts of data will massively reduce the amount of time it takes for scientific progress, leaving researchers free to think about the implications of the data.

L) Human Resources
Human resources already benefits from AI when sorting through resumes, and better AI will only improve this. Meanwhile, the human side of HR will largely remain in human hands, especially when it comes to thorny issues like sexual harassment, although even here, AI’s will be good at identifying early warning signs that a given employee is a source of harassment.

M) Journalism
Yahoo has already started to use AI for writing news reports, with a certain amount of success. As a writer myself, I'm hoping that it stops there, but there is a Japanese AI that placed highly in a writing contest, so I'll admit to some apprehension. Assuming that the field does not end up dominated by AI, having a research assistant that can winnow out the facts in minutes is always an asset.

Jobs that will be mostly unaffected by AI

A) Management
We will always want to supervise our robots. So, there will always be a person at the top who has final say.

B) Script writing and Art
It's been tried. I'm not overly impressed, but art is subjective, and ultimately deals with the humanity of the audience.

C) Therapy and counseling
Until we understand our own minds, we can't possibly program a computer to understand them. For the foreseeable future, these jobs will remain in human hands.

That's my breakdown, at least for now, but AI is evolving with incredible rapidity, which means that things will change. 

Odds are, you will not have a job in your field in twenty years’ time, particularly if your job involves repetitive labor or number crunching of any kind. AIs and robots are just faster & better at such tasks, and getting cheaper with frightening speed. Just as robotics and overseas labor destroyed manufacturing in North America, AI will decimate whole industries. We have yet to figure out what comes next.

What is clear is that you will need to continually reinvent the work you do to avoid having it automated out of existence.

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