Phone: the silent takeover of AI.

Austin is still vibrating after Kurzweils talk yesterday. Enhanced humans. Man-machine connections. For many people it is a bridge too far, a century too early. But if you look closer, it shows that we’re almost there.

The average phone that the average #SxSW visitor uses, packs enough power to shame the most avid chess player, it is a billion billion times faster than the machines that decoded the German Enigma code in World War II. And it is readily available at your fingertips.

Phones are like Swiss Army Knives. Through our phone, we outsource our memory to the Cloud: our contacts, our pictures, our music, our social calendar, our cv. It’s virtually stored on a faraway server, accessible to 3 or 4 G connections and Wifi.  Our phones give us directions while driving, tells us where our friends are, and where we can find food. They are quickly becoming the number one gateway to the internet. More and more calls on Google, maps, Wikipedia and other information libraries are done on a mobile phone.

I’ve seen people giving presentations at #SxSW with their phone directly linked to a beamer, people who travel without laptop or iPad, and solely rely on the processing and connection power of their smart phone.

Phones are voice controlled, location savvy, and can connect to a multitude of external devices, from Nike Run, over Bluetooth sensor devices, to cars and home entertainment systems. The few people you see at SxSW that lost their phone are bewildered: it makes them feel thrown back in time, exposed, and vulnerable. Phones have more impact on our daily life than we care to imagine.

For brands and their agencies, the phone has become the target for the years to come. Here is the opportunity to link with your target audience at the very point of decision, the very point of purchase. The ability to connect to people wherever they are, and use the phone as a two way gate way is priceless. Contextual information, peer-driven opinion, profile and location linked behavior… it opens a ton of exciting possibilities, and a can of grim worms.

Use it wisely…

Ray Kurzweil: The Enhanced Human Social Being.

I am a big fan of Ray Kurzweil. The celebrated tech thinker, and founder of the Singularity University fascinates me now for years with his projections-extraordinaire on a society where humans and machines become more and more interdependent, interconnected… and eventually quietly merge. Computers and AI units that play chess, write poetry… they are here, as Kurzweil pointed out at #SxSW, and they are here now.  A single cellphone operated by a little African boy gives access to more information, than the President of the United States had access to 15 years ago.

Augmented reality vision, voice control, laser-tracking, bionics… it’s getting there. The Singularity, Kurzweils magic point where machine/human symbiosis will happen, does not seem that far away. In fact, Kurzweil thinks it will occur in only a few decades.

We’re getting highly connected, anywhere, anytime. For some this is a scary thought, for some everyday reality. As miniaturization enables computing and transmitting devices to get smaller and smaller, we can make more little things smarter. Wireless connectivity, Bluetooth Low Energy technology, NFC, and high performance location are being built in a plethora of devices. Even consumer goods packaging gets its smart chips incorporated.

All of these devices are being hooked up to the internet, creating de facto an internet of things. Machine to machine data enables you to use your credit cards, helps road side assistance, combats shop lifting and enhances home automation and security (to name a few). Connected sensor devices are playing an increasingly dominant role in fast moving areas such as home care, patient follow-up and healthcare in general. Kurzweil points out that health care just became an information technology.   Small armies of sensors, analyzers and detectors connect through the local area networks, or through the all-mighty smart phones to the internet. These sensors, Kurzweil says, can easily travel through your body, or be added to a single cell. Machine/man merge is just a step on the steep ladder of achieving Singularity.

This feeds the web and its connected servers a vast amount of crunchable data. And our artificial brothers are getting better and better in smartly analyzing… and dealing with whatever is thrown their way. Artificial Intelligence, it is a dirty word… but machines start to think our way, using our probability based thinking.

But let’s face the facts: intelligent, interconnected machines help us evolve faster as a species. Much like the control of fire and the inventions of the wheel, steel, writing, electricity and social security the connected computer power propels us to a next level.

Stand-alone computers have beaten the world-chess-champions decades ago…  Google connected cars have driven countless hours through our towns…without human assistance, solely steered by web connected computers. Now IBM’s “Watson” is beating the heck out of human Jeopardy! champions. Watson runs on a small independent network of 90 servers, and is able to deal with complicated language challenges and a need to flawlessly understand complexities of humor, dark puns, vague metaphors and other subtleties that were usually guarded for the human brain’s pattern recognition and analyzing capabilities. Imagine what a Watson-like setup can do when linked to the full power of the millions of servers on the web.

Ray Kurzweil sees in his “fifth Epoch” a merger of technology and Human Intelligence, a moment where the methods of biology will be integrated into the human technology base. I do not know about that, but I do know that the power of the internet of things, enhanced with a sentiment loaded social and semantic web is emerging fast, in countless small devices very near  you, and in you…

And that is not necessarily a bad thing…. or is it?

Eyeborg: an enhanced human, kind of…

Kurzweil’s singularity. Intriguing stuff. It made Peter Hinssen almost nauseous at the last #TEDxBrussels conference. Too much Singularity is bad for you, everybody knows that. It’s a bit scary, talking about this almost magic moment in the not-so-distant future where man and machine will finally merge, kind of…

While most speakers could comfortably maintain an intelligent helicopter approach, Rob Spence was different. He is, well, an eyeborg. Six years ago, a stupid shooting incident destroyed one of his eyes. Rather than feeling sorry, or permanently mimicking one-eyed Jack Sparrow, he opted for filling that empty spot. Literally. With a camera. Equipped with a wireless video camera prosthetic in his right eye socket, Spence moves now in the world as a human camera. An Eyeborg. It gives Rob Spencer extensive international press attention. Time Magazine recognized his eye as one of the 50 best inventions of the year. Spence speaks all over the world.

Spencer looked a happy man. As happy as some people I know with ear prosthesis that help them hear. Or some people with pacemakers that make them live. There seems to be more and more machinery in humans around us. Do some microchips, sensors, titanium plates or bolts make us less human?

The moral question will be what to do with it. I, for one, look forward to that debate… it will be a hefty one. Do we define “human” as the body, the mind, or both. What do you think? Think carefully ;-).

Crowd sourcing will save life as we know it – (Never underestimate the power of people in large groups…)

Bertrand Piccard got my full attention last year @LeWeb. Bertrand Piccard’s grandfather was the first human being in the stratosphere, his dad plunged down a whopping  14.000 meter into the Challenger Deep, and Bertrand himself adventured around the world. Nonstop. In a balloon.

It would be childish to think humanity will compromise on comfort levels, mobility and way of living” he says: “we need innovation to adapt the technology to fit the people and the planet’s needs. Not the other way around. We need to dare to innovate, and invent sources of energy and commodities that will support human life as we know it. Simply put, the next generation will have to save us, and the planet. Or not. Either way, nature won’t care”.

A bold statement from a passionate nature loving adventurer. An open invitation to start innovating using the power of Social Media, and the wisdom of the crowds. Piccard used crowdsourcing to make his solar powered non-stop flight around the planet happen (more on www.solarimpulse.com ) .

It seems that Piccard’s public plea for crowdsourcing is a smart one.  Biochemists at the University of Washington used a worldwide set of 235.000 young gamers (!) to play a game called Pundit to help solving a decade old puzzle on the molecular structure of an AIDS like virus found in monkeys. Figuring out the structure opens the way to designing the cure. It’s that simple, but in an environment where there are billions of combinations, no professor can find the little Stone of Rosetta on his own.

The researches turned the Quest into a crowdsourcing game, looking for the most efficient, lowest energy state of the molecule. It took the combined players less than 10 days to crack the code… using auto building, smart tagging and group projections.

Using the unique human knack for seeing structures and sift through recombinations fast, is one of the key drivers of crowd sourcing success. For a lot of global players, – governments, research and development centers, universities or brands alike-, crowd sourcing will play a vital part in the next years to come.

The fundaments of successful crowd sourcing are deeply imbedded in creative connectivity, social engagement, dynamic communication lines, intuitive sharing platforms, and gamification.  It will require people with unique social connectivity skills to drive it: Connected Communicators.  Personally, I think that the word crowdsourcing does not give the planet saving potential any justice. I prefer group intelligence by far: a definition so rooted in my agogics and social sciences background it’s scary :-).  What communication departments, strategic consultancies and decision makers will first see what it takes to spark success through the cleverly connected wisdom of many?

Harnessing the power of millions of highly inventive brains into one sizzling solution center, connected by the power of a connected web and social sharing tools. The little Kurzweil in me is having a field day…

(e)-thics are tech platform agnostic

I got a lot of reactions on my blogpost Connected Brains, artificial intelligence… and you. Predictably, most people had questions on ethics. Will all kinds of bad people not take advantage of this human-enhancing technology? Should we not stop inventing and evolving, before the bad guys take over the show? Or… worse… the intelligent machines go rogue and do all kinds of unpleasant things with humanity before warping the leftovers to a non-identified planet… Would it not be more ethical not to think about enhancing our capabilities and stop moving slowly to Theilhard De Chardins famous “Point X” (Kurzweils singularity)?

Hm, I honestly think ethics are technology and platform agnostic. People do not need technology, networks, weapons and fiber connected super computers to be ethically correct or horribly wrong. Networks, robots and datacenters will not hurt, maim, humiliate, starve or kill people. People will.

In every stage of our evolution, there have been good people, and really bad people. Some bizarre part of our main human programming gives us the ability to choose: good or bad. Isaac Asimov gave his beloved robots a very severe basic programming: hardcoded in their positronic brain were three non-negotiable laws, preventing all harmful attacks on individuals. Any attempt to tamper with, or violate any of these laws would autodestruct the robot, by frying its brain. We, humans, do not have a hardcoded safety valve. We’re free to harm whoever we choose…

Fire, written language, science, medicine, aviation, chemistry… everything ever invented by humankind has been used and abused for ethically very questionable purposes. Inventing more, better, quicker… will not stop this process; nor will it accelerate it.

Bio-machine technology, connected networks, thought controlled computing, cyber enhancements etc… will eventually make us smarter, quicker, more enduring, longer lasting and Star Trek ready.

It will not make us better humans. There will always be the Dark side of the Force. Let’s take them on with better tech ;-).

Connected Brains, artificial intelligence… and you

We’re getting connected, anywhere, anytime. For some this is a scary thought, for some everyday reality. As miniaturization enables computing and transmitting devices to get smaller and smaller, we can make more little things smarter. Wireless connectivity, Bluetooth Low Energy technology, NFC, and high performance location are being built in a plethora of devices. Even consumer goods packaging gets its smart chips incorporated.

All of these devices are being hooked up to the internet, creating de facto an internet of things. Machine to machine data enables you to use your credit cards, helps road side assistance, combats shop lifting and enhances home automation and security (to name a few). Connected sensor devices are playing an increasingly dominant role in fast moving areas such as home care, patient follow-up and healthcare in general.  Small armies of sensors, analyzers and detectors connect through the local area networks, or through the all-mighty smart phones to the internet.

This feeds the web and its connected servers a vast amount of crunchable data. And our artificial brothers are getting better and better in smartly analyzing… and dealing with whatever is thrown their way. Artificial Intelligence, it is a dirty word…

But let’s face the facts: intelligent, interconnected machines help us evolve faster as a species. Much like the control of fire and the inventions of the wheel, steel, writing, electricity and social security the connected computer power propels us to a next level.

Stand-alone computers have beaten the world-chess-champions decades ago…  Google connected cars have driven countless hours through our towns…without human assistance, solely steered by web connected computers. Now IBM’s “Watson” is beating the heck out of human Jeopardy! champions. Watson runs on a small independent network of 90 servers, and is able to deal with complicated language challenges and a need to flawlessly understand complexities of humor, dark puns, vague metaphors and other subtleties that were usually guarded for the human brain’s pattern recognition and analyzing capabilities. Imagine what a Watson-like setup can do when linked to the full power of the millions of servers on the web.

Ray Kurzweil sees in his “fifth Epoch” a merger of technology and Human Intelligence, a moment where the methods of biology will be integrated into the human technology base. I do not know about that, but I do know that the power of the internet of things, enhanced with a sentiment loaded social and semantic web is emerging fast, in countless small devices very near  you…

And that, is not necessarily a bad thing ;-)…. or is it?

Point Omega: when laws of physics are subject to us…

It was fascinating to see Frank Tipler @TEDxBrussels this week. Together with Ray Kurzweil, he fries my brain occasionally when I try to understand his writings ;-). Tipler is big on what he calls the ‘ultimate future of the universe’ . He combines  his ideas on the ‘anthropic principle’ withThe Omega Point” thinking of the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the Singularitry of Kurzweil. In a nutshell the universe is evolving towards a state of  maximum organized complexity (complexity combined with centricity)… this has a fundamental impact on all matters of existence, matter, intelligence and space.

Kurzweil, de Chardin and Tipler combined give a fascinating thinking frame where intelligent life is moving fast towards pure computational power. That power would be so fast that in running all possible equations of our civilization, current past and future, it would make time and space irrelevant. (quantum technology, anyone? :-)). Something that would be pretty close to immortality, and absolute power. The ‘omega point’… 🙂

Hearing Tipler condense his lifework in 18 minutes was a bit absurd, but impressive.  He states: ‘Intelligent information-processing must come into existence in the Universe, and, once it comes into existence, it will never die out.’

I’m counting on it 😉

When « how to » outsmarts brains…

TEDxBrussels was a great gathering of super smart people, presenting the heck out of themselves. Nanotubes, stellar mathematics, neural networks and quantum technology  were put to the table to interact with Omega Point thinking and Kurzweils singularities. More IQ on stage than an average computer can handle…

Then comes on: Stromae, a local Belgian boy with a ravishing charm an twinkle light in his eyes. With a small laptop and some freeware he got 2000 attendees swinging on a heartbeat.

While on stage, it’s not really the content that creates magic… it’s how you bring it…

Cool! Rat controlled cars!

I am a big fan of Ray Kurzweil. The tech thinker fascinates me now for years with his projections on a society where humans and machines become more and more interdependent, interconnected… and eventually soft merge. Computers and AI units that play chess, write poetry… they are here, and they are here now. Augmented reality vision, voice control, laser-tracking, bionics… it’s getting there. The Singularity, Kurzweils point of a machine/human symbiosis does not seem that far away.

An article on popsci.com drew my attention. Everyone knows that robotics is big in Japan, but a team of smart  wizards at the University of Tokyo pulled of a real  robotic masterpiece by making a hybrid robot. A technical body, guided by a living brain. Welcome Robocop!

They constructed RatCar, a –I kid you not- real brain-machine interface. It uses the operating unit (ok the brain) of a rat, to control the electric motors of a mechanical robot.  The robot goes where the rats brain thinks it should go. Brain controlling matter and soft humming electronics…

I can imagine lots of ethic thinkers, animal right organizations and fundamental conservatives now cry wolf. Is this going too far? Do we pass ethical boundaries we should not? Is neuro-controlling a way of the future? Can it help locked-in people, whose body is deficient but who do have a full working brain?

Maybe it’s a bit early to tell… but RatCar shows it can be done. I’ll back Kurzweil on this one: I think it’s great. When I grow up, I want to be a Spaceship…

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