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The future that is coming – but we are unaware of!

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 12 October 2017 00:12


You walk into a public institution and wait for service and you notice the use of meticulously managed cardboard files with corners taped to prevent tearing. There are significant number of staff who would be responsible for a single file and you may wonder why. 

The usual paper size for those files are legal and not to the standard size and you may also wonder why. Then you also notice that some furious writing that takes place on all sorts of corners and sides of the letter that you may have submitted for action. 

If you are keen on observing how the humans work in different systems there is a lot to learn from but not necessarily emulate. You remember that you have to take the copy of the submission at the police station due to a car accident, as insurance will require all the documents and other estimates from garages, which you will have to attend to too. Of course you may have to wait for the typist to come in and then get the document signed as a true copy as the photocopier is relatively unknown along most of these corridors. 

The use of ICT – well it is gradually happening, but we must confess it is much slower in coming. In our society there is much song and dance about solving small issues, which of course has risen out of progress due to elsewhere. We in some quarters crave for the recognition by the car permit that we may fiercely require and realise. I am yet to understand the connection between car permits and respect for individuals. 

I am sure that here I am confusing the reader but this comment came at a recent gathering of scientists and decision makers and there was the humble request to restore the provision of car permits as it reflects standing in society. 

Anyway, we live in very strange times and in a very strange country where one can always have a smile on the face when the change elsewhere is exponential and the temperature rise across the globe is subtle but getting deadlier! Tourists may love us but we are oblivious to changing times! I must confess that with all the social media around we smile much more sweetly at a lens today than with each other.

Industry 4.0 and Society 5.0

In Germany the concept of Industry 4.0 came in at 2011 Hannover Fair and the world had embraced the concept. In Industry 4.0 the physical world will get really connected to the cyber world and robots will triumph. 

By enabling ‘smart factories’ Industry 4.0 will create a world in which virtual and physical systems of manufacturing globally cooperate via networking in quite a flexible way. So many things that we take for granted will not exactly will be around as time moves on. May be that is why the Japanese have identified Society 5.0 with the super smart society yet with having a new set of values. 

Society 5.0 too envisages the advanced fusion of cyber space and physical space. It is conscious about the emerging social problems as well. The human race indeed has achieved population growth and economic advancement by acquiring various technology and improving productivity. In all these achievements we in Sri Lanka appear only to have achieved a higher population growth at this stage because we find our technologies through permits and grants. 

It is indeed sad to contemplate for a society with a fine history of science and achievements and with a literacy value of very high level we appear to move in a trajectory of less science and more confusion! We are really at home with astrology rather than astronomy and over the media in the morning it is customary for society to be told the times that one should stay away from doing any work – Rahu time! The rest of the time too, a considerable amount is wasted on contemplating what to eat and drink! 

Trying to get some air time during prime time for a concept termed ‘Vidyawata Vinadiyak’ – A minute for science – failed because we were not able to secure the minimum required cost which amounted to Rs. 1 million. Today’s time allocations are based on the highest bidder and that is not necessarily what the time really needs. Sponsors to fund science ideas are non-existent! What we know is there is plenty of support for pseudoscience and nonsense. So much so for productivity!

Social problems

It is important to contemplate the social problems that are likely to arise – significant increase in energy demand, expansion of disparity, food shortage and soaring prices, increase in greenhouse gases and consequent climate change, vulnerability to natural disasters, ageing social infrastructure and expansion of threats of terrorism and cybercrime. 

The significance is that these technology advances are not only contributing by way of additional capabilities and empowerments. They literally are forcing us to change the way we live, work and relate to one another. The changes are multi-dimensional and complex yet we will seek these advances.

The list of social problems that are becoming manifest should be a cause for concern. As we have gone down the road of technology, perhaps it is through the technology pathways that we have to overcome the issues as there is no real wish to walk again backwards. The oft-stated expression ‘the good old days’ are not always valid. 

Artificial intelligence 

and robotics 

The revolution in artificial intelligence and robotics should capture our attention. The wine tasters may be threatened by a simple equation based on rainy days and temperatures and the equation has triumphed over the experienced tasters. Can we replace the tea tasters with an equation? 

Data-driven decision making is making such vast strides in almost every space, we will sink in a sea of ignorance thinking that grey hair is the answer to any question. The challenge is the difficulty in getting a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

I understand the problem articulated in such a manner by Al Gore. A bot (web robot) has managed to get many thousands of parking tickets turned back by the courts in UK. An AI system has been hired as a lawyer in UK. Dubai police has just hired robot policeman and they plan to expand. Japanese society is rejecting foreign labour and utilising robot nurses with embedded empathy. 

Overall many a job is expected to vanish from insurance agents, travel services, surgeons, radiologists, drivers, garage services, manufacturing, etc. With AI and with all the gadgetry, cars without drivers are not going to have any accidents and imagine the multitude of jobs and activities that are going to vanish if you extend the thinking to Sri Lanka. 

We have more than one million able-bodied men of young age sitting behind a wheel in a three-wheeler. Another million may be engaged in security services. How many are engaged in service stations? I just do not have a number. To compound the issue we have more than a million abroad as well serving in relatively menial positions. To cap the problem Sri Lanka is an ageing society. Like Japan we may have to seek robots or seek labour! 

When you witness the basic skills of hiring associated with Google Deep mind, etc., we must really caution our over-zealous parents who wants their child in an 11-man national squad come what may. We claim that this sport is in our blood and pour enormous quantity of resources into it and much of time in discussing too. With the advances coming all these inputs will be for no avail and poor parents will only be just that – poor!

Education system 

Our education system is supporting a ratio of around 70:30 with the higher number indicating the percentage of students who are into arts and commerce. The number engaged in science is relatively small. Compare that with economies such as Malaysia and every reasonably thinking economy, the interest in having a ratio of 40:60 with 60 representing those who are engaged with STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education. 

We see that commerce is becoming ever so popular and then hear accountants by and large getting replaced by AI systems. The yet-to-be-perfected rule of thumb is that almost anything a typical human being can do with one second of mental thought is likely to be automated with AI. That means a lot! Lots of jobs are on the way out. 

Prof. Yang of Hong Kong Uni recently stated that if someone is engaged in becoming a radiologist today, that person will only have a fine five-year career as a radiologist! In pattern recognition processes AI will easily overcome the human expert and is destined to happen soon.

With significant uncertainties over data and decisions taken in a less than data perfect environments and where past experiences are considered as the solid means for future planning, our society is on a collision course with progress elsewhere. A collision that is not going to end favourably for any of us!

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