When AI takes over (graphical) UI

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I just read a post on Wired about the inventors of Siri who are working on a new kind of Artificial Intelligence [1]. This new kind of AI should be able to break down complex queries into sub-queries and integrate with 3rd party services to find solutions to these sub-queries. From these solutions a “master-solution” to the complex query is re-assembled and then output to the user. One use-case described in the post could be:

  • “Book me a plane seat to Dallas with enough legroom to fit Shaquille O’Neal in”.

The query would be broken down likes this:

  1. Book a plane seat to Dallas
  2. Compare legroom of different plane-types
  3. Find size of Shaquille O’Neal

Now the AI searches solutions to each of these problems. E.g. to find the size of Shaquille O’Neal it would search through a database of some Basketball-website. This database search would be realized using an API to create fast, standardized results.

The vision of the founders is to create a global AI that connects to a multitude of 3rd party services in order to find the right information for each of the sub-queries instantly.

I was quickly thinking about the impact such an AI would have on UI. Imagine a world where you interact with data only through voice: there will simply be no need for graphical UI (except for some edge cases, of course, like professional work). But in general debates like “flat design vs everything else”, “skeumorphism yes or no” and “serif or no-serif” will be obsolete. The same goes for questions like “should I design and build this website in a responsive way?”, “should I bother with accessibility?” or “do I really need to optimize for IE8?”. A myriad of (graphical) UI designers will be out of work as soon as such an AI starts to take over.

Such kind of AI will become the UI between data and brain.

The point I am trying to make here: the kind of profession that we regard today as working on cutting-edge solutions, namely UI for complex software, is already being made obsolete, un-employed.

In the bigger picture this means: the speed with which technology is evolving is growing exponentially. Yes, we all knew that. [2] But the impact it will have in 5, 10, 20 years from now will be much worse than we imagine right now. And it will hit professions that we all regard as safe right now, only because they are in IT.

Disclaimer: I don’t dislike these developments. I believe in the benefits they will eventually bring. I am just trying to think forward in order to make better decisions in which directions to develop personally. If I can make some people think about their own decisions, too, something has been won already.

[1] Wired about Viv in August 2014
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore’s_law

Umverteilung im Rahmen der digitalen Revolution

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Vor einiger Zeit habe ich mal etwas dazu geschrieben, dass im Rahmen der digitalen Revolution, die im Moment Fahrt aufnimmt, früher oder später eine Menge Menschen ohne Arbeit sein werden weil Maschinen, bzw. Software ihre Arbeit übernehmen werden. Meine These ist, dass wir langfristig nicht ohne eine Umverteilung des Reichtums zu Ungunsten der reichen Elite, die die Software beherrscht, herumkommen werden. Das wird auch im Interesse der Elite sein, die sich sonst nicht vor der Wut der armen Mehrheit wird schützen können, bzw. der die Kunden ausgehen, wenn die Mehrheit verarmt.

Im Ergebnis wird ein Zeitalter der “Brot und Spiele” anbrechen in der sich diejenigen, die die Software kontrollieren und damit viel Geld machen, die Zustimmung der Bevölkerung förmlich erkaufen.

Meiner Meinung nach wird daher die Umverteilung durch die Gewährung eines Grundeinkommens von statten gehen. Siehe dazu: The responsibility of the tech-industry? Providing unconditional basic income. als Antwort auf die Frage von Jason Calacanis, was die langfristige Verantwortung der Tech-Industrie ist.

Gerade habe ich einen Artikel in der ZEIT Nr. 29, 2014 gelesen, in dem Prof. Brynjolfsson vom MIT zitiert wird, der im Grunde die gleiche Auffassung vertritt. Das war insofern eine interessante Feststellung für mich als offenbar auch andere Menschen ähnliche Gedankengänge verfolgen. Es ist nur noch eine Frage der Zeit bis diese Thesen die Debatten um das bedingungslose Grundeinkommen mitbestimmen. Ich bin gespannt, wie das Grundeinkommen letztlich realisiert wird. An eine “Maschinensteuer” (in der gleichen Ausgabe der ZEIT genannt) zur Finanzierung glaube ich jedenfalls nicht, schon weil die Definition von Maschine in Zeiten von Software zu schwierig und schlupflöchrig wäre.


Why not everybody has to learn to program

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Every now and then it is proclaimed that “programming” should be a bigger part of education and that every child should learn to program (and every adult should go for it also). Surely this makes sense if you’re a big company and craving for good engineers. It also makes sense for some other cases. But I don’t think that everybody should be able to code.

What I think everybody, and I mean that literally, should understand, is the implication that technology is going to have on our future lives. In the next decades a lot of people will go into unemployment because their jobs are taken over by robots, software and any combination of the two.

I recently read an article by German t3n magazine which listed a few jobs which could be taken over. Even for me, who is well aware of the possible implications of technology, there were some surprises. Taxi-drivers are threatened by Google and their self-driving cars. Just today a prototype of a self-driving “pod” was presented by Google at the CODE conference. But doctors could also be replaced in complex operations by more precise robots. The hypotheses in the article is: every job that consists of just manual work will be replaced, and even some which involve intellectual work. An example could be the in-store sales advisor who would be assisted by some kind of virtual sales advisor that is able to communicate with the customer.

This makes it clear why it’s important to understand technology and what it will mean for our future lives. Someone who has to decide into which job to go, has to make a very crucial decision, because there is no guarantee that his job or even the industry will be there for all of his life. Understanding the general developments in technology can help to make a better decision or – as someone who is already working – put things on the right track in terms of professional development and further education.

The responsibility of the tech-industry? Providing unconditional basic income.

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Just read a post by Calcanis on Pando, one of the best tech-blogs at the moment. He makes a point about which responsibility the tech-industry has for the people it has made redundant. [1]

We are not talking of the Snapchats, Instagrams or facebooks of the world here – these make no one redundant. We are talking of applications in the fields of business management, data mining and automation in general. I always felt uncomfortable with the self-perception of SV that it would in any case change the world and everything in it for the better.

I don’t think it does necessarily. Most of the businesses which offer software tools for companies to do something faster, easier or cheaper ultimately are targeted towards making one or more people inside the company redundant. In fact that would be the ultimate sales-pitch for a software company: “Rent my software for 100€ per month, because it does what employee x does now, but for a fraction of the price!” For the client this would be a no-brainer and happily accepted.

But it doesn’t make the world better. It removes employees from their jobs. It helps accumulate money around people who already have money, because money isn’t spread around society via employees any more.

We are only starting to see the outcome of letting manufacturing businesses move to the East right now: more and more people are  becoming unemployed, unable to keep up with a more services-oriented society and the income-gap growing bigger and bigger. I don’t even think we have reached the peak of that change already – so what do you think will happen as soon as the services-based industries are impacted by automation through software?

In the mid- to long-term future people will become redundant in being productive for a living on a large scale altogether. That will leave a large part of society unemployed while a small portion of society will be richer than ever in human history. In order to keep society stable two ways will unfold: suppressing the uncontent masses violently or proving an unconditional basic income, knowing that the money will accumulate around the distributing class through consumption again anyway.

Of course this will not be the tech-industries obligation alone. Society as a whole will have to commit to this change – but the tech-industry and their leaders will play an important role in that. So instead of preparing to take the first road (= “suppression”) by hating against the poor people living in the streets of SF today, the leaders in tech should start to understand where everything is going and get comfortable with the thought of redistribution – be it as UBI or any other way (see Bill Gates, Warren Buffett etc).

That’s their responsibility for making employees redundant.

[1] http://pando.com/2014/01/05/techbrats-goldberg-shih-and-gopman-do-not-represent-the-tech-industry/