Author Joseph Bake
IT, past, recent and future influences and perspectives
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How it all started
At the beginning of the computer era, computers worked mostly locally and networking wasn’t the hottest topic for computer scientists. The first computer networks started in the 1960s and 1970s as research projects by the United States Department of Defense in order to connect some regional academic and military networks.
During the 1980s the development of networks received funding from various sources, which soon led to worldwide participation in the development of new networking technologies.
The early 1990s marked the beginning of the era of the modern internet. This had led very soon to an exponential growth in use, as the immense potential of the internet and of the information technology, that were intertwined, started unfolding. It was like discovering America but on a global level.
Even science fiction took part in inspiring potential uses for this new futuristic technology.
With each step of network development, people discovered more and more uses.
Initially and when Tim Berners-Lee, who was an English computer scientist, wrote the first WorldWideWeb and introduced to the world HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), the HyperText Markup Language and more. The Internet traffic experienced an exponential growth with characteristics similar to Moore's law about MOS transistors.
All that just signalled the beginning of a new era that would change the world forever.
Networks evolved and became better over time. They became versatile and their potential applications and uses exploded. Suddenly it became apparent to everyone that they can be used everywhere and can improve life immensely. With that in mind, machines, cars and everything started implementing networks and communication buses everywhere. This by itself led to discovering more and more uses and benefits of integrating networks in all aspects of life, and the rest is history. A door has opened to endless possibilities which challenge the human imagination day after day.
Internet technology was born, but it’s just scratching the surface of a huge potential which is going to unfold over time.
Even though some of the potential of these new capabilities was described by some science fiction authors, reality was far more astonishing and with each step of development, with each new creation, many new inventions and creations emerged and humans entered a fast-paced lane of living that they’ve never experienced before.
Changes in Lifestyle
It is no secret that the new generation of people who are born to this new era are highly enthusiastic about the whole development, while the older generation can barely hold their pace.
It was always so that new generations are anxious to explore more and to create new realities, but the older they become, nostalgic moments of simpler life overwhelm their thoughts.
One might wonder, why should people not be willing to evolve, especially that the new technologies hold promises of a simpler life to come?
It is exactly here where the paradox lies!
Making things simpler is not an accurate definition. While things might look simpler to a younger generation, older generations might find these rapid changes hard to cope with, and even intimidating. A TV remote control is easy to deal with for young people, but a large number of people in their 80s and 90s might find the different menus and adjustment of such devices highly complex.
It doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy switching stations while sitting on their couch, but it only means that at a certain point in life, people give up adapting to changes and just want to rest.
This is a natural behavior among all creatures. A new born cat is extremely hyperactive, the older it gets, the less active it becomes.
There will always be an enthusiastic new generation as well as a passive older generation at any given point of time. This should not influence the development.
But, why does IT specifically have the most extensive influence in human’s life?
The answer is simple; it connects humans, devices, workplace, pleasure, entertainment, health control, security and far more all together in a complex and ever-growing mesh of connections.
It is the reason why globalization could ever be accomplished at the first place.
Pros and Cons of fast pace living style
There is no doubt that IT and the globalization that occurred as a direct result of the development of IT have changed human lifestyle forever.
Without delving into complex analysis of how life has changed due to IT, we may take a simpler example relevant to times before IT existed.
This example is the life of people who lived in large cities, such as New York, London and other cities, versus those who lived in the land.
In this example we notice that those who lived in cities had a much richer life in terms of possibilities. They had a plethora of opportunities in their cities and could do many things that someone in land cannot do. But that came at the cost of a hectic lifestyle. Humans are adaptable creatures and with time this lifestyle has become part of their nature.
As opposed to city people, people in land had a much slower life-pace, they had more time to connect with nature and with each other, but it also came at a cost, they had far less opportunities than their city counterparts.
The same applies to the IT and Pre-IT era. The IT era brought endless new opportunities, but it also made life more complex and a slow pace became a term of the past.
Judging that is purely a subjective matter. Some people may like this new lifestyle, others might prefer it otherwise.
Since globalization is an integral part of IT and cannot happen without, the new era of globalization has led to numerous new possibilities that were absent in the past.
How can using IT and automation simplify life, while life is becoming more complex?
The answer lies in the fact that due to the unfolding of endless new possibilities, we could perform some tasks that needed labor in the past much easier and much faster. This gave us time to make new creations and open up new opportunities that weren’t possible in the past. In the past we had very few possibilities and today we are overwhelmed with so many possibilities.
In the past, people were satisfied with simple general solutions, while today, personalization has become the target. For that, new jobs, new tasks and vastly new creations are unfolding all the time, and they all need talented personnel who can create, develop and evolve, and use these new creations and solutions.
It is certain to say that one of the biggest changes IT has made is to shift lifestyle from compromising general solutions that match all needs, into tailored solutions for individuals, or for specific entities.
A household used to have a single telephone device. Nowadays every person has their own cell-phone.
A popular newspaper used to be delivered to the house door for all to read. Today, every person can decide what to read individually and whether to read it from a known news agency, from social media, from personal chat groups and many more.
In the past, people needed to buy an LP (vinyl record) in order to listen to music. Sometimes they would have bought the LP just in order to listen to a single song. Today, people can listen or buy any individual song without buying the whole album.
In the past, international calls were highly expensive and today using various VoIP and other streaming technologies they can be made nearly free.
And the list goes on.
Increasing complexity while simplifying life
It is no secret that IT has brought with it a plethora of new possibilities to simplify tasks and make life much easier.
But, on the other hand, all these multifarious possibilities of the new age have brought with them the demand for far more complex job requirements. The demand for professionals has risen and these professionals need to know a lot more. Furthermore, they need to be flexible and keep pace with the newest technologies and innovation.
The birth of AI
With ever growing demand for more complex solutions for complex technologies, human brain-power has reached its limits to deliver more complex solutions within a reasonable time frame.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) was born out of this demand. Initially in order to ease simple tasks, such as recognizing fingerprints without delving into highly complex algorithms.
The way AI works as opposed to conventional programming, is that it has the capability to test the results of certain tasks, correct itself and repeat the process as many times as needed until it reaches a highly efficient algorithm to whatever problem it had to solve purely by its own. The result is then a black box for the programmer, but it delivers the solution.
Although it took a while for this new technology to evolve and become popular, in recent years, it experiences explosive growth and AI is entering every aspect of life.
The reason for this explosive growth is that since around 2012, artificial neural networks (ANN) became efficient, powerful and cost effective and feasible. This gave access to large databases and big data centers. Combining the power of AI with deep learning using neural computations and powerful networks, opened untapped possibilities.
IT has now reached the stage in which computers can automate processes of scraping and extracting data globally and using it in order to compare and create solutions with enormous speeds that human’s brain cannot compete with. It can differentiate, allocate and manage huge amounts of data within reasonable time using the computer power and create solutions that were impossible in the past.
Tasks that took professionals a long time to make in the past, can be now made within seconds.
Just to name a few,
Removing background from complex photos, it could have taken professionals a long time to do, an AI can do it with the press of a button under a second.
Shooting photos required professionals in order to get acceptable results. Combined AI nowadays, nearly anyone can take excellent photos without any photography knowledge.
Autonomous cars aren’t science fiction anymore, they already exist and are improving all the time.
Robots that aren’t clumsy and that can do multiple and complex tasks are becoming reality.
Face and speech recognition are already a reality and are continuing to improve.
Autonomous flights are already a reality.
This short list shows only a tiny fraction of the immense potential that is unfolding because of the seamless connection between IT, neural networks and all related technologies.
What the future holds for us
The seamless and ever-growing connection between information technologies, neural computations and networks can and will change human life enormously.
Far-fetched ideas aren’t far-fetched anymore. A robot school teacher that can teach better than any human-teacher isn’t science fiction anymore and it is even plausible.
A robot policeman is as well possible. Autonomous tractors and agriculture machines are already a reality and they are improving. Fully automated manufacturing facilities are already a reality. An AI program that creates complete articles and publishes them is already happening. A program that creates virtual actors that look like real humans is already there. A program that controls complex machines and facilities is already there.
As time passes by, all routine tasks are replaced by computing machines that are interconnected with each other and with huge databases of information while tapping the power of these connections in a way that no human can do.
Does that mean that the future is totally bright?
It all depends. Many known figures in this field are showing fear that all this might get out of the hands of humans and be misused against them.
Even if that doesn’t happen, many ethical questions are there to be answered. For example, given a neural machine or a neural robot would guard the borders between the USA and Mexico and given that this robot would shoot some insurgents dead. What would the courts consider that?
Would they say that the robot functioned according to protocol and therefore the human life he took was totally justified?
Where and who would set the limits?
What if the same thing happens when a robot policeman shoots and kills someone? What if they do that in a demonstration? What if a robot malfunctions or goes awry? Who takes responsibility?
Are armies going to become neural robots and neural machines? If so, who ensures that they won't turn on their creators? Where is the limit in future wars? Would tactical decisions be also taken by neural networks in order to win wars? If so, what would happen to human’s value and human life?
But even if this dystopian scenario doesn’t occur, other issues are becoming apparent. Machines are replacing humans not only in boring routine tasks and jobs, but also in creative ones.
There are today numerous programs that can create art so that even the most novice person can make astonishing paintings.
This ever improving field is getting to a level in which any person can type or ask the program to make whatever painting of any object or objects he wishes to have according to the style of whoever artist he wishes to have, and within seconds, an amazing and unique piece of art is created.
The same is evolving around music, around writing articles, even around research, but far more even around asking computers to program themselves.
So, even programming is becoming a task for computers and neural networks and less for professionals.
Recognizing diseases and offering best medical treatment is also speeding up and it is already expected that medical doctors will soon be more and more replaced by machines. The same applies to medical staff.
Today there are programs that can recognize the change in a human’s voice and decide whether he or she is suffering from something. Autonomous operations are on the way and many more.
All these developments are welcome on the one hand, but they will lead to extremely high unemployment on the other hand. Replacing all these humans by machines in a capitalistic world would create few extremely rich people and a huge number of unemployed people all over the world would suffer from low-life and lack of future expectations.
Is that the dark side of IT and neural networks?
Some countries are already talking about changing the system from getting paid when you work, into getting paid for merely being born.
In other words, any citizen would have a decent income that is more than sufficient in order to secure a decent living for that citizen, while this money comes from higher taxes on manufacturers who own the robotic and automated manufacturing facilities.
If that happens, life can become very interesting, as humans wouldn’t need to work hard and can become creative and do things they love instead of things they must do.
IT can be a blessing for humans but it can also be a catastrophe.
We humans decide which way it goes.