The Cloud–An Enemy to Humanity Disguised as Helpful Progress? Or Natural Evolution?
When life gives you lemons, make Lemonade! (unless you are New Zealand Customs – When you bring lemons, they will deport you!) is the underlying mantra of all tech giants it seems. If you don’t know this saying, it was derived from the anarchist Elbert Hubbard, in an obituary he wrote back in 1915. The saying symbolises optimism in the face of fate or disability. I want to you keep in mind this meaning and the type of person Elbert was throughout this article.
The Cloud!, the final frontier of computing is the buzz word of today and the foundation for which the world’s intellectual elite are pinning their hopes and dreams for the future on. But has anyone actually sat back and thought what comes after The Cloud? There is no doubt, cloud is here to stay. Its not something new, its been around since the days of the internet as we know it today (around 1990), some may argue earlier. Its simply a term used to represent a service you connect to outside of the location where you are at. The simplest form of Cloud computing was connecting Outlook Express to your e-mail service from Hotmail or Yahoo way back when. As technology and connectivity have evolved it has seen us shift more and more of our dependent services into some form of a Cloud, whether that is private or public, or consumer services.
Figuring out when this trend started, if I look back I would have to say that the Cloud in today’s terms kicked off with the advent of the Apple iPhone. The iPhone was a revolutionary device, it is single handedly changed our lives forever, even if we have never owned one we have all been affected by it. It was the industrial revolution of the noughties. The world’s first proper Smartphone accessible to all at an affordable price point. On 29th June 2007, our lives changed. It was the first portable converged device that had more than a single purpose. Before that we had a CD Player for music, a PDA, a Pager, a mobile phone, a Gameboy, a calculator, a watch, a Dictaphone, and maybe even a file-o-fax! All of a sudden we had one device that had the potential to replace all these.
But its so much more than a device, its a platform for innovation, it brought with it Apps! Apps, we had never heard of before, we will did, we called them applications, but Apps on an iPhone meant software that took our habits and curiosities and turned them into something that connected people together, SnapChat, Twitter, WhatsApp etc, all social and connectivity platforms born out of the creation of the iPhone. Connectivity is a drug, far more addictive than crystal meth. Once people are connected, they want complete immersion and looking for that next “hit” and this drives cloud innovation. Connectivity also drives mobility. The more we can do online using only our thumbs, the more accessible services are to us and we spend more, both in time and money online. The thirst for mobility has seen some massive shifts in the market in the last 10 years or so. Maybe you used to catch a bus to town and visit a travel agent to book your next family holiday to Disneyland, go to Woolworths and buy yourself the latest Now that’s what I call music CD, or perhaps you’d go to estate agents to look for a new house? Today, you’ve got music streaming services like iTunes, Spotify, Online travel agents, travel compare websites, and rightmove and you can access all these from your iPhone sitting on the toilet while having a…… (I’ll stop there”!).
The Cloud is made from Lemons (Cloudy Lemonade)
So the iPhone really did change our lives. However, there has been a social impact and cost as a result of this revolutionary device that is never talked about and ignored by many. Now we no longer catch a bus, we don’t go into town and spend money in the local economy, local businesses close down with people’s livelihoods wiped out. We prefer to communicate with people online than face to face. In fact I have seen 2 people in the same room no more than 15ft apart use Facebook Messenger to chat to one another rather than having a human conversation! Our primary communication anatomy is now our fingertips and we seem to have forgotten basic human interaction. How many times have you walked down the street and nearly flattened someone because you had your head down, immersed in Facebook, or reading an email? How many times have you sat on the tube head down and left a pregnant woman standing? How many times have you been tapped on the shoulder for attention and feel completely unnerved, wondering what your supposed to say? As a result of connectivity and mobility we have begun to remove ourselves from physical reality and into a virtual space that exists in our collective minds created by machines. We have begun to move our human conscience into online identities and personas. You used to say that you would get to know someone when you meet them face to face, but in today’s world this is total garbage. If you really want to know someone, you get to know them online! This is because we have come to rely on the Cloud for so many things in the consumer world that we have to a degree forgotten our values. Some call this progress.
The power of the Cloud has also reinvented traditional services such as taxi service with Uber, Hoteliers with AirBnB, banks with fintechs such as PayPal and Blockchain. They’ve re-imagined the possible, given consumers choice and accessibility all because of connectivity, mobility and the iPhone. For the consumer of course this is wonderful. For the businesses in the sector that is being disrupted, not so great! Some call disruption a good thing. From my perspective I do see benefits from disruption, I rely on Uber for instance when in a city because it is convenient and I don’t need to worry about payment, or my location. I get that the old businesses feel out played, but they have the chance to react and adapt so from a business perspective its fair game. However, disruption only works successfully if it is regulated and its not. Disruptors like Uber for instance are targeted based on user sign ups by their venture capitalist investors. If Uber can prove there is demand there by producing reports that they had 20,000 new drivers sign up in a location and 100,000 riders, then even if Uber are losing money as a business, they can prove the demand is there and keep the investor sharks off their backs. However, the problem arises when Uber has more drivers sign up, but rider sign ups plateau. This creates over supply and this starts to affect people’s income. All of a sudden people’s lives are affected again, they have debts to pay that they can’t service, lose homes and even lives (really – check out Uber in India). So a disruptive firm that is unregulated, driven completely by numbers and biased data, although on the consumer face of it seems awesome, has far reaching impacts to society that we actually give thought to. So has Uber actually improved society, or are they just optimistic anarchists riding a wave of success by other business disabilities?
Uber is not the only fintech with this problem, there are many others affecting society subconsciously fuelled by our appetite for accessibility and a bargain. Take a look at AirBnB inflating house prices in tourist areas as a result of investors taking advantage of the market, causing local residents to move away because they cannot afford to buy a home in the place they grew up in.
This is the untold price of Lemonade, these days!
However, the Cloud has taken on the next stage of its revolution. It is bored of providing linear services to consumers and businesses like e-mail, e-commerce, Unified Communications etc. It’s done that already. Driven by our seemingly overwhelming desire to out create ourselves, we are now looking at Artificial Intelligence to “improve” our lives. We seem to be infatuated by digitally recreating the human brain. We are disappointed that we can only use 10% of our brains capacity so we must create a computer that can leverage it’s entire digital processors! This can be a scary thought. If the cloud is not regulated and development monitored we could accidentally become the second most intelligent species on the planet. What happens to animals that aren’t at the top of the food chain? They get eaten!
AI, will inevitably provide us with countless benefits, we are on the cusp of revolutionizing perhaps the single most important right of passage any 17 year old looks forward to…. Driving. Driverless transport will inevitably arrive within the next 5-7 years, starting with haulage. We will see mass haulage convoys take to our motorways transporting tonnes of merchandise up and down the country far more efficiently than a human driver could. Not only will routes be optimised based on real time data, but having autonomous haulage means that they do not need to stop every 3-4 hours for a regulatory break, or reach maximum driving hours a day. The trucks can keep on trucking 24/7! This will boost economies and make products available to us far quicker than we can imagine today. We could inevitably see order fulfilments in next hour, instead of next business day. Naturally however, there are a lot of lorry drivers out there that will loose their job to an algorithm. When they re-enter the job market place, what transferable skills do they possess? What jobs are out there today that having 20 years driving experience is good for? Taxi driver? Unlikely, as the next wave of autonomous transport will be upon us, public transport. In 10 years public transport including trains, busses and taxis will be completely autonomous. Trains could reach this point a lot sooner, because their routes and rules are simpler to understand on a machine level. They follow a pre-defined route on an already highly computerised network and have very binary rules of engagement. Taxis and busses are more complicated due to the unpredictability of the roads. They are unpredictable because humans operate machinery on them, 3 billion individual minds operating independently, means almost unfathomable permutations of possible outcomes makes a machine to learn road behaviour a monumental data problem to solve. However, it will get there, first by having dedicated public transport lanes, separating AI controlled machines, from human controlled machines. Then when the normal driver is replaced by a autonomy the road network can be predicted and observe machine rules.
Autonomy will not only affect vehicles on land, but also sea and air too. We will see autonomous cargo ships and planes delivering vast amounts of cargo around the world to complement the road logitic demand driven from our increased consumption of merchandise. Passenger planes, may take some convincing and while they are 98% computer controlled today, people still want that comfort factor of a human being able to intervene. However, as algorithms get better, learn more could they get better at deciding an outcome than an human? I doubt it due to lack of situational awareness and the emotion factor, but it will be close.
Again, where are all the people displaced by this autonomy going to find work?
After transport, we will see a revolution in public services, such as health care and the justice system. Health care is being revolutionised as we speak! How many of you get frustrated because the earliest Dr Jones can see you is next week? What if you could access health care on demand, without an appointment? What if a machine could learn to diagnose conditions based on data input? Perhaps a questionnaire, a symptom checker, perhaps even BYOBT (Bring Your Own Blood Test), clip finger, take sample, place into personal analysing machine, connect to the Cloud, and instant blood test results? At the end of it the machine will give you a diagnosis, and a prescription sent to the pharmacy who deliver your medicine by Amazon drone within 30 minutes? Easy and accessible basic health care for everyone, and this should be a free right given to everyone, just pay for your medicine. Obviously not every condition can be solved by a machine or a prescription, but it frees up doctors to treat the critically ill, reduce patient wait times and generally improve society health.
The justice system will also be revolutionised by machine learning and AI. Using historic cases data, data gathered and learnt over the years on human behaviour (lie detectors etc.), factual data analysis and the mathematical calculation of probability all of which is available today could be used to formulate a guilty or not guilty verdict. This would mean no longer would we need solictors, prosecutors or a jury. Instead machine learning can analyse the case data and provide the Judge with a verdict and confidence factor of that verdict based on unemotional data analysis. The Judge will be the only human element who can decide the most appropriate sentence after taking into account human factors.
Where are all the law people going to work?
Machine learning and AI will become so advanced that humans will no longer be needed to design or implement technology systems. Businesses will be able to order bespoke applications directly from the intelligent cloud by submitting a specification, the AI and Machine learning will go and build it for you like an app vending machine. The benefit of intelligent code building code for purpose apps is that it each application will be coded to a standard. So they will be like building blocks, meaning infinite connections to other apps can be built on demand to react in almost real time to the demands of the business. Because the code is built by AI, it will have its own diagnosis and healing capabilities baked in meaning that the cloud could identify bugs and fix them on the fly without us even knowing about it. Using consumption and use behaviour analysis machine learning can even figure out what features should be added automatically based on prioritization according to this data analysis.
At this point it’s goodbye IT Pro and Admin, where will they go?
Machine Learning and AI will not only affect adult life, but our children’s too. AI, Machine Learning and augmented / virtual reality will be used to transform the education sector. The transition will happen slowly, as in introducing augmented reality into classroom learning with a teacher, but conceivably the machine could replace the teacher altogether. Instead offering home based virtual reality classrooms with children being taught an education by bots.
This begs the question, if almost all human employment can be transformed by the Cloud and automated, what can our children look forward to in their lives? What will they do when human supply outweighs the job demand, like Uber in India?
This leaves our future somewhat uncertain. We know that we want computer intelligence and automation to make our lives easier. It’s because we are completely in love with the idea that we can create another being to serve our thirst for an easy life. Human slavery was outlawed in most of the developed world in the early 1900’s, but we haven’t quite gotten over it. We are still subconsciously in love with the idea that someone else could do it for us, so what better way to solve this issue than with bits, bytes and clockwork? Computers have no rights, they have no emotion and therefore, the perfect candidate for us to enslave to feed our lust to be waited on.
We think we have created a digital slave to humanity, but it will be us humans who will be slaves to the machine. We will depend on machinery so much that we will as a result evolve into a dependent and collectively less intelligent species. Once the decisions on intelligence have been superseded by machines we will no longer be able to teach the machine, but the machine will become more intelligent than us. If this is not carefully managed then this could spell disaster for us as a race.
So how do we avoid destroying ourselves? Anyone naïve enough to think that something will come along (it will be ok, things will work out), are living in a dream world. This next autonomous and intelligent revolution will forever change society.
Facing mass unemployment and seemingly without much purpose, we will need to figure out what our future society is. With reduced opportunity for work involving humans, and most of that work will be monitoring the machines (think Homer Simpson at work) we can assume that wealth will be a huge concern. No jobs, and low skilled jobs mean no money. If unchecked, will least to increased crime and a growing sense of unrest and resentment to the machines we created to solve a problem we thought we had. Trust me, once the honeymoon period is over, things will get ugly, unless society has a plan. One idea is that everyone will receive a living wage just because they exist.
There are several problems with this idea, and let me tell you why.
The Cloud with AI and machine learning is something only 3 companies can really achieve at this point. They are; Microsoft, Amazon and Google. These companies will become giant mega-corporations in the future. Controlling data is the Gold, Platinum and Oil combined of the future! The company that controls the data, controls everything, even you. We have already seen these companies try and solve society’s problems and make money out of doing so directly. They are fed by our thirst for data analysis and manipulation that we are willing to pay life long subscriptions to get it. They are already starting to realise that they no longer need the middle-corps to find customers, customers are going directly to them. Do you think that Google will distribute their Google Car via a car dealership? No, they will sell it on Google Shopping on the internet directly to the consumer, delivered by Amazon. Do you think that Microsoft needs System Integrators to sell and implement their cloud services? No, their cloud is accessible to the public and combined with advanced machine learning and code writing code, a business could simply logon to Azure, answer a few questions and an hour later their app or service is ready. Amazon is perhaps the most advanced at meeting our consumer needs, already looking at drone deliveries and warehouses in the sky. If I was eBay I would be worried for my future. As soon as drone deliveries come into mainstream, all Amazon need to do is allow the consumer to sell their items and as soon as it is sold, a drone is dispatched to collect from the seller’s door and it is instantaneously shipped around the world by Amazon Air and delivered to the buyer within hours. Goodbye eBay and goodbye parcel delivery networks (Royal Mail, Fed-Ex and UPS). I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon bought Facebook, and Google bought Twitter. If they did this then these 3 companies would have all the online data on a B2B, B2C and C2C, building in Cloud AI to better deliver customised experiences to us.
These companies will be run by a small number of people. These people will become very very greedy and very very rich. While the majority of us will become poorer. The idea behind the living wage is that these mega-corps will redistribute some of their wealth back into society by way of taxation and other income redistribution schemes. However, these companies are already masters of tax avoidance, so do you really think they will cough up? But ultimately, who are the Government to enforce this taxation and redistribution on these mega-corps? They will be above the law, untouchable, in fact they will be the law. Their solutions and Cloud will be so embedded into society that even the Government is their customer. We will simply not be able to function as a society without the cloud, and therefore, it will always be there. Maybe the execs of Microsoft, Google and Amazon of the future will distribute the living wage, but I dare bet it will not be enough, and will be heavily controlled and incentivised so that they can reclaim as much of it as they can through service subscriptions.
Perhaps the answer is to abolish money altogether, instead move towards a token based system, but in any case the distribution would need to be even and our lives would need to be standardised, otherwise what right has one person got to own a 10 bed mansion when I am living in a 3 bed semi?
Whatever the answer is to the living wage problem, it will not solve our basic human instincts. We are programmed to work, or rather do something to stimulate our minds. What can society offer us when the whole world is automated? There is only so much Xbox, or walking the dog anyone can do before it becomes boring. We need a purpose to survive, what will be this purpose, I don’t know?
In any case, the Cloud is going to take over the world, we are going to see some massive transformations, some for the better, but inevitably there will be human casualties along the way. Its how we plan for and manage those casualties that is important to our future. Allowing people to push forward with machine learning, AI and business transformation at speed without first assessing the point in which society cannot currently cope with development will be our undoing. Like I said before disruption is good, but it needs to be carefully managed so that we do not destroy ourselves in the process of discovering what we are capable of creating.
When Life Gives You Lemons, sometimes you need to wait until you are thirsty to make Lemonade
But you can always blame the iPhone for this!
Mark is an Independent Microsoft Teams Consultant with over 15 years experience in Microsoft Technology. Mark is the founder of Commsverse, a dedicated Microsoft Teams conference and former MVP. You can follow him on twitter @UnifiedVale