Going Digital

While TT Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s ambitions for digitalizing this twin-island Caribbean state (Population: 1.4 million approx.) may be in sync with global trends, there still remains the nagging question of the capacity of the population to keep up with the technology.

Ray Kurzweil has predicted that by 2030, computers will have more brain power than humans and will be able to out-do and outlast them in a number of ways.

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Kurzweil should know. He’s the man who gave us the platform for a number of applications that are part of our homes today. Now at Google, he’s leading the way in pioneering new ways of being which will revolutionize the way of being of the next generation, staring now.

In his ground-breaking “How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed “, Kurzweil describes a series of thought experiments which suggest to him that the brain contains a hierarchy of pattern recognizers.

According to Wikipedia, based on this, Kurzweil introduces his Pattern Recognition Theory of Mind (PRTM), asserting that the neocortex contains 300 million very general pattern recognition circuits and argues that they are responsible for most aspects of human thought

He also suggests that the brain is a “recursive probabilistic fractal” whose line of code is represented within the 30-100 million bytes of compressed code in the genome.

Kurzweil then explains that a computer version of this design could be used to create an artificial intelligence more capable than the human brain. It would employ techniques such as hidden Markov models and genetic algorithms, strategies Kurzweil used successfully in his years as a commercial developer of speech recognition software.

Artificial brains will require massive computational power, so Kurzweil reviews his law of accelerating returns, which explains how the compounding effects of exponential growth will deliver the necessary hardware in only a few decades.

In a video interview with Michael Hickins, Editor of the CIO Journal and Senior Editor of the Wall Street Journal,  Kurzweil summed up some advances in technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), etc. and he summarized the essence and business impact of those technologies as they exponentially grow (while most organizations plan for the future in a linear way).

He noted that “This exponential growth is essential for the future of your business. As once emerging technologies in areas such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of things and natural speech, to name just three, reach the point where they move further/faster in the exponential curves of growth (linked with price/performance and capacity), speed of innovation/evolution becomes even more essential”. 

Many of the so-called ‘interruptive’ technologies in this state of exponential growth are impacting your business ecosystem faster than most of us probably realize.

So why the fuss and bother about computers taking over in the name of “Digitalization” or “Artificial Intelligence?” What’s the big deal if it will mean faster systems which produce more output at miraculous speed at less costs and leave us with so much less to do in terms of work and more time for recreation?

But therein lies one of the major anticipated problems, namely that the human brain will become so overtaken by the computer as it were that we will be lying idle, vacant and empty – like lambs to the slaughter for occupation by any passing predator in a world where might is still right,

In other words, humans can become more robotic than the robot themselves..

It’s in this important context that Kurzweil notes how over the last several decades, “the digital revolution has changed nearly every aspect of our lives.”

Observing that “the pace of progress in computers has been accelerating”, he points out that computers and networks are in nearly every industry and home across the world today.

Ray is renowned for his predictions on technological and social advancement. He said he’s made 147 predictions in the age of machines, and according to him, “86% were correct to the year.”

In 1990, he famously predicted that computers would beat the best human chess players “by the year 2000.” 

Kurzweil also foresaw the explosive growth in the Internet at a time when there were only 2.6 million Internet users in the world. He also predicted the role of computers in classrooms, speech-to-text software and many other technological developments that have come to pass.

Among the awesome new developments lurking on the horizon, according to Kurzweil are:

  • The genetics revolution will allow us to reprogram our own biology.
  • The nanotechnology revolution will allow us to manipulate matter at the molecular and atomic scale.
  • The robotics revolution will allow us to create a greater than human non-biological intelligence.

While genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics will peak at different times over the course of decades, we’re experiencing all three of them in some capacity already. According to Kurzweil when he wrote about these ideas in The Singularity Is Near over a decade ago,

 “Each is powerful in its own right, but their convergence will be even more so”. Kurzweil stated.

He explained: “By understanding the information processes underlying life, we are starting to learn to reprogram our biology to achieve the virtual elimination of disease, dramatic expansion of human potential, and radical life extension.”

We’ve been “reprogramming” our environment for nearly as long as humans have walked the planet. Now we have accrued enough knowledge about how our bodies work that we can begin tackling disease and aging at their genetic and cellular roots, he added.

Kurzweil argues that no matter how successfully we fine tune our DNA-based biology, it will be no match for what we will be able to engineer by manipulating matter on the molecular and atomic level.

Last August, the American Chamber of Industry and Commerce (AMCHAM) expressed its eagerness to work collaboratively with TT’s newly elected PNM  government to foster economic growth and overall social development.

The organization’s statement preceded the national budget statement in October when Finance Minister Colm Imbert said that Trinidad and Tobago is set to become a digital economy. The concept was being touted during the election campaign.

Noting this plan as “a priority for the Rowley Administration” , Imbert said that government is focused on e-governance, e-banking and e-commerce, among the many systems to help develop technology in Trinidad and Tobago.

 “A fully digital Trinidad and Tobago is essential to the growth and diversification of the economy,” he said. “In this context, the Ministry of Public Administration and Digital Transformation has been charged with the responsibility of directing the necessary changes needed to accomplish this objective. It has been mandated to ensure high-speed broadband access, including requisite ICT infrastructure, is available for all,” Imbert was reported as stating in the “Trinidad Guardian” of October 2020.

For a small country like Trinidad and Tobago with a fine educational structure,  keeping abreast with the new technologies should be a relatively easy exercise. 

The only possible danger lies in our tendency to shirk collective responsibility and – in keeping with the pattern of throwing all the burden of governance on the administration – we may choose to hand over our authority to the very machines which were brought here to serve us.

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