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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.

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The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Automating Everything - The Rollout or The Disney Feel, Not the Terminator Motif - Part 2



The advantages of automation will be persuasive in the themselves for both businesses and customers, but it will be important to avoid the most obvious pitfalls in rolling all of this out to the public.

The customer’s benefits are straightforward. Within certain rough parameters, direct delivery of in-stock goods should be something the seller (or rather the software) can set an approximate time for, offering customers who may have appointments or are tied up at work the ability to shop and immediately receive their goods without ever having to come in or to pay an excessive delivery fee. While vehicles will still experience wear and tear, the reduction in delivery personnel combined with a drop in transport-fuel/energy prices (driven by the steady fall in alternative-energy prices and other factors) will make automated delivery an attractive option to many customers. Combined with the automated loading of some truck loads, certain products could become available at any time, at any location, at the convenience of the customer, all without the disturbing implications of aerial drones or conventional bipedal-robot deliveries.

The public resistance against aerial drones may evolve, but in the meantime, if these drones can not be used generally for delivery or in specific areas (such as dense urban areas with laws against them) they can still be used if high-speed transportation to a location is needed even if the airborne drone can not make the final delivery. They can move products at high speed to local distribution centers, or simply rendezvous with a temporarily halted transport truck, depositing their package in a port to have it transferred to the storage racks inside, or handing it off to a humanoid robot for remote handling by personnel overseeing the handoff. As drone agility improves, actually landing on the roof of a moving truck may be possible, but until the programmers, drivers, companies and legal authorities are all comfortable with that option, it will have to wait for several practical reasons. Nevertheless, human intervention can overcome the limitations of the automated system here as surely as it can with carts or humanlike robots.

Biped robots, while extremely useful, do have a downside as they are presently designed – most people find them a little disturbing to look at, if not scary. Obviously, a disconcerting look is more of a problem in retail than it is for infantry shock troops. The issue, however, should be addressed by more than a visual makeover. How the technology is rolled out will have a strong impact on how readily it is assimilated.

First, consider how robots are portrayed in major media. Fortunately, that has actually been changing for some time. Consider how Petman and Atlas from Google appear and the impression they leave on normal observers, as opposed to Baymax from Big Hero 6 or Wall-E. Please note that the cartoon Wall-E robot also shows the simple compromise of integrating robotic arms with the above cart delivery system. Such arms could be as easily controlled by a remote human overseer as those of a humanoid robot.

In short, there are obviously some images that are far more appealing than others. More importantly, many younger people are far more open to new technology, especially if it is really useful or convenient. One of the ways that people can become more acclimated to this kind of technology is to introduce the changes they would want the most and which they would object to the least. On this level, automated cars for the individual can transform the daily commute, and deliveries of certain common items (like food) will integrate quite easily into the economy. Giving customers a look behind the curtain and the chance to use the haptic gloves will also make change easier – the chance to control a robot remotely doing something interesting, challenging or dangerous for a human being can give people a better sense of what is going on. (This introduction does not even have to be done directly by the company; plenty of schools will be happy to have even occasional access to the basic manipulator technology as an educational tool.)

Further, the roll out of this means of delivery will inevitably begin in the markets most receptive to it – cities with high disposable income (particularly those with a high cost of living for manual laborers) and open to the technological innovations their local economies are based on, as well as thoroughly mapped out for apps such as Google Maps or Streetview. Obvious options for that initial release include Seattle, Tokyo, San Francisco, Seoul, Austin, Hong Kong, the Research Triangle in North Carolina and even, with certain built-in safeguards, DC.

Part 1
Part 3

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