Carroll County Times
Carroll County Times Opinion

Saunders:  Are prime-ers ready for the exponential age of robots and smart machines?

Recently, a high school classmate sent our group a list of technology predictions for the future, many of them taken from sources found on the Internet under Exponential Age, particularly “Into the Future” by Udo Gollub and “6 signs we’re living in an exponential age” by Paul Keijzer.

Along with the list came the prediction that “the future is approaching faster than one can handle!” Prime-ers already know this, but I thought my fellow prime-ers would like to read some of these predictions, since it is April, but not April Fool’s information.


The list draws attention to Kodak that in 1998 had 170,000 employees and sold 85 percent of all photo paper. And we know what happened to Kodak, their paper and their film. Digital cameras, although invented in 1975 and off to a slow start, as with all exponential technologies, have since become all the rage and superior in performance.

Kodak was a lesson in how vulnerable other industries are and will be with software disrupting most traditional industries even now, and the prediction that by 2025, one in three jobs will be converted to software, robots and smart machines. Be glad, prime-ers, that we are not looking for a job now! But probably prime-ers would be in the forefront of this prediction.


There are other predictions that affect the job market outlook. One of those indicates that auto repair shops will not be needed since most of the cars will have electric engines of a mere 20 parts that can totally be replaced in 10 minutes. Likewise, with electric cars, gas stations will become obsolete because of recharging meters. The prediction is that by 2020 electric cars will become mainstream. Auto manufacturers will need to build new plants to mass produce the electric cars with many of them being autonomous! Those autonomous cars are already in production and predicted to bankrupt many current car manufacturers.

Those autonomous cars, really computers on wheels, are expected to reduce the number of accidents that take 1.2 million lives every year worldwide to one accident in six million miles. And then because of fewer accidents, what will happen to insurance companies who offer car insurance? The prediction is that they will disappear. I do wonder, however, about all those big trucks and buses on the road — will they also be autonomous or be replaced by something totally different?

Other predictions are equally intriguing. Artificial intelligence allows computers to do better in many fields than human beings. In 2016, a computer beat the world’s best Go game player, Lee Sedol. Go is a board game for two players invented in ancient China over 2,500 years ago and more complex than chess. Sedol was up against Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence program, AlphaGo, and lost all the games.

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Another interesting phenomenon is IBM’s Watson computer. Lawyers need to be on guard because Watson dispenses rudimentary legal advice within seconds, with 90 oercent accuracy compared to 70percent accuracy when done by human lawyers. Watson also already helps medical personnel diagnosing cancer but with four times more accuracy than humans.

In the area of health the future is now.

The “Tricorder” from “Star Trek” fame is becoming reality with companies willing to build the Tricorder X that will work with one’s cell phone. Early on the price may be exorbitant, but eventually it will be cheap enough that everyone will be able to access “world class medical analysis” for pennies. The Tricorder will do a retina scan, take your blood sample, and have you breathe into it. It can then analyze 54 bio-markers that will identify nearly any disease. Once the disease is identified, perhaps you can then ring up your doctor for the precise treatment or prescription! Already there are doctors with whom you can talk face to face via computer or phone without having to bother mingling with all those sick people in the doctor’s office. Or perhaps doctors will become passé as well.

This exponential age is fast fulfilling the prediction that by 2030 computers will become more intelligent than humans! No more “garbage in, garbage out!” I guess that means that humans will no longer be in control of their machines. That frightens me if those machines take over and are used for nefarious purposes. Humans are already using machines for such purposes.

In the agriculture arena, robots will supposedly do the work of humans. Scientists have already produced the first Petri dish veal that will be cheaper than cow produced veal. Perhaps we will eventually eliminate all animal produced meat in favor of the genetically engineered variety!


One last area that intrigued me was 3D printing which is already used extensively. Even the price of the cheapest 3D printer came down from $18,000 to $400 within the brief span of 10 years, and it became 100 times faster. Did you know that all major shoe companies have already begun 3D printing shoes and that spare airplane parts are 3D printed in some airports. New smart phones are supposed to be getting 3D scanning capabilities whereby you can 3D scan your feet and print your perfect shoes at home. Then, if one foot is slightly larger than the other — as is my predicament — there would be no need to purchase two pair of shoes for the perfect fit!

As prime-ers, how do we fit into the exponential age? Because prime-ers have been responsible for the fulfillment of many past predictions, perhaps we can shine the light of wisdom on these future predictions to make them work for the benefit of mankind.