A Glimpse of the Future
March 23, 2018
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I had the opportunity to glimpse a large part of the future this week.
Dr. Kiron Skinner, a remarkable scholar, hosted me at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
According to the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” rankings, Carnegie Mellon has the nation’s top graduate level artificial intelligence (AI) program and one of the top five undergraduate computer engineering programs. On Wednesday, the people at Carnegie Mellon showed me a few of the reasons they are held in such high regard.
Before I get into what I saw this week, let me better explain what I mean by seeing a glimpse of the future.
Years ago, while serving as Commanding General, Training and Doctrine Command for the US Army, General Fred Franks told me he looked for “glimmerings” of the future. He said “glimmerings” were ideas, events, or developments that were not yet clear but might evolve into something important.
I was intrigued with glimmerings because of two earlier developments in my life.
First, in 1965, as an undergraduate student at Emory, I began working with Pete Jensen at what would later become the Rich Computer Center at Georgia Tech. Pete was one of the great pioneers of computing and in a few years introduced me to ideas (glimmerings), which evolved over the next half century into the internet and modern computing. My own activities had been dramatically enriched by Pete’s ideas and teaching.
Second, I had been privileged to work with Alvin and Heidi Toffler as their thinking evolved from their bestselling book, Future Shock, to their even more important book, The Third Wave. The observations and insights they developed for The Third Wave are still valid over three decades later. They gave me an entirely different perspective on the scale of change our civilization was going through. The Tofflers and their work were very influential in the thinking which led to the Contract with America in 1994.
With this background, I have always been looking for the breakthroughs that will dramatically change our way of doing things. Starting in 2001, I began looking at nanoscale science and technology, quantum computing, and the revolution these two systems would bring about – a revolution that is still only in its infancy.
Around 2007, I began talking with oil and gas experts about the revolutionary breakthroughs in fracking, and its inevitable impact on our ability to produce oil and gas. In 2008 that led me, in collaboration with my former colleague Vince Haley and Sean Hannity, to launch Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less. Callista and I also made a documentary, We Have the Power. The Left, led by President Obama, ridiculed the whole idea of using America’s resources to become energy independent.
Influenced by the growth of fracking, in 2012, I wrote the book, $2.50 a Gallon. Again, President Obama singled it out and attacked me as a demagogue who was suggesting the impossible. Of course, he was totally wrong, and the fracking revolution has made America dramatically better off.
On Wednesday, in Pittsburgh, I saw another powerful glimmering of technologies that will change our world.
The ability to develop intelligent systems that can learn and adjust is rapidly evolving.
These systems will give us new capabilities and new insights in ways we have never imagined.
In a few brief hours at Carnegie Mellon, I saw a voice analysis system which could be combined with cell phone technology to enable remote medical analysis of virtually everyone on the planet. It would create an extraordinary new approach to early diagnostics and constant monitoring at an astonishingly low cost.
I watched a robotic assistant reduce the invasiveness of heart surgery so that instead of patients taking 14 days to recover, they could leave the hospital after one day.
The potential for 3D printing and robotics, combined with reusable rockets, to totally change how we think about space is just astonishing.
Every aspect of government procurement will have to be replaced (not just reformed – replaced) given the speed of new capabilities inherent in the artificial intelligence revolution.
We will also have to rethink adult education.
Artificial intelligence will displace many traditional service jobs, while also creating new jobs. The challenge will be helping adults make the transition from outdated skills to the new, higher-paying and more interesting skills made possible by artificial intelligence.
Of course, during this development, we must constantly work to improve these systems to make sure they are safe. This constant development in itself will require advancements in both human and machine learning.
We must learn from and continuously work to prevent tragic accidents like the one this week in Tempe, Arizona where a woman was struck and killed by an autonomous car.
It is also clear that we have to invest heavily in artificial intelligence if we are going to maintain our competitive and national security advantages in the face of massive Chinese investment in the artificial intelligence field. We already know Chinese companies are working to build a huge fleet of self-driving vehicles. You can bet they will use and apply everything they learn in this endeavor in their military programs.
As I learn more over the next few months I will report in this newsletter on the exciting new developments.
The future is going to be amazing, and we should be optimistic that as a free people we can lead the world into that future – just as we led the world with new developments in cars, airplanes, computers, and the internet.
There is much more to come.
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