We are bringing you session summaries from NPC 2017 in a series of blogs. This one is based on the session of Atul Jalan, the CEO & MD of Manthan.
Atul Jalan held us in thrall (at NPC Banglaore) right from the time he strode up on stage confidently and started talking about the future, which seemed overwhelming at times.
He said, the kind of change that we have witnessed in the last 10 – 15 years is phenomenal. Moreover, what was experienced 50 – 75 years prior, pales in comparison. And finally, the change which will come about in the next 10 – 15 years will be nothing short of spectacular – something which may well be in the realms of our imagination now. The possibilities that Science can offer are being leveraged to the hilt and brings humans a step closer to playing God.
In process, technology has absorbed its own complexities to make life easier for us. AI, many opine, is the new electricity and cuts across nearly all industry verticals. And, this is happening at such a rapid pace that there seems to be a hubris around it! The truth is, we tend to overestimate its short-term benefits and underestimate its long-term transformative power. AI was first heard of in nerdy circles in the 50s of the last century. Its commercial applications didn’t pick up as was expected and had to go through a very long Siberian winter. And now it’s here, and how!
Data is the by-product of Social Media and the fodder for Deep Tech. Data captured through sensors is yet another prominent source. It’s leading to Cognification of Everything which is a most interesting mix of bio & info organisms. Smartphones today are more powerful than Supercomputers of an earlier era and with constant drop in prices, they are within bounds of most people. Advancement in Neuro-Science is witnessing a steady integration of bio and computer science. As AI comes of age, it makes us ask age-old and yet profound questions: Who am I? What is it to be human? What’s the construct of our mind? If the brain is akin to hardware then mind may best be compared to software. Till now, the questions about self were seen through the ‘limited’ lens of philosophy. As AI gets perfected, we are preparing ourselves to answer these questions through the lens of Math & Science. The next big leap, soon to come by, is going to be a very big one! Hopefully, we can put technology to good use and weed out pain, diseases to create a better society.
Homo Sapien 2.0 can attain three shapes: that of humanoids, or recreated through genetic engineering, or simply, cyborgs. It isn’t such a stretch after all if we are to imagine the future from today’s construct – humans perpetually glued on to their phones today, give the impression that we are part machine-like already. The emphasis here is our heavy dependence on machines to run lives for us. The life of the great physicist Stephen Hawkins embodies the combined impact of what neuro & computer science can achieve. Strapped to a wheel chair because of a debilitating disease (yet his mind remains the sharpest) he is able to move around with the aid of advanced technology which can read his mind and take commands directly. Life per se, is a matter of random selection. But, through genetic re-engineering can we create humans with only the desired characteristics – exactly the way we want them to be and eliminating chance factor. Is that desirable? Or is it re-imagining God?
Certainly, many jobs will be lost because of AI. Let’s not even pretend otherwise. On a lighter note: when horse-drawn carriages were replaced by automobiles, horses lost their jobs and never really got them back. In history, nobody has lost jobs like the horses did. Perhaps! But the caveat: the burden this time will be on man and not on the beast. Having said that, newer jobs will be created which will require application of better skills and humans will be more gainfully employed.
He also touched upon the sensitive area of sex and humans. Robots which talk and even listen attentively. Sometimes, more attentively than spouses! In fiction, we have already seen humans fall in love with non-human objects and there’s a possibility that someday this rarity may become more common. He jokingly remarked, “in future if I run away with your sex doll then would I be tried for running away with your wife or stealing your car?” It was a rather hilarious observation to make, as we all guffawed. New rules for the new man.
As we step into unexplored realms, a new code of ethics and morality will have to be written. Human progress is made on 2 distinct threads: the ability to invent stories and to tell them!
Arguably, man is the only animal which doesn’t yet know what NOT to do. It’s this constant itch which made man out of monkeys.