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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Waymo is running trials without drivers

Darrel Etherington, for TechCrunch:

Waymo is operating at full Level 4 autonomy, sharing public roads with human-driven cars and pedestrians, with no one at the wheel able to take over in case things don’t go as planned.

See also, my prediction time capsule.

A technology predication time capsule

Readers of my blog will know that I occasionally attempt to predict when certain technologies that I write about will hit the mainstream. While I’m very passionate about a few technologies, I try to temper that excitement with the experiences I’ve had, the wisdom that comes with age, and other factors. Usually, things take a little longer to happen than we’d like for the things we want to see most. And sometimes, sometimes, the things we want most never materialize at all.

For the purposes of this post, mainstream doesn’t mean critical mass but rather mass market adoption. With 7B+ people on the planet reaching critical mass is far easier than reaching mass market saturation. In other words, a company, product, or technology can reach sustainability and never truly hit the mass market. Examples: Tesla can succeed, be profitable, and have happy customers without the world moving on from fossil fuels. A company focusing on AI can make great livings, do compelling and challenging work, without every family having their own personal C-3PO.

Here are some stake-in-the-ground predictions on some of the most talked about technologies of our day. We’ll see in the next few decades if I was even close.

  • Legal, fully autonomous driving with no human assistance: Mid-summer 2026 – Even 9 years out there will still only be a few select vehicles that will fit into this category. There will still be humans driving on the road. And, only the most expensive cars will have all of these features. But, it will exist, be available to anyone, and be legal in the US. And I also believe there will be small fleets running in select cities for Lyft, Uber, and I believe Tesla will have a ride-share platform by this point. Also, don’t be surprised if Apple does too.
  • Bitcoin, or some crypto-currency, being widely transacted at small retail stores in the US: 2027 – If Square, or some other platform with high market saturation, turns on crypto for retail SMBs then we can say they accept this form of tender. But, I believe it will be 10 years before we see a decent number of daily transactions by consumers. I know, “decent” is relative so I’ll give it a number: $100,000,000 US dollar equivalent in a single month. This is roughly 25% of US monthly retail revenue as of September 2017. Side note: By this time we’ll see talk of the US dollar being converted to an all digital currency and, perhaps, transacted on its own blockchain.
  • Mixed Reality experiences used in everyday work environments: 2027 – Today we share links to web sites, documents on Google Drive, and flat or animated graphics to design and develop both soft and physical products. By 2025 many of these every day things will be accessible and even better experience within MR. I believe most businesses with digital assets will have multiple pairs of “glasses” or “goggles” that will allow team members to view or collaborate on these types of data. In other words, by 2030 rather than sending a child a link to Wikipedia to learn about our Solar System I believe we’ll be sending them MR experiences that they will consume using an augmented reality experience on a device other than a flat panel display. This happens today. But no where near mass market. And this industry has a long way to go. Even further than I previously thought.
  • Wireless internet takes over all cable based internet: 2029 – Most people in the US will connect to the Internet via wireless across all devices. And there will be no limitation on bandwidth usage.
  • Fully autonomous fleets replace individual car ownership: 2037 – Today US cities are plagued by traffic jams comprised of single occupant vehicles. Mass transit softens this but doesn’t solve the issue due to the convenience of a car. Ride sharing services have softened this even more and car ownership in urban areas is on the decline. By 2037 we’ll see massive reduction in individual car ownership in cities but also in the hinterlands as fleets of fully autonomous vehicles, combined with better mass transit, can care for the majority of transportation needs. I believe, however, families with at least 2 children will still have a single family-owned vehicle of some sort. Again, I’d like to put a number on this. So I’d say 15-25% less car ownership/use for individuals and commuters nationwide.
  • Mixed Reality replacing many conventional meat space locations/activities: 2050 – By 2050 the majority of children in the US will have the option to attend school in VR ala Ready Player One. Virtual classrooms will no longer be limited by federal budgets but will be designed to appear like cathedrals of learning.
  • (Because, why not?) An off-planet human civilization: 2175 – Humans will walk on Mars in the 2020s. And, perhaps, a small moon or Mars base will exist in similar fashion to today’s ISS in the 2030s. But a civilization, where people live, work, play, have children, and die peacefully etc. won’t exist on any other planet or moon (likely the Moon will have an established civilization prior to Mars). The reason I put this far-reaching prediction on this list is because I believe the excitement around a human footprint on Mars will lead to speculation about off-planet civilizations. But, we must all remember, we put a footprint on the Moon many, many decades ago and then just never went back. I do think that we’ll be mining objects near Earth much, much sooner. Even the Moon. But we’ll do that with robots and minimal human intervention.
  • Tweet editing – Never.

Check back in a few decades to see if I was even close.

Self-driving car accidents (because, humans)

Ryan Beene for The Seattle Times:

What they’ve found is that while the public may most fear a marauding vehicle without a driver behind the wheel, the reality is that the vehicles are overly cautious. They creep out from stop signs after coming to a complete stop and mostly obey the letter of the law — unlike humans.

So bots drive too well. Go figure.

Humans are terrible drivers. This middle phase of some driverless and some human drivers on the road can’t end soon enough.

Google Assistant for iOS is a clunky mess

Karissa Bell for Mashable:

For starters, Assistant’s iOS app is a confusing, disjointed, mess. You’d think the Assistant would be able to easily link up with all your other Google services, but that wasn’t the case in my initial testing.

It isn’t often that I agree with an article on Mashable. However, in this case I very much agree.

Using Assistant for iOS for a bit yesterday I found myself scratching my head thinking “but, I thought I could do this, or that, or that?”. In reality, the Assistant on iOS as it stands is Google’s search with voice input on top of it. Just like Siri. Which is equally frustrating to use.

One quick note here: Google does not have the access to iOS APIs that Apple does. For this reason Assistant is neutered from the jump. However, Google does a bad job explaining that and so user expectation is pretty high when I first installed the app. Assistant on iOS will likely never be as good as the Android or Home Assistant and that should be clear.

One other quick note: I think the entire tech industry began using the term “AI” a decade too soon. “Bot” is ok. A bot can respond to a set of commands and only those commands. That feels much more accurate when describing Google’s Assistant. But calling features like Cortana, Siri, Assistant, Bixby (or whatever Samsung’s assistant is) is a huge, huge stretch of the term AI in their current states. And likely will be for a number of years to come.

Andrew Ng on the impact of AI

Andrew Ng resigns from Baidu to focus on helping AI impact more companies and industries. In his resignation post he mentions the impact AI is having, and will continue to have, on every part of life:

Just as electricity transformed many industries roughly 100 years ago, AI will also now change nearly every major industry — healthcare, transportation, entertainment, manufacturing — enriching the lives of countless people.

And:

The industrial revolution freed humanity from much repetitive physical drudgery; I now want AI to free humanity from repetitive mental drudgery, such as driving in traffic. This work cannot be done by any single company — it will be done by the global AI community of researchers and engineers.

This rings very similar to Kevin Kelly’s TED talk about the second industrial revolution being powered by AI which I linked to in December.

There are so many exciting things happening in science and technology; not the least of which is how quickly AI is improving at all levels. I think out of all the current mainstream implementations I’m most impatient for completely autonomous vehicles.