The joy of tech in iceless surroundings

The day started happy. Our iced-over UK had thawed. And in its place was – if not spring – then definitely the promise of warmer, sunnier days ahead.

So any significant new Edge Tech was always going to become a major mood enhancer. It did not disappoint.

Because we always suspected it. And now we now. Technology IS adding to humanity’s stock of happiness.

Which kind of justified that feeling of warmth we had while watching the birth of Vine – the 6 second video loop site. With few commercial interests cluttering its airwaves, it feels as fresh as the breeze whisking in that seasonal change. Providing you skip the rather controversial editors picks of porn, of course. And you can still download it from the app store. But what’s not to like about a perfect storm?

But then ‘Pow!’. A treasure trove of discovery. Forbes rounded-up the US military’s most science-fictional projects. A strange thing to get excited about until you flick through the gallery and drink in the planes that don’t need to land;  tiny disappearing sensors; the shape-shifting robots;  and a human exoskeleton.

So now in raptures, we nearly wet ourselves over the beauty of generic equations of change that can predict climate catastrophe, epilepsy and financial crises.  Which then made news of a model of all global ecosystems and their interdependence somehow even more phenomenal.

By now there was no pause for breath. We hatched plans to build a supersonic ping-pong gun,  on top of our new coffee table made from an actual chunk of the Large Hadron Collider while installing our server that would survive, should we accidentally drop it out of an aircraft over the Arctic at -40˚c.

And we won’t even complain about the illogical nature of the placebo effect any more. Because we know how it works.  Meanwhile if driverless cars do earn a few large auto companies literally trillions of dollars? Well – we guess that’ll make someone very happy.

Because we’ve started to crowdsource the bacteria in our guts. How nu-economics is that?

And it’s not as if there’s nothing to look forward to. If you’re hankering after some purulence later in the week, it’s going to start oozing nicely. Hacking collective Anonymous is promising to release a tonne or two of secret documents.

We know that shouldn’t make us happy. But somehow it really does. Providing no one gets hurt.

So the plan was to get down the pub, calm down and bring ourselves back to earth discussing global iPhone fatigue.

But with pinball being back with a vengeance, there’s little chance of our excitement abating.  Looks like another sleepless night hunched over the screen.

How long will Mixed Reality persist?

how-to-create-a-mindFrom deep within 2012 Life on the Edge identified widening Artificial Intelligence as one of 2013′s most important themes. So we’re not exactly clairvoyant. But we are most definitely correct.

Widening AI is about The Internet of Things. Self-driving cars. And APIs becoming child’s play. They all point to machines chatting away to each other in ever increasing numbers. Exchanging data and making decisions. Being able to make more complex judgements when faced with a wider set of possible outcomes. In other words, their collective ‘thoughts’ will become ever-more influential. As will our confidence in allowing them to act without our intervention.

At a certain point it becomes sensible to talk about this as Wide Artificial Intelligence (W-AI). At first it will take a combination of machines to make a truly intelligent decision. Although arguably self-driving cars already do that within a single system. And in time the machines will discover new lines of enquiry. Thereby becoming creative, in a sense. Rather than merely computational inside pre-ordained parameters. We won’t be capable of predicting what they’ll come up with.

On Tuesday morning we were chatting to Contagious Magazine’s co-founder, Gee Thomson, about how these computers will experience the world as AI widens. Consciousness, as humans understand it, is no pre-requisite within W-AI. And their natural language will not be ours. Even when they learn to translate their reality into our modes of communication, the basic reality they experience – their senses and processing – will remain alien to us. Unobtainable. Let’s frame it as Machine Reality v Human Reality.

The discussion on this distinction and difference was triggered by a post from Will Knight, online editor at MIT Technology Review. He was taking issue with Ray Kurzweil’s view of what it takes to make a mind.  In simplified terms Kurzweil believes that it’s possible to recreate an approximation of human intelligence by building a model of a brain, based on his current understanding of it. Then exposing it to massive amounts of data so it learns.

And, it seems, he’s having a bash at this over at Google. Which is exciting.

But, as Knight points out:

…constructing meaning from language goes well beyond learning vocabulary and grammar, often relying on a lifetime of experience with the world. This is why Siri is only capable of responding to a fairly narrow set of questions or commands, even if Apple’s designers have done a clever job of making Siri seem as if it’s understanding goes much deeper.

This is another way of saying that Machine and Human Realities are fundamentally different things. Perhaps Kurzweil’s building something entirely useful. But it’s unlikely to understand us in a meaningful way. No doubt it’ll deliver better, more timely information. It’ll be a great interface into Machine Reality. And it’ll augment our own. But we doubt it’ll approximate the human brain. So it’s unlikely to be qualitatively different from other advances in W-AI. The key distinction will remain.

That very afternoon Nicholas Carr developed this theme, by describing the common existence of Machine and Human Realities as ‘Mixed Reality’. That captures the essence of the situation perfectly – we’ll be perceiving and processing the same events. But from very different standpoints.

However, Carr winds up by arguing that Machine Reality will win the battle. That Human Reality will be subsumed into it. They’ll impose their reality on us. Because its more efficient. And safer. And, in most ways, better.

But we’re not sure the logic is logical.

Surely one cannot triumph over the other? Unless the other is annihilated.

Because we are inherently incapable of experiencing Machine Reality. They will be networked. Have an array of sensors far beyond our senses. Capable of ‘thinking’ about more than one thing in a single moment. And in the next moment combining those things into a single construct.

We are not. And to the extent this becomes possible, it’ll be via add-on processing capabilities. Which will be machine-augmentations. Which is Us. Not Them. And if the human parts of our brain become irrelevant then we will – effectively – have been annihilated.

So while we continue to exist, a Mixed Reality state will persist. By definition.

Kurzweil’s current attempt to build a human brain in machine form is unlikely to succeed. But in time They will be able to communicate with Us in our native languages. And, if they so choose, we will not be able to perceive their lack of native humanity. But They will also be so much more than Us. Consciousness will have reached a higher plane. And we’ll have augmented ourselves to live beyond our original constraints.

So perhaps Mr Carr is right. Machine Reality will triumph. It is the next stage of evolution.

But if so, then humanity itself will have ceased to exist.

Where there’s a $300k printed hamburger, there’s hope of rebirth.

Nokia-Lumia-820-2It looks like a dead business. It speaks like a dead business. And those who work there say it feels like a dead business. But Nokia may, in fact, be on the cusp of rebirth.

Last Friday the world looked up and nodded as the Woolworth’s of the mobile phone industry released 3D print designs for the body of a current mobile phone, the Lumina 820. Interesting, certainly. But hardly earth-shattering.

Not, at least, until Monday. When we all caught up with the implications.

Nokia says it wants to move away from global to local production. The phone casing is the easiest component to start this journey. However, the rest of the mobile can follow.

And once the economics work out (speculate away as to when that’ll be) whole phones will be built more cheaply in each individual market. And they’ll be a chance to customise for each location.

We know this is the way the world is going. The advent of 3D printing almost makes it a foregone conclusion. So with Nokia apparently out of the blocks first – and with Apple or Samsung rather unlikely to follow any time soon – will this be the idea that saves our favourite ’90s phone-maker?

Well, it’s certainly innovative. And Nokia needs to be that – in spades – to escape its death-spiral.

But…

And this is a big but:

Is this the right kind of innovation from Finland?

Firstly, we don’t know when the economics of local printing will work. And it remains possible that, to a certain extent, they never will. Today, a printed hamburger would set you back $300,000.

Secondly, Nokia’s core issues are not related to its supply chain. What it lacks (or at least did until recently) is a decent smartphone people want to buy.

So it’s quite possible Nokia won’t be around when the local supply chain revolution kicks in.

But why then does the squirmy, excited feeling remain in the pit of our stomachs? Why is this a significant announcement?

Most importantly it shows that 3D printing is being taken seriously by those with enough capital to make a proper impact on the shape of the world. Nokia may be the first to announce such plans. But others – if not the other grown-ups of its own industry – will follow. Perhaps rather shortly?

More emotionally, this is Nokia showing that it can still think different. And have the courage to back a conviction. To mix a couple of clichéd metaphors – its back’s against the wall and that’s put fire in it’s belly.

And that’s a big deal. Many of us still have fond memories of phones that worked. That crashed so little you didn’t think of them as computers. All the while being utterly intuitive to use.

So what else does it have up its sleeve? Is there an advance in the pipeline that’ll steal market share? This felt impossible. Now? We’re not so sure.

And what does this say about the process of innovation? We all know the answer. But it’s still a surprise every time it’s illustrated so vividly:

Invention is born of necessity.

When things are working, you comfortably float on, not fixing it. Because ‘it’ ain’t broke.

Consider Apple. Can’t you just hear them in the boardroom? Those loyal to Jobs are, currently quite politely, reminding the assembled company that they haven’t invented a major new paradigm for three years. And that their lifeblood is inventing major new paradigms. So they’d better get that TV out into the marketplace. Quickly. And in ship-shape fashion.

But the others are feigning attention. Looking at the sales figures and wondering why anyone would be stupid enough to take a risk. Rome burns. They fiddle.

And all of us are guilty of that sometimes. To change our behaviour we need to change our context.

And Nokia’s context was changed. Substantially. Almost overnight. The only question – still mostly unanswered given the rope it has to hang itself – is how it reacts. Like Kodak or Yahoo!? Or like Apple before the iPod? For Apple, let us remind ourselves, was three-quarts dead. With one foot and a half in the grave.

Because if innovation is again taking the lead at Nokia, rumours of the Fin’s death might very well have been exaggerated.

They know better than us that the real local manufacturing revolution is probably a decade away. But they’re thinking long-term. And that has to give you confidence. The terminally ill don’t plan much.

Which, if you want one, is a Reason to Believe again.

But whatever you decide, one thing’s for sure. This soap opera of innovation and technology is highly entertaining. And it’ll keep on rolling.

Ever theorised that Zaphod Beeblebrox would make a better innovator than Brian Cox?

Zaphod_BeeblebroxWhen science goes wrong, horrid consequences can follow.

Last October contaminated steroids, meant to treat backache, sparked an outbreak of fungal meningitis. Forty people have now died. Forty families are without forty family members. And, as we have been reminded, this is just the tip of science’s misdeeds.

Which is why, here at Life on the Edge, we’d be a purely theoretical group of scientists. If we were to follow such a calling. Because you can make massive, startling, stomach-churning, career-questioning errors. And no one gets hurt.

This week, for instance, theoretical science chalked up its biggest-ever mistake – if you measure mistakes as a volume of space. And yet…hardly anyone raised an eyebrow.

It was thought that quasar clusters could weigh-in at a maximum of 1.2 billion light years. Turns out some scientists discovered there’s a 4 billion light year monster in our skies. Which gives them two choices – ditch Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Or revise how big we think the universe is. By an infeasibly large amount.

Guess which they chose? Seemingly without much thought.

So now we’re sitting in a universe that’s one hell of a lot bigger than the one we lived in last week. Does this not strike anyone else as slightly disconcerting? Especially if one remembers what the previous size of the universe was used for in a locked room with Zaphod Beeblebrox.

But actually, the mistake speaks of the fragility of theory. Which, of course, is a good thing. It’s how science works.

But out there in the world of business, where we’re slogging it out, slapping each other round the face with metaphorical wet kippers, we rather suspect that fragility of theory is exactly the opposite of what you need. Innovators become innovators because they’re driven to win at all costs. You have to be so self-possessed with your self-righteousness that you think selling that spare grandmother is entirely justified. Which is exactly why Zaphod survived that locked room.

And which might explain why everyone’s feeling that The Future no longer belongs to Apple. Sure, Steve Jobs was kinda hip, cool and a bit of a father figure to us tech-heads. But we knew of his inner steel, perfectionism and bullying tendencies. Clearly he loved to win. He’d have survived the room, convinced of his significance in a might-as-well-be-infinite universe.

But Jobs is no longer at the helm. And we’re feeling that Google doesn’t really have the chops either – now it’s big and bloated. So it was weird to see them top the list of the world’s most innovative companies. That report’s definitely based on the rusty rearview mirror rather than Brian Cox’s radio telescope of future-gazing. Although perhaps Apple And Google disprove the winning-at-all costs theory?

Because if Dell can start to convince people that they’ll be a radical innovator again, then who knows? Perhaps we can all read this and create the Next Big Thing (NBT).

But what, exactly, is that going to be? Machines adopting human emotions are clearly on the way. But they’re far too far down the line for them to be ‘next’.

At the other extreme, Facebook has tried to position it’s new social search (powered by Bing) as the NBT. Lots of mutters that it was not. Some support for it being so. Yet given we now know that genetics can create social behaviours – in ants at least – perhaps we’re hardwired to start using it in our hundreds of millions?

And as behaviours can be socially infectious as well as inbred, it should be no surprise that environmental movement is finally gathering pace. From a practical, rather than activist, point of view at least. For it has been declared that the clean energy industry is now officially a ‘thing’. Quite a large $1billion thing, in fact.

So maybe saving ourselves is the next NBT. Or maybe it’s liquid metal, the type of which Arnie was made of in Terminator 2. Or maybe it’s libraries without books, the fabric that conducts power like wire and is 100 times stronger than steel or making petrol out of fresh air. Although perhaps not.

A bit further out we’ll certainly start to see NBT technology based on detectors so sensitive you can pick out a single molecule among billions. As well as nanotech that can manipulate heat as easily as light. And then create its own production lines.

But where’s this all heading? Faster-than-light travel turns out to have nothing visually worth looking at and we’re not certain we’d want to visit Nasa’s bouncy castle in space.

So maybe we need to look at the app that might rid teenagers of all that angst or the jeans that’ll moisturise your crotch (if you go commando). We wonder if IBM’s predicted that as a fashion trend yet? And if you make fireflies wear them around their nether-regions will they be able to give further assistance to the future of LED’s?

But if these are imponderables, then a question clearly in need of an urgent answer is this:

Who built the spyware targeting global governments on both sides of the culture divide?

Obviously we won’t be surprised when we find out. Because improbable in the new normal. But it still feels important to unravel – and best not left to the conspiracy theorists.

So with Jobs and Beeblebrox both out of the frame, perhaps we should ask British celebrity physicist Brain Cox.

He might know. Theoretically.

Coming soon: voice-control, holodecks and The Borg

What a week for Star Trek fans. Was the universe conspiring to bring their favourite technologies closer to reality?

First Intel predicted voice-control would be as big as touch within the ‘next few years’. Those of us who have fallen out of love with Siri might find that difficult to believe. But Mooly Elen reckons the world is close to cracking a computer that can be told to drop out of Warp.

Not that this feat would be unique, according to another report. Based on the latest estimates that there are 17 billion Earth-sized worlds out there, Gizmodo crunched the numbers down to ‘reveal’ that 79.9 million alien civilisations might have developed Warp Capability. Science? Hardly. Fiction? Definitely. But thought-provoking nevertheless.

But if we do get meet Warp-Capable-Aliens, it seems we’ll be more Borg than human by that time. As Ramez Naam points out, we’re already a good way down the line with neurotech implants. Next stop, brain-to-brain communication.

We always suspected the Borg were really us, just with funny lumps on the side of the face.

And as we cruise along in our starship, the crew’s entertainment needs will almost certainly be met in a holodeck. Whilst not actually at CES, Microsoft still used the platform to reveal its IllumiRooom, a Kinect-plus-projector combination that turns an entire room into a screen.

Not impressed? Then consider the possibilities for nanoscale antennas that are able to control light. Lifelike holograms suddenly seem achievable.

As does interstellar space travel, once you find out we’re starting to get to grips with Dark Matter. Because we may have even found a new force that affects it. That’s truly significant, given we’d only found four Fundamental Forces in the universe previously. And that’d be a fifth – the only one to interact with the Dark Stuff.

But if that’s too speculative and theoretical for you, you’ll be pleased to know that booking a hotel room in space for 2016 is a practical possibility right now. Sure, it’ll cost close to a million bucks all-in for five nights. But the living quarters are a lot more spacious than you might imagine. Astronauts on the ISS will be looking on in envy.

And even the less well-off will continue to experience new realities.

With all our devices perpetually connected they’re going to start learning what we like. Then they’ll co-operate to predict what we need. Before giving us access to it in the most cost-effective manner. All before we realised something new was available.

And maybe that something will be the latest mobile, controlled by gestures as well as voice. Or some new pharmaceuticals, made effective by a perfect, man-made type of glass. Or a self-adjusting pillow, a ‘Twitter Holiday Butler‘, a screen made of mist, a microwave zapper for garden weeds or a TV that’ll change channels when you give it that special look.

But consider the downsides too. With everything connected your data exhaust fumes will make you as identifiable as your (newly discovered) linguistic fingerprint. So you’ll be pleased to know there’s now a reason for demanding online privacy.

Once-upon a time there was no easy comeback to the assertion that: ‘If you’re doing nothing wrong, there’s nothing to be afraid of. So why would you want privacy?’

TechDirt retorted with the best answer yet:

Everyone has something to hide and usually no one cares. By surveilling everyone, you catch the benign breaches of law and taboo. If the public are all guilty, the executive part of the government can selectively enforce laws, essentially giving them both judicial and legislative power, which defeats the whole point of separation of powers.

Which also means the police will have time to catch the real cyber-criminals. Like the hacker who created a virus and started taunting the Japanese police with a series of riddles in their effort to catch him. His latest was strapped to a cat. The detail of this story reads like a particularly over-the-top Scandinavian crime novel. Perhaps he’s watched The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo a few too many times.

Next, he’ll be hiding messages in Skype packets.

Or perhaps his schadenfreude is driven by a messy break-up. Looks like the science of not being dumped came a few weeks too late for him.

Or perhaps he’s a gadget freak and couldn’t afford to check-out the best of the latest at CES.

But all his posturings could be even more futile than they first seem. Seas may rise a lot higher, a lot quicker – up to 3ft by 2100. And higher seas mean angrier volcanoes.

So let’s hope, in the words of IBM’s free-thinking supercomputer, it’s all ‘bullshit’.

Because recharging batteries as you walk isn’t going to damp down the next Vesuvius.

And if we don’t solve that crisis then the rate at which we get hold of that lovely Star Trek tech might just slow to something less than exponential.

A possibility we’d rather not have to consider.

Hook up your wetware and you won’t be oppressed.

concentro-rackable-data-centerA couple of days ago Life on the Edge was challenged. The Golden Utopia of THE FUTURE may never happen, we were informed. Economics might not work like that.

Having rationalised our way out of that one, (phew, close call) it must be back luck that this then happens: It has been persuasively suggested that our Utopia might actually be a tad oppressive. Not to mention downright scary. Utterly hostile to human existence, in fact.

Writing in Newsweek’s first digital-only magazine Tom Wolfe (author of The Bonfire of the Vanities) pens this disturbing description of visiting a data centre:

“…any human being who entered was engulfed, oppressed, unnerved, spooked out by an overwhelming droning sound and an X-ray-blue fluorescent light that made your skin look posthumous. The droning seemed to create a pressure upon your skull. Sometimes the drone would rise slightly, then lower…and rise…and lower. It made you think this enormous robo-monster was breathing… If you were knowledgeable enough even to be allowed to enter one of these huge server rooms, you knew that most of the droning came from air-conditioning units high as a wall… that ran constantly to keep this concentration of machines from auto-melting because of their own ungodly heat.

“You could know all that, but the robo-monster would ride your head so hard, you would turn anthropomorphic in spite of your superior brain…The robo-monster—it’s breathing…it’s starting to move…it’s got me by the head…it’s thinking with its CPU (Central Processing Unit) mind, thinking in algorithms, sequences of programmed decisions along the lines of “If A261, then G1432, and therefore B5556 or QQ42—” spotting discrepancies, making buy-sell decisions, even deceptive looks-like-a-buy feints to trick competing robo-brains into making foolish calculations. The monster’s human… No, he’s not human…No human brain could possibly think or act as fast, as accurately, as cunningly as a robo-brain.”

Is this what man-machine collaboration is to be like? Are we to be comprehensively bested by the technology?

If you believe, as we do, that Artificial Intelligence will – in the not-too-distant-future – be of a higher order than that of the human brain, then this is a worrying piece of prose.

Forget the Terminator / Matrix scenarios. Perhaps our physical oppression is irrelevant. Are we to be made irrelevant by the machines’ superior abilities? Is this how we become their pets?

Of course, the superior intelligence is likely to cloak itself in a manner friendly to humans. But underneath the veneer – that we will know to be false – how will we feel? Knowing we are second-class citizens?

Alienated and inadequate are two words that come to mind.

So, a note – nay a plea – to future generations. When devising AI please ensure there is a direct interface into the human brain. Use AI to enhance our own consciousness. Provide an API so that we can merge and thereby experience what and how the machines think.

Or else develop the technology so that we dispense with our meat form, download our conscious selves and merge with the AIs.

For we have decided we don’t want to live in a world where machines are more intelligent than us. And where we can’t participate. We just can’t stand the inadequacy.

Of course, such thoughts cannot direct technology. The developments will evolve in the direction of their own logic. Our collective cannot make it otherwise?

Well, perhaps there is reason for optimism. Perhaps we can feel sure that we won’t be second class.

There’s going to be massive demand from humans who wish be absorbed into the AI. Not to be left behind. To think and feel as they do. To be artificially intelligent, operating at the same level. On equal terms. With our own – far extended – wetware as a base.

And if this is indeed a human desire then, once AI arrives, perhaps there will be sufficient forward motion for the next generation of technology to allow humans to cross the divide.

Some will presumably choose not to. But, we suspect, the delicate egos of many will mean they will choose to leave the pure human behind. And become one with AI.

Which we think is a truly mind-blowing idea.

See? Like in any other belief system, ours allows all simple crises of confidence to be rationalised away as well.

So we re-state the position:

The rate of change is increasing. Exponentially. And – on the whole – it’s good.

The bagless inventor’s ancestors won’t be breathing smart dust.

headSo today brings a fundamental challenge to Life on the Edge’s deeply-held worldview. And you’ve already probably guessed how much we genuinely appreciate one of those.

You either get to over-turn your outmoded paradigm. An exciting event all-round. Or you get to reaffirm what you believe to be true.

Either way, that’s a big win.

Today’s challenge comes from Robert J. Gordon at the National Bureau of Economic Research (BNER). In a properly academic paper he asks: ‘Is U.S. economic growth over?’ And he contends that, to all intents and purposes, it probably is.

<Pause to let you inspect the impact crater that may have made in your mind.>

Obviously that conflicts somewhat with LotE’s current view. As we opined less than a few day’s before Christmas, our narrative would have you believe that, with the onset of ever-wider Artificial Intelligence, we’ll move into the fastest period of economic growth ever seen. And that this will continue to accelerate beyond any visible technological event horizon.

On the contrary, says Gordon. We had precious little growth before 1750. There can be no assumption that the rapidity of Twentieth Century development will continue. In fact, all evidence points to a slowdown over the last eight years. And given the challenges the US economy faces – demography; education; inequality; globalisation; energy/environment; and the overhang of debt – the slowdown will continue. With no discernible manner of change.

So what’s a group of semi-sentient apes to think? Well, first things first. We’re talking about the future here. And so we don’t have the data to prove anything. In fact, there is by definition a complete absence of fact. It is a metaphysical, impossible discussion. Necessarily theoretical.

However, we can examine the logic of both arguments.

Gordon’s analysis assumes that the computing revolution has effectively run it’s course – at least in terms of its ability to make us more efficient and increase our output. It kicked off around 1960 and gave us a growth spurt between 1996 and 2004.

Exact empirical validation aside, we’d have little quibble with this.

What we would challenge is Gordon’s apparent view of the future.

Borrowing heavily from the thoughts of Robin Hanson’s Big History analysis, we would argue that the initial computing revolution is merely the fag-end of the manufacturing revolution.

Up until recently we only had narrow-AI machines that were capable of following narrow sets of rules to create narrow sets of outcomes within highly constrained environments.

Even super-computers could be described in these terms.

The move to wider-AI is coming as computers begin to solve much more complex problems. Machines are now capable of following complex sets of rules to create broad sets of outcomes within less constrained environments.

Self-driving cars, for instance.

Start networking wider-AI devices together and collectively they could start taking all sorts of decisions. Add in Big Data with some analysis tools and they might even get creative.

How much more productive will that be? How much more labour (will that still be the right word?) will it inject into the economy? The same amount, as Gordon rightly points out, that was introduced through women joining the workforce in the 20th century? Or considerably more?

So if we accept that wide-AI is on its way, it seems reasonable to expect this to have a fundamental effect on growth rates globally.

Gordon’s analysis is based on this not being the case. On the computing revolution being spent.

And therein lies your choice. Is the rate of change accelerating exponentially?

We think that the very existence of this blog implies that it is. We exist therefore it is, if you will.

Taken from today’s daily news, here’s a list of some things humanity knows how to do now that it didn’t know only a short while before:

1. Using helium instead of air in hard drives could make them significantly more efficient;
2. You can now take a bath with your phone and expect it to survive;
3. It’s possible, with existing technologies, to launch a PC-on-a-HDMI-stick and make computing even more portable than ever;
4. Budding Han Solos will be pleased that laser weapons are a reality (we’re aware of the dubious mortality of that statement, btw – no more emails please); and
5. Scientists think that slimy, ocean-dwelling bacteria and their use of quantum physics will help develop more efficient solar power.

But most compelling of all Google is spending heavily on a piece of wider-AI, an agent that will help search out everything you’re interested in and deliver updates as-and-when they are available in the manner most convenient to you.

That line of enquiry sounds growth-generating to us. Imagine what one could achieve if new information were available the moment it was released without the need to look for it. What if other machines could also do something useful with it?

So on balance, our worldview appears to be reaffirmed. But what it does remind us is that any view of the future is only that – a view. And there may be other reasons why we’ve got it all horribly, desperately wrong.

Because today we were also reminded that those far mightier and much cleverer than us are sometimes spectacularly misguided.

Today Sir James Dyson, inventor of the bag less vacuum cleaner, denounced the government’s obsession with ‘Silicon Roundabout’ and for valuing ‘the glamour of web fads’ over ‘more tangible technology’ to boost export revenues.

We’ll leave you to draw your own detailed conclusions. But was it telling that Sir James chose to talk to The Radio Times?

We were depressed that such a great mind appears to have disappeared up its own suction pipe. So if you need cheering up as another of your heroes bites the proverbial, just remember that one day your ancestors may breathe in smart dust and exhale pure data.

Goodness knows what Dyson’s and Gordon’s children’s children’s children will be up to though.