ALS Topic 19 - How real is the 4th Industrial Revolution to you?

Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, 13 October 2018
Venue: · Adelaide
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Note: About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding.


Focus Questions

Background: The 1st Industrial Revolution (England, 18th Century) took people off the land and put them into factories run by steam engines. The second Industrial Revolution (1870-1914) brought sophisticated engineering, gas, water & sewerage systems, electricity, the telegraph, the first mass production lines, and globalization (the planetary movement of goods, ideas and people). The Third Industrial Revolution (starting 1980s) brought the change from analogue & mechanical devices to digital technology: computers, the Internet etc. The Fourth Industrial Revolution embeds technology within societies & human bodies in new ways: robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, The Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing and autonomous vehicles etc. 4IR is surrounding us, but is not fully in public awareness.

1. 20% of prisoners in some American states get bail or parole decided by a computer algorithm. It predicts the likelihood of re-offence 30% better than judges. Nobody, including programmers, knows how such algorithms actually arrive at their decisions. Would you prefer to be jailed (or not) by an algorithm? What could go wrong with this?

2. There are now artificial intelligence programs to select candidates for jobs. Nobody really knows how the algorithms arrive at their decisions. Would you be comfortable having your application decided like this? Why or why not?

3. More and more choices of increasing importance are being decided by AI algorithms in government departments and large businesses. The algorithms are 'black boxes' - nobody knows how they decide. What do you think the outcomes of this kind of algorithmic takeover of human decisions are likely to be?

4. Almost all AI algorithms are proprietary - protected by copyright secrecy laws - so their decisions cannot be independently assessed, even by experts. What sort of protections do you think are needed to guard us against machine decisions gone wrong?

5. Complex goods like cars and computers all combine components from many different countries (uh, Trump doesn't understand this..). However many items can now be created locally by 3D printing. For example, Adidas is going to mass produce 3D printed shoes. A company in China 3D printed 10 one storey homes in 24 hours. This kind of technology a) eliminates most workers; b) can be set up in any country fairly cheaply. What effect do you think this will have on our societies and trade patterns?

6. Nano technology has the power to totally change our environment and lives. It could also get out of control. For example there are nano engines now a fraction of the width of a human hair. Swarms of those could go roaming inside our bodies, for good or ill. What sort of applications and risks do you think might emerge for nano technology?

7. Limitless energy is technically within reach now. It just requires sufficient investment and cooperation. Countries with vast oil reserves have often experienced negative cultural effects. Limitless anything is usually bad for the human psych. What do you think will happen when there are no constraints on the use of energy?

8. Converging technologies are making it possible to manipulate biology in many ways. Food can be created artificially. Animals can increasingly be modified to satisfy 'market' demands. Humans themselves will enjoy individualized medicine, but also be modified in more and more ways. These changes are lapping at our feet already. How far are you prepared personally to participate in such modified biology, as a consumer and as a remade creature?

9. You phone camera or TV can watch you, even if you turn them off. Your washing machine can listen to you. One outcome of converging technologies is that 'security' is no longer about your security (if it ever was). You may remain safely unnoticed in the crowd, but when push comes to shove, only organizations have secrets. You have none. Have you adapted in any way to being totally exposed? Do you plan to?

10. Many workplaces are about to change drastically. An agent of change where physical things are involved is the cobot. Cobots are robots designed to work side by side with humans. They are small, mobile and teachable, with built-in "don't harm humans" features. Current versions appeared about 2015, an cost an average of US$24,000. What are some employment sites in Adelaide where you could put a cobot to work?

11. The first three Industrial Revolutions led to incredible cultural and social changes. These revolutions also magnified the evil and stupidity that humans are capable of. For example we had ravaging world wars. So where will the 4th Industrial Revolution take us as a species, and more personally, how will our grandchildren relate to us in 50 year's time?


Comments & Extra Reading


"Love in the time of AI" Oscar Schwartz, The Guardian (29 September 2018) @

Matthew Chin (August 02, 2018) "UCLA engineers develop artificial intelligence device that identifies objects at the speed of light". UCLA Newsroom @  [fascinating article with some almost scary implications. These things can be made by a 3D printer for less than US$50]

Cathy O'Neil "Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy". Published by Crown, 2016. ebook & paper book formats. @ Amazon  - Why this book for this topic of the human herd? Big data is not about individual differences, but about grouping you and everything else into patterns of "predictable" mass tendency based on past occurrences. O'Neil who is a data mathematician shows, chillingly, how your life opportunities are shaped without your knowledge according to machine predictions which are repeatedly wrong. The data models are opaque, proprietary, and rarely changed. Nobody, including the programmers, understands how decisions are arrived at. These models control whether you get a job, get into university, get a loan, stay out of jail, get the health care you need ... and thousands of other issues. You are being managed as part of a herd, unless you are rich and can buy individual attention ....

"Industry 4.0" Wikipedia @

Daniel Oberhaus (March 29 2017) "The Fourth Industrial Revolution could bring mass global unemployment" The Ouline website @

Felicity Caldwell (April 27 2017) "Robots will wipe out backpacker jobs within five years: Campbell Newman" Brisbane Times @

"The meaning of life in a world without work - As technology renders jobs obsolete, what will keep us busy?" Yuval Noah Harari examines ‘the useless class’ and a new quest for purpose" The Guardian @

Christopher Knaus (3 October 2017) "Who should die when a driverless car crashes? Q&A ponders the future" The Guardian @

Olivia Solon (23 December 2016) "World’s largest hedge fund to replace managers with artificial intelligence" The Guardian @

Klaus Schwab "The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond" World Economic Forum @

Angela Monaghan (16 July 2018) "Global workforce will be decimated by fourth revolution, says Siemens boss" The Guardian @

Science Daily (September 27, 2018) "How swarms of nanomachines could improve the efficiency of any machine" University of Luxembourg @

Science Daily (September 27, 2018) "Sugar-powered sensor developed to detect, prevent disease - Cell runs on glucose from body fluids" Washington State University @

Shelly Fan (19 February 2017) "This One-Cent Lab-on-a-Chip Can Diagnose Cancer and Infections" Singularity Hub website @

Australian Associated Press (18 Jun 2018) The Sydney biohacker who fell foul of the law when he implanted a NSW travel card chip into his arm says “cyborg justice has been served” after a court overturned his conviction" @

Peter Burrows (October 2016) "The future is ear: Why “hearables” are finally tech’s next big thing The explosive growth of their AI voice assistants has Google, Apple, and Amazon racing to put your entire smartphone in an earpiece". Fast Company website @

Robin McKie (6 May 2018 ) "No death and an enhanced life: Is the future transhuman?" The Guardian @

Tamara Avellán (March 22, 2017) "The world needs more toilets – but not ones that flush - A third of the world’s population still lacks access to proper sanitation facilities, but if people do get them water and sanitation problems will arise". Asia Times @

Benjamin Haas (4 April 2017) "Chinese man 'marries' robot he built himself" The Guardian @

Cynthia Karena (12 August 2017) "How 3D scanners are democratising reality capture". Brisbane Times @

Emma Thomasson and Aleksandra Michalska (APRIL 7, 2017 ) "Adidas to mass-produce 3D-printed shoe with Silicon Valley start-up" Reuters @

Hu Dongmei and Zhang Xiaomin (24 July 2018) "First 10,000-ton-level casting 3D printing smart factory goes into operation in Yinchuan" China Daily @

Aaron Frank (Feb 03, 2017) "The Surprisingly Simple Invention That Allows Robots to Make Clothes" Singularity Hub website @

Benedict Evans (June 22, 2018) "Ways to think about machine learning" Blog @

David Wroe (2 July 2018) "Top cyber spy warns against dependence on artificial intelligence we don't understand" Brisbane Times @

Thomas Wilson (October 27, 2017) "We’ll All Be Relying on Congo to Power Our Electric Cars" Bloomberg @

Asia Times (25 July 2018) "China’s ‘brain-boosting’ helmets to give some a head start - Scientists put their thinking caps on and came up with headwear that boosts the memory and makes you feel less stressed. It may be a lucrative" @

Adam Piore (November 30, 2017) "The Surgeon Who Wants to Connect You to the Internet with a Brain Implant - Eric Leuthardt believes that in the near future we will allow doctors to insert electrodes into our brains so we can communicate directly with computers and each other". Technology Review @

Esther Han (10 June 2018) "This humble Australian bee is helping to disrupt the plastics industry" Brisbane Times @

U Tejonmayam (Jan 19, 2017) "Cow’s urine can help clean air" Times of India @

ian beutler - i would do better to trust even a commercial adventurer like Elon M. than i'd trust my life to any machine. I even think i'd like a cup of coffee with him. BUT!, - as for marrying a robot.. well.. one could do worse...? & Trust those Hindus to find a purpose for cow-pee..

reply - Thor May - You trust your life to a machine every time you get in a car or turn on a light switch. Computers fly any plane you board (pilots are mostly decoration). Go near any hospital and life & death decisions will be made about you by an algorithm...

ian beutler - in the absolute sense of crse u are correct, Thor. I ws meaning in the general, broadest sense. we are all trapped in the absolute sense. it's a matter of, to use that weird term, "harm-minimisation" - but to which I'd like to add "äs-much-as-poss-in-practice.." I like that ref. to bees above! Ppl. are getting too alienated fr. Nature! Talk ab. a truly hellish jungle! & Too many humans are becoming something less than!

Thor May - The first “social network” of brains lets three people transmit thoughts to each other’s heads
Emerging Technology from the arXiv (September 29, 2018) MIT Technology Review @

Brant Cumming (18 September 2018) "Social credit is like a personal scorecard for each of China’s 1.4 billion citizens. In one pilot program already in place, each citizen has been assigned a score out of 800. In other programs it’s 900. Those, like Dandan, with top “citizen scores” get VIP treatment at hotels and airports, cheap loans and a fast track to the best universities and jobs... Those at the bottom can be locked out of society and banned from travel, or barred from getting credit or government jobs." Australian Broadcasting Commission @

Ian Burrows (6 October 2018) "Made in China 2025: Xi Jinping's plan to turn China into the AI world leader". Australian Broadcasting Commission @

Thor May - Cal Newport (October 3rd, 2018) "On the Law of Diminishing Specialization - technology made it possible for managers and professionals to tackle administrative tasks that used to require dedicated support staff... The negative impact was that it reduced the ability of managers and professionals to spend concentrated time working on the things they did best... [Example from comments: "This is very definitely at work in the medical field. Electronic medical records (EMRs) have turned physicians into data and order entry clerks. They now spend significant portions of their time serving the EMR master." Cal Newport blog @

Thor May - "4th Industrial Revolution" obviously has soundbite promo' value for politicians. Here is an article that says absolutely zero about the 4th Industrial Revolution: David Crowe (7 October 2018) "The 'fourth industrial revolution' will change the world: Julie Bishop". Brisbane Times @

ian beutler - looks like u've had fun with this one, Thor.. even to scratching the bottom of the barrel...(??).. any more? heh.. anyway .. TODAY is the proverbial "HARVEST TIME" (Matt. 13 30 et sequ).. and when the chickens come home to roost.. (nice mixed metaphors

Sarah Dai (08 October, 2018) "AI promises jobs revolution but first it needs old-fashioned manual labour – from China" South China Morning Post [Hong Kong] @

ian beutler - well.. i ws never made fr that.. but i'm quite sure the workers are grateful..

Siddharth Samarth - I am more accepting of AI from the point of view that personally, I do not have the competence, ability and strength to stop this change from arriving. However, I am anxious and nervous as to what this technology/way of decision making brings to my life. I see a few people with knowledge of this stuff decide for billions and billions of humanity. I see governments hiding behind AI to wash their hands off accountability, transparency and public service in the name of "smart government". The choice and ability of common citizens are increasingly being standardized. The data generated by everyday bloke is being used against them, while someone makes hay. It is the old peasantry, worker toiling on land owned by the landlord, produce stuff, and landlord takes home everything.

Thor May - Siddharth, it is the eternal contest amongst human types played out in a new arena. With a few exceptions, the traditional money-power elites aren't that bright with AI technology themselves. Initially they may hire the services of the technologically savvy, just as they seduced the managerial class. However I suspect that the techies as a group may in the end be harder to buy than managers, and turn their skills to subverting tyranny. For example, see the writer of "Weapons of Math Destruction" above. Interesting times.

ian beutler - ..that is a most sociably equitable remark, in which sentiments i share. it seems to me that only an uprising of, not the proletariat, but the commentariat, must prevail. I've been working for this for a long time now, but so far there is not a sufficient number awakening to it all.... yet.

Siddharth, In 1973 the phenomenon of re-combining DNA /Molecular cloning was realised, the advantages to this technology was considered overwhelmingly beneficial to humans but it was deemed the misuse of this technology could be as equally damaging, Ethicists speculated on difficulties that might arise in a world where human clones exist. The American Association for the Advancement of Science and other scientific organisations made public statements suggesting that human cloning be banned, in short guidelines were enforced... initiated by the concerns of those that hold to their humanity and as to how this technology could proceed, to this date we gain the benefits of this technology without the devastation of misuse.

Siddharth Samarth - I don't deny the possibility of benefits to humanity. I accept there are positives to be harvested. I am saying I would like to see empowerment of everyday folks to protect themselves from excesses of the state and the tech companies. Data warehousing is a monopoly, and like any monopoly, they have concentration of power, and exposure to corrupt influences. Too much power in the hands of too few. Also, it is too much one way. Why don't citizens get access to granular data of their elected representatives and oligarchs? I argue that there should be a level playing field. It is a challenge for experts to design a solution that gives equal power in the hands of citizens. I am afraid it is looking very Orwellian for now, if you look at what is happening in India and China

Sue C - The 4th Industrial revolution will not only change what we do, it will change what we are, many believe it will be the end of humanity....blurring the lines of what is natural and what is enhanced, Intelligence is a computational process that is formulated inside a language that can be transformed to the logic of a computer, and as we have observed this intelligence is limitless, but chips of silicone do not share human values or have sympathies for the human race,..... and yet we have no guidelines,,,,,,WOW?? there are many that have concerns, and there is no-one so small they cannot contribute to the future of humanity... empower yourself with knowledge and be persistant

ian beutler - i managed the environment info. centre for ten yrs fr. 1972. it ws. set up even be4 the govt. set up their dept "for" [=destroying] it.. we were smashed by the invincible pwr. of mass-human- ignorance... questions most welcome... haha.. esp. from commies..(coffcoff)

Thor May - For just US$199 you can invite the world to automatically track you in your bedroom. Interested? Alex Hern (9 October 2018) "Facebook Portal smart screen to launch amid concerns over privacy". The Guardian @

ian beutler - ohh.. i'm so glad i'm wearing my tin-foil hat quite regularly these days...

Thor May - Julie Power (8 October 2018) "Candid camera: What drivers are really doing behind the wheel" Brisbane Times @  - there are some risks, probably a lot of risks, that AI is going to save dumb humans from. For example, AI in autonomous vehicles. The trouble is, without risk people become ever more careless, and ever more self-righteous where a failure when it happens is someone/something else's fault. [postcript on accidents: working in China in 1998 I learned that the DAILY road death rate there was 640, with 42,000 daily casualties. A war zone. Maybe things have improved (?)]

ian beutler - where 'd we be without optimists like you, Thor?

Thor May - The dark side(s) of AI: Artificial intelligence and its enabling technology is multiplying the ability of anonymous government operatives to monitor the lives of ordinary people. This is euphemistically called 'security' (not yours or mine). In 2013 Edward Snowden revealed that America's National Intelligence Agency was basically tracking everyone's phone calls. This has not stopped. Other national governments have been eager to imitate. We know about the Russians. Also the Chinese. The bulk of computer hardware comes from China. It seems they have been hardwiring back doors into server motherboards: Peter Hartcher (8 October 2018) "'Stealth doorway': China's stunning server hack shows its true hand" Brisbane Times @  [.. and on my latest cheap(er) phone from China I had to remove and replace the operating system to get rid of the bloody spyware... ]

ian beutler - khakhaa.. (filthy guffaws, &[pretend] apologies). i've thought on this a while, Thor. Wht we gotta do is enlist the essential HUMANITY!.. that is at the ROOT of ALL we do!

Thor May - The veracity of the claim for actual motherboard hacks claimed has been hotly denied by IT majors like Apple, as well as Western security agencies. Of course the IT majors would face devastating financial class actions if it were true. If not true and a false flag operation, it would also look pretty dumb unless you were somebody like Putin playing a game of havoc. For the tech counter arguments, see

Reply... ian beutler - glossed this, Thor, & get the general idea.
the sufis have an interesting saying: sometimes, even the most crooked jeweller may sell the genuine stone. i think bloomberg thought they were pretty safe. isn't it called kite-flying, like our polis often do?

Thor May - It is basic research which has made innovation and hence the 4th Industrial Revolution possible. It is in the nature of such research that there are always many false starts, sometimes lasting decades (my own earlier research involved some of this). Such stuff doesn't get media or public attention, and is typically considered 'a waste of money'. Now we are at a point where some actionable results can be obtained from AI research. This does get attention, and in the language of money, involves company startups. Many, many of these will fail, some will soar. General public psychology in Australia is poorly adapted to both the basic research, and to the high risks of business startups. Here is some proof: Alan Boyd, Sydney (October 9) "East vs West in a race for AI supremacy". Asia Times @  . You will see that the rank of Australia (27 AI startups) is very poor. Yet tiny Israel with only 8.4 million people has an extraordinary 362 AI startups. America has 1393 AI startups, and China (PRC) has 383 AI startups. (An important point in the referenced article is that Asian AI startups are creating future problems for themselves by refusing to participate in global agreements for setting standards).

ian beutler - can i suggest that for aust that many is extraordinarily good?.. even gives me some hope..

ABC (12 October 2018) "In an unnerving move bringing us one step closer to Black Mirror's dystopian world, engineering and robotics design firm Boston Dynamics has introduced its Atlas robot to parkour." [includes a scary video] Australian Broadcasting Commission @

Thor May - 12 October 2018 - Human societies are the human body writ large. We have about 32 trillion human cells, a scaffolding of little animals compelled to cooperate. But the other 58% of our presence is a vast army of hangers-on: bacteria, viruses, fungii, and god knows what else. We've gotten to the point where we can't live without a lot of this mob. They control our digestion, they manage the flood of chemicasl that flood our brains, they rush into every corner of the cheap hotel which is us. Armies of them mount defences and attack invaders. They work with our built-in immune system to keep us working. Other armies of them are trying to kick down the doors and break the windows. Our body is a turbulent presence. And when you look at those rickety constructions which are human societies you see a ghostly imitation of what is happening inside of us. When it comes to ants and honey bees, they have externalized the internal much more thoroughly than we have. So how far do we want to go down this path of being one monstrous social organism? How much help do we want from technology to go in this direction?

Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


How real is the 4th Industrial Revolution to you? (c) Thor May 2018 return to Ddiscussion