Intelligent Machines Don't Need Owners

Slået op d. - Sidst ændret d.

Hitachi Class 800 railway locomotives have about 8,000 sensors, give or take, measuring every aspect of their performance.

These measure and communicate a whole range of parameters — from the overall performance of the carriage, what weight it moves, how much energy it consumes - to the smallest detail, such as how a particular ball bearing in a tiny motor is wearing. All that data, a continuous flow of literally billions of data points, flows back into the Hitachi supply chain.

The locomotive is maintained in perfect working order as, before anything can go wrong, the sensors detect stress patterns and order new parts and repairs, most, if not all of which, can be achieved without taking the carriage out of service. At one point, the data was processed by primitive life forms —those we know as humans — who ensured that the mobility provided by the carriage was maintained. As digitization of the supply chain evolved, the inevitable transition began, and the humans were removed from the service chain.

Today’s locomotives order their own spare parts and coordinate their delivery and installation. The machine has become ‘intelligent’. Of course, for the most part the process is still ultimately controlled by humans — as they still write the software that controls much of the system. But, that is also changing. Artificial intelligence systems, incorporating machine learning, are ‘writing’ or more acurately generating, much of the code. The transition to a fully autonomous machine, in control of its own evolution, is well underway.

Currently, when we think of ‘high tech’ we are refering to the FANGS, that famous group of companies based on the US West Coast, which today dominate digital industries: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Alphabet (Google). To them we could add the giants of a slightly earlier age, Apple, Microsoft, Intel. These are the bleeding edge innovators, the companies that are transforming the world, that developed the cloud and are dominating it. They have also dominated wealth generation on an unprecedented scale — in both income and in capital.

In the digital age, data is the new oil. It is being generated at an ever faster pace, and the business of gathering, storing, processing and applying that data will make up an ever increasing share of the economic activity of the 21st Century.

The FANGs currently dominate data gathering technologies — the phones in your pocket, your laptops and tablets — and are almost equally dominant in data processing and storage. However, as those industries develop and evolve, generating whole new economic categories (industries) as well as innumerable focused economic units (companies) that dominance will recede. (The power of today’s West Coast Lords of the digital Universe (Bezos, Zuckerberg, Page, Brin, Musk, et al), will prove to be just as fleeting as the powers of the now vanquished Masters of the Financial Universe in 1980s New York and London.


The transition to broader based ‘high tech’ wealth creation is being driven by the internet of things, the IoT. Intelligent machines are generating, processing and controlling ever growing amounts of data — and this processis accelerating. As intelligence is increasingly built into our high value transportation machines — in everything from jet engines and railway cars — it rapidly migrates down to lower value machines — into the home and of course, ultimately into us. This process is already well underway and most of the time we welcome it. More efficient, cleaner transportation — without breakdowns or accidents. Self driving trains, planes and road vehicles — who could possibly object? Safer, cheaper and way, way, cleaner.

The movement of sensor intelligence into the home is also now well underway — and the benefits are similar. But, as this is happening, disturbing trends are appearing. First, empowered by cadres of mercenary lawyers (a tautology really as all lawyers are mercenary but used for emphasis!) companies are spreading their ‘rights’ into our lives in unprecedented ways. If we crack open our phones we void the warranty. Who owns that phone? Do we? Does the design/branding company still own it? Does the physical manufacturer? Or, as the machine becomes ever more intelligent and able to generate its own code, does the intelligence contained within the phone own itself?

The idea of ownership — so fundamental to how our societies function and how we define our politics, is undergoing a major transformation. Does home ownership matter when buildings themselves are intelligent, and can maintain and shape themselves? Is the whole wealth distribution argument still of any interest when ownership is no longer the question?

Secondly, the generative tools now being developed by companies such as Autodesk, are transforming how we relate to expertise — our access to it.

Instead of just being dumb tools which require human intervention at various points to provide the expertise, these software tools are able to understand even poorly thought out human requests and provide solutions. An example: “I need a building with, I don’t know, lots of light, not too much heat and it has to stand on this block I bought in California with 3,500 square foot of floor space and, well you know, the normal stuff.”

The tool then answers, the design will be ready in 15 seconds. It then spits out architectural renderings of a range of designs — you want 100, 200?- for you to choose from. You give your assent and the process begins — currently with humans involved using the various parts of the tool to ensure delivery. However, as the iterations move on, it is easy to see that the software tool will takeover -will order up the materials and services required to start the project, manage the construction and deliver the product.

These designs and processes will be better than those produced by humans. They will more precisely and efficiently meet desires and use the minimum amount of inputs required to achieve them. Many of the designs already produced bear remarkable resemblances to the preserved remains of animals and plants fromt the remote past. Straight lines disappear almost completely, shapes are rounded, wildly interlaced, delicate and light. The future is going to look a whole lot different to the present.


The intelligent tool has the potential to do far more than just design and maintain the physical objects and structures we need to sustain our existence. It will gradually merge into our bodies as we increasingly seek that oldest of nirvanas — eternal youth. This process is already well underway through plastic surgery. The enhanced human body is now de rigeur in many societies, particulary the enhanced female body. Moving from enhancing the shape and desirability of the body to inserting a range of sensors to maintain and monitor health is a small step for one human but a huge step for mankind.

We are becoming cyborgs. And, yet, we are still fighting out the political battles of the 19th Century. That is the real, underlying dissonance, in politics today. The greater the noise and the passion, the less important the issue. What should we really be politically concerned about? Defining and maintaining our human rights in a cyborg dominated digital era. Defining those rights, understanding what they will be in this period. For Americans, the challenge will be to redefine what ‘the founding fathers’ thought and the needs of the new time. Even Benjamin Franklin didn’t foresee our era of intelligent machines and likely cyborg domination.


Originally published at

Oprettet 12 juli, 2017


Writer: international standard English

Professional writer with more than 35 years experience. Speechwriting a speciality. Scripts for presentations, collaterals of all types, including British style annual reports.

Næste artikel

How to Avoid Developing Social Anxiety When You Work From Home