Will technology save us
Only technology can still save us the A ...!
The headline is provocative, but easy to justify: Humans are creatures of habit. It is incredibly difficult for him to change his behavior. For example, not even the dystopian news about climate change have been able to convince us to change our own behavior, although the scientifically well-established facts should panic us long ago. The CO2-emissive driving is still ok anyway, vacation, eat, live, work - everything continues as usual.
Corona also showed us that. We know the facts and yet many of us find it difficult to adapt to our normal lives. Yes, it really hurts us. Some succeed in seeing advantages in changing behavior, adapting and still acting successfully. But that's the minority.
We only fundamentally change our behavior if we are severely personally affected or even threatened with sanctions. What we do not feel directly ourselves, what does not really hurt us, we suppress. We may recognize a threat, complain about it and discuss it in many different ways. But seeing ourselves as the cause is incredibly difficult for Homo Sapiens Sapiens (exceptions confirm the rule). Incidentally, the author himself too.
For this reason, too, we have to rely on innovation and high-tech in order to master the upcoming challenges.
The fear race
As a technologist, I've had to read dystopian articles on digitization and deep tech for decades, almost every day. How much we are threatened by ad cookies (lol), how AI will make us unemployed and how data technologies first usurp market and then world domination.
Often this fear is irrational or fed more by Hollywood films and horror frames that are constantly repeated in the media, rather than real threats. For example, we have been experiencing rapid progress in the development of artificial intelligence for a few years now. The trained pessimists say: For heaven's sake, when this artificial intelligence becomes more intelligent than us humans, it will want to subdue us or destroy us. The optimists say: Great, because we have an infinite number of almost unsolvable and highly complex problems. A superior, intelligent AI will help us to solve this. And a realist will say: let's make sure that this technology is used in the interests of humanity. Because should she ever be able to do what she's promising now, it was worth it.
3 examples where technology will fundamentally help mankind.
Take climate change and CO2-Problem. The Californian TAE Technologies wants to make the principle of nuclear fusion ready for the market in less than ten years. Incidentally, the CEO of this company is Michl Binderbauer from Salzburg. The principle of safe nuclear fusion, which can produce an enormous amount of energy, has been researched across the globe for decades. But almost two years ago, thanks to complex AI algorithms, a decisive breakthrough came. Power plant reactors that operate with plasma at temperatures of over 100 million degrees are expected to come onto the market in the next ten years. Once a fusion has been achieved, it could work for an unbelievably long time, which would produce high levels of heat permanently and then drive turbines to generate electricity via steam. A principle that we have been using for a long time. If we were to make the switch to electric mobility globally and to a sufficiently high degree, it could be a form of technology that would help us quench the then prevailing thirst for electric vehicles.
TerraPower, a Washington State company in which Bill Gates has a stake, sounds similar to the layman. This company will soon announce marketable and affordable mini-reactors, which can also be operated with the abundant nuclear waste (depleted uranium). The market entry is planned in 5 years. A fuel rod for a house power plant is currently (in laboratory tests) about the size of a pin and may last for several decades. A major difference to other technology approaches is the size of this “house nuclear power plant”, which weighs just 20 kg. With this technology, too, the breakthrough came with the use of AI, made possible by a state research funding program. Machine learning is used to correctly analyze the huge amounts of data from the reactor, or patterns in it, in order to then make the best decisions for safe operation.
A third and also highly topical example of how the latest innovations will soon help mankind enormously comes from medicine. The platform technology mRNA, which enabled us to inoculate a vaccine against Covid-19 in a very short time, will soon also be used against cancer. Among other things, the founders of BioNTech are also working on a vaccine that teaches the immune system to attack malignant tumors (cancer), even if they are camouflaged.
Since the breakthrough with Corona, there has been a spirit of optimism in the mRNA community. One now wants to use the progress made against cancer. Numerous studies are already underway for mRNA vaccines against lung, skin and prostate cancer, and the first vaccines are expected to be on the market in just five years. MRNA could also bring a first real breakthrough in numerous autoimmune diseases.
You might be wondering what this medical product has to do with digital technology or AI. And the answer is, very much too. As with the other examples above, complex algorithms played a key role in the breakthrough. The aforementioned BioNTech, for example, has founded its own “AI Innovation Lab” with the London-based InstaDeep. It has understood that its goals can only be achieved with the latest AI and machine learning.
Why our technology optimism pays off
My first boss, a founder of what is now a multi-billion dollar system house, once said to me: As a self-confident and clever boss, you are looking for employees who are more intelligent and talented than you are. You are not afraid that they will replace you at some point, but look in give them the chance to be even more successful together.
The same principle applies to me today when it comes to technology. Digital high technology could in some cases become threatening and we have to be careful that it is developed in a “human-centered” manner. But it is and remains our only real chance to guarantee our descendants a quality life in an intact world. And for this goal we can all need artificial intelligence in the world, even if, or especially if, it is even a little superior to us!
To the author
Mic Hirschbrich is CEO of the AI company Apollo.AI, advised leading politicians on digital issues and headed Sebastian Kurz's digital think tank. His professional stays in Southeast Asia, India and the USA have had a lasting impact on him and have made him want to constantly expand his own perspective. In 2018, Hirschbrich published the book “Brave New World 4.0 - Opportunities and Risks of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, in which, among other things, he deals with the socio-political implications of artificial intelligence.
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