Fourteen years later, the drone is the quintessential weapon of the American military, which now boasts roughly a thousand Predator pilots. At any given moment, scores of them sit in darkened trailers around the country, staring at the bright infrared camera feeds from drones that might be flying over Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, or Somalia. Between August 2014 and August 2015, a single Predator squadron—the 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing in Nevada—flew 4,300 sorties and dropped 1,000 warheads on ISIS targets. By enabling the White House to intervene without committing troops to battle, the drone has transformed US foreign policy. ... The Predator as we know it—with its capacity to be piloted from thousands of miles away and its complement of Hellfire missiles—wasn’t developed with the expectation that entire wars might one day be fought by pilots sitting in trailers. As a matter of fact, most military planners at the time regarded the Predator as pretty much a technological dead end. ... The lethal Predator wasn’t a production vehicle. It was a hot rod, built for one all-out race against the clock. Of course, in those months before September 11, 2001, none of its designers knew the nature of the clock they were racing against. And most Americans have no idea quite how close they came to beating it.
Digital capabilities, adoption, and usage are evolving at a supercharged pace. While most users scramble just to keep up with the relentless rate of innovation, the sectors, companies, and individuals on the digital frontier continue to push the boundaries of technology use—and to capture disproportionate gains as a result. ... The pronounced gap between the digital “haves” and “have-mores” is a major factor shaping competition at all levels of the economy. The companies leading the charge are winning the battle for market share and profit growth; some are reshaping entire industries to their own advantage. Workers with the most sophisticated digital skills are in such high demand that they command wages far above the national average. Meanwhile, there is a growing opportunity cost for the organizations and individuals that fall behind. ... provide a comprehensive picture of where and how companies are building digital assets, expanding digital usage, and creating a more digital workforce. ... also quantifies the considerable gap between the most digitized sectors and the rest of the economy over time and finds that despite a massive rush of adoption, most sectors have barely closed that gap over the past decade. ... Digitization is changing the dynamics in many industries. New markets are proliferating, value chains are breaking up, and profit pools are shifting. Businesses that rely too heavily on a single revenue stream or on playing an intermediary role in a given market are particularly vulnerable. In some markets, there is a winner-take-all effect. For companies, this is a wake-up call to use their digital transformation to reinvent every process with a fresh focus on the customer.
The tech for surgeons to operate on patients from hundreds or even thousands of miles away has been possible for over a decade. But will it ever become commonplace? ... real benefits, though, are for the patient. Thin, dexterous tools are precise over a large range of motion. For example, Tewari used the forceps to tie a series of knots with thin string to suture up his incisions, which makes it easier for surgeons to spare healthy tissue when cutting out an unwanted mass. Tewari says that at his hospital, the use of robots has cut the recovery time for prostate surgery from four days to just one or two. No surprise, then, that robotic procedures are more popular than ever. In 2010, 86 percent of prostatectomies were done with robots, and they are used to operate on hearts, kidneys, gallbladders, and ovaries. In 2012, 450,000 operations were done with robots, according to the Wall Street Journal. ... Some optimistic experts says it's only a matter of time until researchers fix the technical challenges that prevent doctors from operating from another state or country. But from cyber security to connection speeds to legal gray areas, there are a host of potential problems with remote surgery. Under the wrong conditions or in the wrong hands, surgical tools can do more harm than good. ... researchers found that the surgeons didn't notice if the lag time was less than 250 milliseconds. Higher than that, though, and their performance suffered no matter their level of surgical experience
Immune Engineering: Genetically engineered immune cells are saving the lives of cancer patients. That may be just the start.
Precise Gene Editing in Plants: CRISPR offers an easy, exact way to alter genes to create traits such as disease resistance and drought tolerance.
Conversational Interfaces: Powerful speech technology from China’s leading Internet company makes it much easier to use a smartphone.
Reusable Rockets: Rockets typically are destroyed on their maiden voyage. But now they can make an upright landing and be refueled for another trip, setting the stage for a new era in spaceflight.
Robots That Teach Each Other: What if robots could figure out more things on their own and share that knowledge among themselves?
DNA App Store: An online store for information about your genes will make it cheap and easy to learn more about your health risks and predispositions.
SolarCity’s Gigafactory: A $750 million solar facility in Buffalo will produce a gigawatt of high-efficiency solar panels per year and make the technology far more attractive to homeowners.
Slack: A service built for the era of mobile phones and short text messages is changing the workplace.
Tesla Autopilot: The electric-vehicle maker sent its cars a software update that suddenly made autonomous driving a reality.
Power from the Air: Internet devices powered by Wi-Fi and other telecommunications signals will make small computers and sensors more pervasive.
Ubiquitous computing and automation are occurring in tandem. Self-operating machines are permeating every dimension of society, so that humans find themselves interacting more frequently with robots than ever before—often without even realizing it. The human-machine relationship is rapidly evolving as a result. Humanity, and what it means to be a human, will be defined in part by the machines people design. ... A distrust of machines that come to life goes back at least as far as tales of golems, and this uneasiness has remained persistent in contemporary culture. ... While doppelgängers, golems, living dolls, and automata are all ancient, the word “robot” is not even a century old. It was coined by the playwright Karl Capek in “R.U.R.,” short for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, in 1921. “R.U.R.,” which tells the story of a global robot-human war, also helped set the tone for the modern conception of robots. ... After Capek brought “robot” into the lexicon, it quickly became a metaphor for explaining how various technologies worked. By the late 1920s, just about any machine that replaced a human job with automation or remote control was referred to as a robot. Automatic cigarette dispensers were called “robot salesmen,” a sensor that could signal when a traffic light should change was a “robot traffic director,” or a “mechanical policeman,” a remote-operated distribution station was a “robot power plant,” the gyrocompass was a “robot navigator,” new autopilot technology was a “robot airplane pilot,” and an anti-aircraft weapon was a “robot gun.” ... Today, people talk about robots in similarly broad fashion. Just as “robot” was used as a metaphor to describe a vast array of automation in the material world, it’s now often used to describe—wrongly, many roboticists told me—various automated tasks in computing. ... a future that many people today simultaneously want and fear. Driverless cars could save millions of lives this century. But the economic havoc that robots could wreak on the workforce is a source of real anxiety. ... The rise of the robots seems to have reached a tipping point; they’ve broken out of engineering labs and novelty stores, and moved into homes, hospitals, schools, and businesses. Their upward trajectory seems unstoppable.
One afternoon this spring at the United Nations in Geneva, I sat behind Wareham in a large wood-paneled, beige-carpeted assembly room that hosted the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), a group of 121 countries that have signed the agreement to restrict weapons that “are considered to cause unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering to combatants or to affect civilians indiscriminately”— in other words, weapons humanity deems too cruel to use in war. ... The UN moves at a glacial pace, but the CCW is even worse. There’s no vote at the end of meetings; instead, every contracting party needs to agree in order to get anything done. (Its last and only successful prohibitive weapons ban was in 1995.) It was the start of five days of meetings to discuss lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS): weapons that have the ability to independently select and engage targets, i.e., machines that can make the decision to kill humans, i.e., killer robots. The world slept through the advent of drone attacks. ... Yet it’s important to get one thing clear: This isn’t a conversation about drones. By now, drone warfare has been normalized — at least 10 countries have them. ... LAWS are generally broken down into three categories. Most simply, there’s humans in the loop — where the machine performs the task under human supervision, arriving at the target and waiting for permission to fire. Humans on the loop — where the machine gets to the place and takes out the target, but the human can override the system. And then, humans out of the loop — where the human releases the machine to perform a task and that’s it — no supervision, no recall, no stop function. The debate happening at the UN is which of these to preemptively ban, if any at all.
For the teams of students involved in this year’s RoboMasters tournament, the stakes were clear: 350,000 RMB (roughly $53,000) in prize money, more than four times the average salary of a Chinese worker. Winners achieve celebrity status among the 6 million fans who watch the action stream live online, as well as a shot at landing a job at at DJI, the Chinese drone maker that created this competition. Over the last two years the company has hired around 40 engineers out of the tournament. ... For DJI, the stakes are reversed. It is battling to win top talent in some of technology’s hottest fields: computer vision and autonomous navigation. Over the last three years, the company has emerged from obscurity to become the market leader in the booming consumer drone market, setting the pace for innovation in the category. ... The city became the heart of the world’s supply chain for consumer electronics. But while it conquered the business of manufacturing for others, the quality of products designed and engineered in Shenzhen were largely inferior to those with roots in the West. Over time, however, that dynamic began to change. ... DJI epitomizes that evolution. In 2006, Frank Wang, an engineering student obsessed with remote-control helicopters, started Dà-Jiāng — which roughly translates to "without borders" — Innovations Science and Technology Corporation. His target market consisted of professionals who used remote-control aircraft for filming and photography, and hardcore hobbyists who built their own flying machines for fun. At the time, everyone built their units from scratch, there was no casual consumer market, and few people used the word "drone." ... Like many early Shenzhen companies, at first DJI made just a single component: flight controllers. ... PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that the drone industry will grow from a few billion dollars this year to more than $120 billion by 2020.
Next year it will be 60 years since people first witnessed the majesty of a satellite being launched into orbit: Sputnik 1, hurled into the night sky in Kazakhstan early on October 5th 1957. ... Just 15 years separated the launch of the first satellite and the return of the last man from the moon, years in which anything seemed possible. But having won the space race, America saw no benefit in carrying on. Instead it developed a space shuttle meant to make getting to orbit cheap, reliable and routine. More than 100 shuttle flights between 1981 to 2011 went some way to realising the last of those goals, despite two terrible accidents. The first two were never met. Getting into space remained a risky and hideously expensive proposition, taken up only by governments and communications companies, each for their own reasons. ... New rockets, though, are not the only exciting development. The expense of getting into space during the 1980s and 1990s led some manufacturers to start shrinking the satellites used for some sorts of mission, creating “smallsats”. Since then the amount a given size of satellite can do has been boosted by developments in computing and electronics. This has opened up both new ways of doing old jobs and completely novel opportunities. ... No single technology ties together this splendid gaggle of ambitions. But there is a common technological approach that goes a long way to explaining it; that of Silicon Valley. Even if for now most of the money being spent in space remains with old government programmes and incumbent telecom providers, space travel is moving from the world of government procurement and aerospace engineering giants to the world of venture-capital-funded startups and business plans that rely on ever cheaper services provided to ever more customers.
In the industries where there’s rapid productivity growth, everybody is freaked out, because what are people going to do after everything gets automated? In the other part of the economy, that second part, health care and education, people are freaked out about, "Oh my God, it’s going to eat the entire budget! It’s going to eat my personal budget. Health care and education is going to be every dollar I make as income, and it’s going to eat the national budget and drive the United States bankrupt!" And everybody in the economy is going to become either a nurse or teacher. It’s really funny, both sides of the economy get polar opposite emotional reactions. ... We are very much not present, in what we would consider to be a healthy way, in education, health care, construction, childcare, senior care. The great twist on that is that second category — that’s most of the GDP. Most of the spending is most of the GDP, and these are the areas where we have not yet been able to crack the code. ... How audacious or insane is it to think that you could bring tech to health care or education? It’s probably 50/50. ... What’s interesting is there are probably more new computer companies in the valley today than there were probably since 1982 — it’s just that the products are all these different shapes, sizes, and descriptions. ... Basically, the entire way we live today is a consequence of the invention of the automobile. Because, before that, people just never went anywhere. Therefore, everything that you travel to is a consequence of the automobile.
Although robotic ships of this sort are some ways off in the future, it’s not a question of if they will happen but when. My colleagues and I at Rolls-Royce anticipate that the first commercial vessel to navigate entirely by itself could be a harbor tug or a ferry designed to carry cars the short distance across the mouth of a river or a fjord and that it or similar ships will be in commercial operation within the next few years. And we expect fully autonomous oceangoing cargo ships to be routinely plying the world’s seas in 10 or 15 years’ time. ... Remotely controlled ships, piloted by people on shore, and autonomous ships, which can take actions for themselves, are the latest beneficiaries of increasing digital connectivity and intelligence. These developments in electronic sensors, telecommunications, and computing have sparked interest in a range of autonomous vehicles including cars, planes, helicopters, trains, and now ships. ... That people should be seriously interested in robotic ships is easy enough to explain: Such ships are expected to be safer, more efficient, and cheaper to run. According to a report published by the Munich-based insurance company Allianz in 2012, between 75 and 96 percent of marine accidents are a result of human error, often a result of fatigue.
Reversing Paralysis: Scientists are making remarkable progress at using brain implants to restore the freedom of movement that spinal cord injuries take away.
Self-Driving Trucks: Tractor-trailers without a human at the wheel will soon barrel onto highways near you. What will this mean for the nation’s 1.7 million truck drivers?
Paying with Your Face: Face-detecting systems in China now authorize payments, provide access to facilities, and track down criminals. Will other countries follow?
Practical Quantum Computers: Advances at Google, Intel, and several research groups indicate that computers with previously unimaginable power are finally within reach.
The 360-Degree Selfie: Inexpensive cameras that make spherical images are opening a new era in photography and changing the way people share stories.
Hot Solar Cells: By converting heat to focused beams of light, a new solar device could create cheap and continuous power.
Gene Therapy 2.0: Scientists have solved fundamental problems that were holding back cures for rare hereditary disorders. Next we’ll see if the same approach can take on cancer, heart disease, and other common illnesses.
The Cell Atlas: Biology’s next mega-project will find out what we’re really made of.
Botnets of Things: The relentless push to add connectivity to home gadgets is creating dangerous side effects that figure to get even worse.
Reinforcement Learning: By experimenting, computers are figuring out how to do things that no programmer could teach them.
In the fancier precincts of the food-service world, where watching a barista spend four minutes prepping a pour-over coffee is a customer’s idea of a good time, robots might not seem like the future of food culture. But spend some time at the restaurants where the majority of Americans eat every day, and you’ll catch a distinct whiff of automation in the air. ... Given job creators’ distaste for organic employees, it’s easy to see how automation might play out in Quick-Service Restaurants, or QSRs—the industry term for both fast-food operations like Hardee’s and slightly more upscale “fast casual” restaurants, like Chipotle. You already have to stand in line, order your own food, and then (in most cases) pick your order up at the counter when it’s ready. Pop a couple kiosks up front, maybe let people order on their phones, and bingo, you’ve automated away all the cashiers. ... More than 14 million people—almost 10 percent of the American workforce—work in restaurants, and almost 2 million of those work for casual-dining chains. ... Besides bumping check averages, the tablets can generate revenue with game fees and display ads, which the restaurants split with the tablet companies. And once the platform is in place, it becomes a powerful tool for data collection.
On March 13, 2004, a gaggle of engineers and a few thousand spectators congregated outside a California dive bar to watch 15 self-driving cars speed across the Mojave Desert in the first-ever Darpa Grand Challenge. (That’s the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s skunkworks arm.) Before the start of the race, which marked the first big push toward a fully autonomous vehicle, the grounds surrounding the bar teemed with sweaty, stressed, sleep-deprived geeks, desperately tinkering with their motley assortment of driverless Frankencars: SUVs, dune buggies, monster trucks, even a motorcycle. After the race, they left behind a vehicular graveyard littered with smashed fence posts, messes of barbed wire, and at least one empty fire extinguisher. ... What happened in between—the rush out of the starter gate, the switchbacks across the rocky terrain, the many, many crashes—didn’t just hint at the possibilities and potential limitations of autonomous vehicles that auto and tech companies are facing and that consumers will experience in the coming years as driverless vehicles swarm the roads. It created the self-driving community as we know it today, the men and women in too-big polo shirts who would go on to dominate an automotive revolution.
- Also: The Economist - The death of the internal combustion engine 5-15min
- Also: The Drive - The Model 3 Is Further Proof of Tesla's Asymmetric War Against the Auto Industry 5-15min
- Also: Barron's - Ford Races Toward an Exciting Future 5-15min
- Also: The Verge - Detroit is kicking Silicon Valley’s a** in the race to build self-driving cars < 5min
- Also: Wired - Self-Driving Cars Are Confusing Drivers - And Spooking Insurers < 5min
- Also: The Drive - Can Sully Transform the World of Self-Driving Cars? 5-15min