Our work and play depends on this next evolution in computing
Futuristic technology is often framed in a ‘doom to mankind’ narrative. Brian Cooper, CCO at UK-based independent agency OLIVER Group, shares how the next step in computing won’t be a robotic coup, but an evolution that will empower our work.
The computer chip has now reached middle age. Like most of us in middle age, it is not as sprightly as it once was, and is set to be superseded by younger forms of computing. Enter the quantum computer. It’s set to transform our lives, the way we work and play.
What exactly is quantum computing?
In a nutshell, conventional microprocessors are limited to binaries of ones and zeros, which limits their processing capability. But quantum computers hinge on the principles of quantum physics, which allows for something called ‘superimposition.’ This means an electron can exist as a zero and one at the same time, as opposed to either one or zero. This allows for levels of processing power that are millions of times greater than we currently have.
Do we actually need all this speed? We do. Quantum computers promise vastly enhanced processing power and memory, potentially millions of times more powerful than today’s fastest supercomputers. This will revolutionize the way we interface with computers, and will thus have big implications for the workplace.
Additionally, Moore’s Law—the observation that computer processing power doubles every two years—is seeing a significant slowdown. Intel’s chief executive, Brian Krzanich, admits the manufacturer’s rhythm of innovation is now closer to two and a half years than two. Even with the industry’s ever-increasing R&D spend of $56.4 billion in 2015, according to IC Insights, the result is that conventional microprocessor technology is approaching a fundamental limit of size, speed and cost.
How can it change UI?
Today, we still use computers, including smartphones, like typewriters—sitting in front of our screens carrying out time-consuming semi-mundane tasks. Scott Jensen, a product strategist at Google, describes this as a Technological Tiller, which is an old design put on a new technology. The term derived from the use of boat tillers to steer the first cars. Grossly inefficient, these were soon changed to steering wheels.
Voice is a far more efficient way of interfacing with a computer. With conventional processing this has had a slow birth. Siri, the voice-recognition system at the heart of the iPhone, is only really voice-activated search. But with the power of quantum computing, what’s just over the horizon could be more likened to the ship’s computer in Star Trek.
Siri’s co-founder Dag Kittlaus’ new venture Viv offers a real-life sign of what’s to come. Like the grandmaster-beating AlphaGo, Viv learns as it goes through reinforcement learning. But instead of complex strategy board games such as Go or Atari computer games, Viv uses deep-learning to predict what the user wants. Like the human brain, it constantly writes and rewrites its own circuitry so that when you ask it a question it gives a meaningful answer.
Reinforcement learning is a form of AI more akin to what happens when you tell a child what a chair looks like. By continually making the connection between the word chair and an actual chair the child can start to recognize chairs for itself. The reason that AI has taken so long to take off is due to the huge processing power required to sift through the vast amounts of information to make this sifting possible.
The power of quantum computers will be a huge boon to AI, and allow it to leap to places even more extraordinary—and arguably more useful—than beating the world champion at GO 4-1. AI together with natural language processing will become the work horse of every backend system. With intelligent processing of information we will merely need to voice our desires for the computer to respond with the perfect answer. This is the equivalent change in the car from a tiller to a steering wheel. Finally, the computer will get the interface it deserves.
This shift in how information is inputted could start to have a bizarre affect on how we communicate as individuals. Freed from the shackles of inefficient keyboards we might all learn to communicate in-person again. We’ll think and discuss more fluidly, without the interruption of an ever-filling inbox. Quantum computers answering our emails won’t distract us. In fact, the opposite will happen. They’ll empower us.
What does this mean for the future of work?
AI-powered quantum computers will also change the way we work. They will replace many jobs, which are not simple routine tasks. And whilst this may seem a doom-laden future there are at least three good reasons to be optimistic.
The most obvious is that computers will release us to be more creative. Though, perfectly engineered to perform medical diagnosis, surgery and beat grandmasters, robots are ultimately programmed by intelligent beings and set clear goals. What they can’t do is come up with their own goals, their own notions, their own ideas. This is the preserve of humans, and will make our work more interesting.
History also shows that in the long run new technology creates more wealth and more jobs. In the industrial revolution many jobs were replaced by machines. But the wealth this created for its inventors created demand for other products and service thus creating new jobs. Google DeepMind, the team behind AlphaGo, has over 100 staff, all at work to create a winning machine.
Lastly, humans like to work. We shouldn’t forget the wisdom of Voltaire’s Candide. After a lifetime fruitlessly traveling the world looking for the best of all possible worlds he settled down on a farm concluding that work cures three evils: boredom, poverty and vice.
Quantum computing may change how we live and the nature of work, but it won’t change what it is to be human. What we like to do and what we are good at doing will always stay the same. How we we do it will change forever.
Brian Cooper is chief creative officer at OLIVER Group (which includes OLVER Agency and DARE). Brian’s career is steeped in both above-the-line and digital expertise working both agency and brand-side. He has worked at leading agencies including BBH, McCann-Erickson, Mother, Wieden & Kennedy and Ogilvy.
Hands on keyboard via Shutterstock