06 Sep

Google Car will be Life Changing

Google Car

Technology progresses in geometric speed.  With every passing day, technological breakthroughs keep arriving faster.  What more, each change has a much bigger impact than the previous change.  Ray Kurzweil predicts that at this rate, technology would’ve progressed sufficiently for man to merge with machines.  He has named this incident the “technological singularity“.  Because our brains are not equipped to perceive exponential curve, we find it extremely difficult to wrap it around the accelerating power of technology (TED video).

Google Car is a strong reminder to the skeptics that rate and magnitude of technological changes do accelerate.  Though Google Car per se is of only peripheral interest to this blog, let us take a closer look at it to help us comprehend the speeding up of technological changes.

Born out of a 2005 DARPA challenge tackled jointly by Stanford and Google, Google’s driverless car (video) pet project has taken a life of its own: The cars have driven more than 500,000km  accident and driver free, three states of US have permitted plying these cars on their roads and many more states and countries are to follow suit.  What looks like a pet project of a billionaire pair and a bunch of geeks is anything but a toy.  This innovation is about to make big changes to the way we live, and the change is going to happen much more quickly than we can imagine.

90% less accidents

The most emotionally appealing advantage from an self-driving car technology is this: 90% of the traffic accidents are caused by human error!  In the US alone, Google expects that its driverless technology will save 30,000 lives an year, avoid additional 2 million injuries and reduce accident related expenses by at least $400 billion.

Save commute time

Because driverless cars will be networked and exchange traffic information, drive with a much lesser physical clearance from each other, avoid collisions more effectively, etc., driverless cars can run faster, more cars can be accommodated in the given road space and they effortlessly select most optimal routes.  Hence, driverless cars will substantially reduce traffic jam and reduce commute time, to 90% by some rough estimates.  A 2012 study estimates that traffic congestion cost about $100b in US alone!

Less Cars on the Road

A car is one of the largest personal expenditure met today, still a car sits underutilized for most of the day.  This is with driverless cars.  In the era of driverless vehicles, most of us will seek to reduce under-utilization of assets by using common resources.  These resources will be operated by businesses that appear like cab companies.  The will have cars parked all over the city, in designated locations.  People hail them electronically, hop in and hop off.  Because the human driver is eliminated, driverless taxi service will be available at just a fraction of the cost we pay our cabs now (which in itself is much smaller than what we usually pay to self-owned car).  If the trend catches up, car pooling will automatically evolve out of this and the cost of using a car will sharply plummet.  Along with this, the number of cars will come down too.  By an optimistic estimate, driverless cars may reduce the total number of cars on the road by as much as 90%!

With 90% of the cars, traffic jams, commute time and traffic accidents all will further reduce!

What changes will happen

Driverless cars will make professional drivers obsolete.  US is already talking about truck drivers being eliminated over the next few years.  The trend will continue and accelerate.  Along with drivers, driving schools will eventually become redundant too.

With the cars being controlled and guided by pre-programmed rules, traffic violations will vanish.  With that traffic policing will shrink and take new roles.

Substantially reduced accidents will eventually put emergency medical services out of business.  Along with that, revenue of car insurance companies, and the companies that offer road accident covers, will shrink.

With the utilization of the cars increasing from the present levels, need for parking space and facilities will reduce.  With substantial reduction in the number of cars, and traffic snarls, construction of new roads will slow down and consumption of fuel plummet (on the other hand, if we discover cheaper sources of energy, car traffic on the highways will increase).  With better utilization of resources, cost of using a car per mile will plummet.

With number of cars reducing (after an initial hike owing to people converting to driverless), many car companies will go out of business.

Cab companies will flourish, but only if they rediscover themselves ground up.  With no driver inside a car, in-car entertainment will take new dimensions.  We will see the birth of a new vertical called ‘car-apps’ and the app makers coming up with several innovative solutions that we haven’t even felt the need for today.  Google, of course, is expected to share the driverless OS (like it shared the Android OS of the mobile phones) and build another mammoth revenue stream out of it.

So much for a pet project.  The funniest thing is, the technological innovations that gave us driverless cars is trivial comparing with, say, coming up with an intelligent search engine like Google (we easily forget that what a fine piece of peerless technology the Google search is).

How soon

In 2008, self driving cars could drive two blocks of closed loop at 40kmph.  By 2012, driverless cars have already driven 500,000km  in real life traffic.  With that kind of driving experience, Google must have pretty much figured out the driving algorithm.

A driverless car must have four additional feature

  • Machine operated controls (trivial challenge)
  • Central silicon brain (trivial challenge)
  • Driverless OS (Google already has it and it shouldn’t be too difficult for anyone who sets out to build it.  Given that it is just a piece software with few million of dollars of investment, the bar is not high at all)
  • Sensors, consisting of RADAR, gyro, GPS, etc. (existing technology)

As of today, the cost of the sensors runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars and they need to go through further miniaturization.  This is the only piece of technology that is keeping the driverless car from becoming a mass market product.  There is nothing fundamentally revolutionary about any of the technologies that make driverless cars possible.

If we take a closer look at the sensors, we will realize that

  • Microwave generator in kitchen oven costs just a few dollars; other than this, everything else is just solid state signal processing
  • Gyroscope (usually, a fiber optic gyro), again, is largely software
  • GPS has already become dirt cheap
  • The cost of putting them all together, as of today, is high.  But that is because only few small companies with limited resources have been developing these technologies for the tiny industry of land mapping.  When mass market players jump in, cost of these sensors will plummet.

With time, these sensors will cost just a little more than a microwave oven.  We shouldn’t be surprised if inexpensive driverless cars become available even before all the countries in the world have permissions in place for plying a driverless car!  In less than three years, driverless cars will become common scene in select places on the planet.  In about 10 years, driverless cars will be a common thing anywhere in the world.  That should convince the skeptics that the Singularity is Near (book)!

Note 1: Funny, the Google Chrome browser I am using to write this article keeps reminding me that “driverless” is not a valid word

Note 2: This post is largely based on the book Driverless Cars: Trillions are up for Grabs

03 Aug

Refusing Anti-ageing is accepting Death

All Roads Lead to Death

For life to sustain, several million things must happen in a particular order.  But death can occur in any of the million ways.  There lies the secret behind the apparent immortality of mortality.  Death doesn’t have any special status in the greater scheme of things.  We just need to jump too many hoops to avoid death.  I believe that the Universe doesn’t care if we live.  And that It doesn’t care if we die.

We all avoid death for one reason or other.  For some of us, it is the fear of the physical pain.  For some, it is the pending responsibilities.  Others can’t bear the tears of near and dear.  Some don’t want to die without seeing the wonders that the future has to offer (detour: Isn’t it interesting that many of our reasons to live are driven by what we mean to others?).  And then, there are people who continue to live because can’t find a good reason to die.  I always find it surprising as to how so many people claim that they are not scared of dying.  Whereas, these same people won’t hesitate to kill if their life is threatened.

Even though everyone is scared of dying, we always ridicule the people who went chasing after immortality.  We have stories and legends where the chasers of immortality always have sorry ends (but often, in our legends, heroes who chase the noble are gifted immortality).  These stories are not far from reality.  People who went chasing immortality, longevity or youthfulness always failed.  It is nice for us to think of them as desperate and greedy.  It probably justifies our own laziness.

When it comes to wanting immortality, vast majority among us take the defeatist attitude.  Nothing else explains why we are uncomfortable with the idea of immortality.  After all, if we have a good reason to live today, there is no good reason to not want to live tomorrow.  Or the next year.  Why should it be OK for us to accept death in fifty years from now, when it not OK to want to die today?

Granted, in our youthful swagger, it is normal for us to want not to live into the frailties of senescence.  But when senescence creeps on us slowly, it turns out that it is not such an unbearable thing after all!  Our justification of accepting death on the ground that ‘senescence is unacceptable’ appears baseless.  But given that I am one of those people who vehemently cry “keep me fit or give me death”, I can look at this group sympathetically.

Modern anti-ageing techniques, though they are far from perfected as of now, can easily add one or two additional decades of healthy living to most of us.  But surprising number of people think too low of taking it up.  It is perfectly OK for them if the death creeps on them slowly.  But wanting to jump on the anti-ageing bandwagon is too painful to them for two reasons: One, it amounts to accepting our desperation to want to live another day.  Two, reminds us that death is real.

For the people among us who avoid anti-ageing, state of default seem to be safe and non-threatening. Having taken an emotional decision not to act, we go around inventing false justifications as to why we chose default over action.

Don’t.

Take anti-ageing seriously.  It looks funny to you because it is positive healthcare.  Healthcare is usually focused fixing things that are broken.  In other words, conventional medicine is about coming from negative to zero.  Anti-ageing takes something that may or may not be broken and makes it better.  It is a process where the final destination is positive.

Anti-ageing alone can add thirty to forty years to your life, at the very least.  You can absolutely not come across any other single action that can add so many healthy years to your life. Period.

19 Dec

Escape Velocity of Life Extension

Escape Velocity of Life Extension

One of the best kept secrets of medical industry is that life extension techniques are here and now!  We have known for decades that stuff like micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.), hormone balancing, etc. can easily give additional 10 to 20 ‘fit’ years to an ageing individuals. However, for incredibly silly reasons, these techniques are not widely known or practiced.

For example, benefits of most of the micro-nutrients have been known for several decades.  No one can take a patent on them and there is not enough money for pharmaceutical companies to promote them.  All over the world, unfortunately, most of the (not all) physicians limit their post-college education to sales presentations given to them by medical representatives.  With no medical representative to show a nutrition therapy in front of a physician, nutrition therapy has become an orphan that no one cares about.

Hormone balancing, on the other hand, has a different story.  During the later part of twentieth century, many pharmaceutical companies have sold poor mimics of human hormones, resulting in several adverse side effects.  Consequently, hormones replacement strikes terror in the minds of the lay public and under-educated physicians.  Given that hormones are used by the body as the elixir of youth and vitality, ignoring their potential benefit because we are ill-informed is really sad.

But things are changing fast.  More and more physicians are waking up to simple, yet effective, ways to dramatically increase the fitness levels of the ageing.  People in the anti-ageing industry and patients undergoing age-management therapy, routinely claim that their biological age has been reversed by 10 to 20 years.  If not more.

10 to 20 bonus fit years is no small thing.  But that’s all we can hope to gain from today’s science.  However, there is an interesting aspect: With the breakneck speed at which science is progressing, it is generally believed that before the bonus time (of 10 to 20 years) runs out, newer understanding will come along, giving us additional 10 to 20 fit years.  And…so…on.

This speed of medical breakthroughs, which will ultimately give us immortality, is loosely called the ‘escape velocity of age extension’.  Most of the people in the know believe that the escape velocity is already here.  I tend to agree with them!

Of course, they could be completely wrong.  But what if they are right?  If you were born in the 1960’s or earlier, it is time to sit up and take notice.

18 Dec

Human is Changing

Transhuman

Evolution, the blind watchmaker, has been toying around with various models of biological entities for the last three and a half billion years.  And if you subscribe to panspermia (that the first life form originated somewhere else in the Universe and floated to the earth as star dust), God know how many years of evolution was under play before the three and a half billion years of evolutionary drama started on earth!

Evolution builds on top of evolution.  Because of this, as the time progresses, evolutionary changes happen in exponential speed.  Unfortunately, or brains are not geared up to perceive geometric progression.  That speed of evolution picked up with appearance of intelligent humans on earth.

‘Natural vs artificial’ is a false dichotomy.  Brick and mortar, soot and sewer are products of evolution, just as a honeycomb is a product of evolution.  Extending that thinking…

all the human achievement, including science, technology, philosophy, arts, modern medicine are all products of evolution

Ray Kurzweil of MIT has figured out a neat way to predict the progress of information technology.  Kurzweil has proposed (this video) that

  • By 2020, we will have computer inexpensive hardware that are as powerful as a human brain (but we won’t have the software yet)
  • By 2029, we will have reverse engineered all the regions of human brain, giving us a good understanding of how the software of the human brain works.
  • By 2045, we will have machines that are just as powerful as humans.  While the intelligence of human brain is limited by its biology, capabilities of the machines will continue to grow in exponential pace.

Unbelievable as they might sound, Kurzweil has been accurately predicting major technological events from the mid 1980’s onward.  While Kurzweil maintains that it is hard to see how things will turn out beyond this point, it is obvious that the pace of improvement of technology will change who we are and what are our values.  As a result,

the very definition of human is changing!

These changes that are going to hit us with warp speed.  Understanding them will help us to prepare ourselves for both good and the bad that are in store for us.

Welcome to the future…

Where, you might be among the first to defy death!

Or, be among the last to celebrate life!!