We all wonder what long-range effects the coronavirus pandemic will have on human society. Well, if history is any guide, we may be headed for explosive life-changing developments. The Black Plague was followed a generation later by the world of the Renaissance . Our new world will be Data World.
Artificial Intelligence and the Transformation of Human Life.
Computer generated, algorithm-driven and protocol-defined action will come to replace the human factor. Anything that can be automated will be automated.
Machines, robots, or pre-programmed systems — Artificial Intelligence (AI) — will take over automating all sorts of historically human operated systems such as transportation, media, manufacturing and medical diagnostics, to name a few. A totally automated pizza restaurant is in the works, to serve a pizza every three minutes. Perhaps collector art and poetic treasures might also be machine created.
Humans will increasingly follow protocols — sequenced directions for living. Today, this is almost unthinkable. But in a not-too-distant future, it will all seem normal.
After all, during the totally unprecedented lockdown of life during the pandemic, we all lived (and died) by protocols. And what energized these protocols? Data, collected, condensed and massaged so that machines could work with it.
Government officials and experts declared that data would tell us what to do, and we did it. Data is the lifeblood of Artificial Intelligence.
High Tech — No Touch
Social distancing, once a temporary remedy, will become the new normal. Forget little things, like the disappearance of salad bars or doorknobs. The coming generation will have much less casual contact with objects. In an age of AI, most objects and utensils will be self-sanitizing via nano-biological means. Casual or accidental human contact will be minimized as we travel in personal transit capsules of various types and work in true cubes of separation.
The pandemic lockdown vastly accelerated this trend. Service/support jobs, education – all data dependent activities were done remotely, out of classes, out of offices. In the fields of education, wherever possible, remote learning will replace traditional settings.
Even now, as education becomes more vocationally directed, the so-called “college experience” will disappear as people realize that, in general, college isn’t worth the exorbitant price of tuition. And the socializing value of higher education will be much reduced in a Hi Tech-No Touch world. Protocols will direct that learning will be more localized and cheaper as with on-line universities, community colleges and AI teaching applications.
There will still be a need for elite national higher education institutions, for research of course, but also for the liberal arts. This curriculum will train new leaders, the aristocracy of the protocols, a modern version of Plato’s learned aristocracy. After all, at the highest levels, some humans will have to interface with the machines
No More Bricks in The Walls
As with the Renaissance, there will be new protocols for architecture. Monumental architecture will return to the service of public buildings, shrines, ceremonial sites and markers of accomplishment. The modern monumental skyscraper office tower will no longer be built. Those still standing will be converted to other, mainly residential uses. We already see this happening: consider the pencil tower residential constructions of New York City.
Moreover, e-commerce will gain market share over traditional bricks and mortar outlets.
Respected retail consultant Jan Kniffen contends that fully one-half of all U.S. malls will either close or be unrecognizable in two years.
Stairways to Heaven: New Initiatives in Space
Suddenly, in the midst of the pandemic lockdown, the world focused its gaze heavenward as a private company, SpaceX launched a passenger shuttle. This signaled a new opening of space, the final frontier. Again, through AI, data and protocols numerous activities, benign, experimental, and dangerous can be undertaken. Space stations, lunar — or even Martian habitats — will bring new forms of monumental architecture. Tom Cruise wants to film a movie in space.
Space offers innovation opportunities. It will beckon new discoveries .Surprisingly, in space we may find a return to older forms and protocols of human existence. Highly sanitized, self-enclosed areas and differential gravity might offer humans a chance to get rid of social distancing.
Ironically, the human spirit, its inventiveness and its endless power, may find an extra-terrestrial future beyond earthly Data World. Perhaps, a large part of the next Renaissance will happen in space.
Laccetti is a retired professor of history at the Stevens Institute of Technology. Bell is an electronics engineer, with three decades of experience in software development and data analysis. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.