Farm Ireland

Saturday 16 December 2017

The rise of machines is not that far away

Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world. Photo: GETTY
Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world. Photo: GETTY
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

It is estimated that by 2030 computers will have become more intelligent than humans. Given the low standard of Dáil debates, you could be forgiven for thinking that this has already happened.

It seems we are living with two versions of reality. The first is the one we read about as emanating from politicians' statements and the other is the reality the rest of us face while struggling to balance our household budgets.

Whether you hold political power or are in opposition, reality is something to be avoided if at all possible and this especially applies if you are in the back benches and will probably never have to justify your comments.

The reality you and I face is rather more serious. We have to stand over our decisions and we pay the price if we make mistakes. Politicians and, indeed, many of our civil servants work in a privileged place that ignores any requirement that they be held accountable for their errors.

So let us be thankful computers will soon make an ever-increasing number of decisions for us and hope they will be sensible and logical ones, devoid of populist emotion.

Computers can already park your car for you and some can even drive themselves. All decisions relating to speed, distance between vehicles and overall safety will be in the hands of computers.

This should deliver a huge drop in the cost of automobile insurance as accidents will be rare events.

Fifty years ago, the vast majority of our population could only dream of owning their own car, but in the future, will we even need one? Probably not if we can dial a car up on our mobile phone and have it pick us up virtually anywhere and drop us at our chosen destination.

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Your phone can already translate languages and give you instant access to virtually any information you require by accessing the internet. Most major financial transactions are decided by using computer-driven models. Clothes are designed by computers, as are houses and new roads.

The world as we now know it is disappearing rapidly and intelligent software will disrupt most traditional industries in the next five to 10 years.

If you don't believe me, just think about the dramatic changes that have occurred in recent decades.

In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85pc of all photo paper worldwide. Within just a few years, digital photography had taken over, their business model disappeared and they went bankrupt.

No one needed a camera as they could take perfect photographs with their phones and send them instantly to friends all over the world.

Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world, although they don't own any properties. Likewise, the online taxi service Uber is just a software tool that connects you to affordable transport virtually anywhere. They don't own any cars, but are now the biggest taxi company in the world.

It is time to welcome the fourth Industrial Revolution. Major developments are continually occurring in relation to artificial intelligence, health, autonomous and electric cars, education, 3D printing, agriculture and jobs.

What it will all mean is still unclear and the future without the need for most people to go to work is a scary prospect. If a tractor or combine can operate perfectly well without a driver, why employ anyone?

Computer models already decide when to spray crops and apply fertiliser. The computer will simply tell the machinery when conditions are right and just do it.

No arguing, no tea breaks, no need for sleep, no staring at the sky or wondering if rain is imminent because the swallows are skimming the ground or the cattle are heading for shelter.

You will be redundant. If a milking parlour can be computerised and decide for itself what feed each cow receives, what is left for the farmer to do?

When did you last post a letter or write a cheque? Did you ever dream that your payments from the Dept of Agriculture would appear automatically in your bank account or that so many of our bills would be dealt with by direct debit?

If you think a real person is considering whether to approve a request for a bank loan or not, think again. It's all decided by computer first.

And, yes, I reckon computers will be well able to write columns for newspapers in the future. Don't you just hate the idea of that?

Take advantage of technology in rural Ireland

A computer is only as intelligent as the person programming it, but this is changing and soon these machines will be able to think for themselves.

The speed of this change is almost frightening. We can all learn and adapt, however, and even Luddites like me have happily opted to using internet banking, which saves a lot of queuing time and/or trips to a local branch.

New technology provides great opportunities that those of us in rural Ireland can avail of. If you have a spare bedroom or two, just log on to Airbnb and check out how you can make money from them.

This works best obviously in cities, but there is also a good demand for accommodation in quiet rural areas and you don’t even have to provide the  traditional breakfast.

If you own a car, van or truck, you can sign up to Uber and earn money whenever you are free or on a journey when others might like to get to the same destination.

All information on this can be found on the internet. Where else?

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