People, personal computers and Blade Runner – digital technology in the 80’s ?

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” Steve Jobs

Blade Runner is a 1982 film direct by Ridley Scott which has just had its sequel released this year in cinemas around the world: The Blade Runner 2049.

The Plot: “…Set in a dystopian Los Angeles in 2019, the story depicts a future in which synthetic humans known as replicants are bioengineered by the powerful Tyrell Corporation to work on off-world colonies”(Source: Wikipedia)

The Reality in the 80’s: how did people see and engage with computers in those years? What did society think about them or were afraid of in the early years personal computers? How much of the digital future could they see and interpret through the lenses of films such as Blade Runner? The film depicted a reality in a future time that is today close to us, just around the corner from, in 2019.

The video above portrays the role computers were starting to have in society during those initial years in the 80’s. It also presents us with Steve Jobs views of the future, then a very young CEO and the founder of Apple computers. Jobs was incredible in foretelling to a sceptical audience what personal computers would mean to society in a near future.

Applying Jobs philosophy in the above’s quote, let’s look back to a time where a similar discussion to what we are experiencing today was already taking place. Concerns from the general public that computers would be taking their jobs, fear of loss of privacy and data security, companies implementing new automated system to improve efficiency in operations, smart payment processes, customer services and better user experiences. Sounds just like today, doesn’t it?!

‘You can’t do the simplest things today without the use of a computer’, said the reporter back in 1981. Almost 40 years later and how far have we come to understand how much more dependant we are on machines and computers. We need their help in most activities we engage in today, from our most simple menial day-to-day activities to shopping and communication needs as well as more processing complex activities?

It is said that of our smartphones which is now performing all sort of activities on our behalf (besides calling people), they are an ‘extension of humanity’, our operational system. And if it was almost inconceivable to leave home without them a few years ago, now they are also running our homes!

A 26 years-old Steve Jobs in his genius, had already foreseen this reality where computer would amplify mankind intellectual abilities wherein the impact and effects in society would far outstrip of the petrochemical revolution. But that’s is only one side of the story…

What is interesting in this video from the eighties is the realisation that people were already afraid that these ‘new’ revolutionising machines were going to take their jobs. Like in the Blade Runner movie where ‘replicants’ (fictional bioengineered or biorobotic android virtually identical to humans but much superior in many ways) where hunted down because they were seen as a menace to humans, people in those years thought that machines would eventually replace us, not much different from the talk we are increasingly listening to today.

The report asked Steve Jobs if there was any danger of these computers taking over our lives to which he just rebuffed stating that technology is just a tool to democratise society and make the experience more individual and if it wasn’t working we could just through out of the window. He also believed that machines would allow us to focus on the things we do best and release us to engage in more creative thinking instead of mechanical thinking. It would release us from the drudgeries of life so we can could focus on conceptual and creative tasks.


Blade-runner-directors-cut-poster-large-msg-119325148375Author David Burnham on the other hand, exposes the threat of invasion of privacy and how computer could then be used to manipulate us. This argument were contrasted by the news anchor arguing that computers, like guns, do not harm people, people do that to people. It would be then a matter of who is behind the computer or the executive order from above to engage in activities such as unsolicited data collection, mass surveillance etc… Moreover our society doesn’t seem to be alerted enough to fully understand how to use the web in a safe way, nor most members of the general public can clearly comprehend about the dangerous of loss of privacy, or the power of manipulation behind the information disseminated via social sites including how it is organised and categorised by search engines?

Burnham arguments were that the general public is not sufficiently aware to what was happening and how it was been sold on to them. That’s is something way too important to be taken lightly or dismissed. The debate on machines taking over humanity is an old one, the question is about how far have we come to really understand the true impact they will have in shaping our future.

We might still be far from the reality shown in the initial Blade Runner movie but certainly computers and technology has evolved to permeate all aspects of our lives and they are gradually replacing some of the work we do…


video credit to robatsea2009 channel

Jack Ma and our somehow painful Future…


In this video, Alibaba’s CEO Jack MA, presented us with a gloomy vision for the next 30 years. Although he does not specify which technology revolutions have caused the two other world wars, he points towards a future where the third world war might happen but unlike the other two it will eventually be a war fueled by data and information, and people are already worried about it. Jack calls for people to be creative and strategic lest their jobs will be taken away from them by machines.

In these third wave of technology, according to Jack, the key challenges humans will face will be related to poverty, disease and  the environment. Technology can improve people’s life and at the same time to create other problems. One way of looking at it is that technology is not harmful in itself but can be used by other humans to harmful and devious purposes turning ccomputers against them for control and manipulation. In his view, it can be used to stir up problems as well as to save us.

He moves on to say how disruptive new small business can be released to bring a wave of fresh thinking and innovation. These new business models can be the very component we need to see shooting grassroots movements coming to the surface to empower people. As personalization and customization becomes the new norm, smaller business can position themselves to deliver a better customer engagement through more personal long-tail customer centric strategies.

The key, according to Jack Ma, is to make sure local businesses can cross their geographical borders and sell globally. The way to sort out the work problem is by leveraging the power of small businesses locally he says.

He then moved to say that stopping Globalisation is impossible and within the next 20-30 years people will work only four hours a day a jobs will not require their presence. So, if that is true, what will they do with the rest of the day?

He believes that the biggest difference between us and the machines is that they display an immense intelligence, they are smart but only humans have wisdom. If that is true then, what is the difference between wisdom and intelligence? Wisdom is from the heart according to Ma and machines will never have one… Is that simple?

It is true that things are moving fast on the AI front but also the IA (Intelligence Augmentation) has been receiving a lot of investment from the top companies as well as front start-ups. So, there is a possibility that humans might also have computer level intelligence.

What are your thoughts about that???

AMAZON GO… NO CHECKOUTS, NO QUEUES and the future of working ethics…

Giant on-line retail Amazon has just unveiled its ambitious Amazon Go store promising to rid us, busy urban consumers, of tills, checkout, long queues, and all these nonsensical time-consuming retail hurdles we allegedly face when shopping. It is powered by a state of art AI machine learning and computer vision recognition  among other new technologies.

Promising to be the most advanced piece of technology in retail today, the new process being called “Just Walk Out Shopping” introduces us (consumers) to buzzwords such as computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning.

According to an article on, “… it uses sensors throughout the store and artificial intelligence to tell which direction customers are looking, even in a crowd, and can identify partially blocked labels.”

This article has no intention of delving into this new retail technology but rather to reflect and initiate a conversation on its foreseen catastrophic consequences to our modern urban society and way of living. AI and deep learning advancements are also changing and reshaping many other fields and industries casting a dark shadow in the future of many professions and jobs.

We have been learning from different recent articles how technology is reshaping the workplace and the future of employment. I cannot help but wonder the ethics and full implications of some of these new automated computerized technologies. Shouldn’t our governments be introducing new policies, creating laws to protect employees from being replaced by machines and robots?

For example, what would be the impact for retail jobs if many other retail giants start adopting similar technologies? How many people will lose their jobs around the world as a result? Which sectors could absorb these hordes of workers if it becomes a reality? See below a recent graph from LinkedIn on employment growth and decline distributed across different sectors affected by new disruptive technologies.

By carefully looking the above graph one can observe that at the bottom in red, the hardest hit sectors are retail activities where most of our workforce is concentrated today. The large majority of people working in urban centres are directly or indirectly involved in retailing.

Another ethical and moral aspect to consider is the social impact on millions of lives in urban centres who see their shopping time as a social activity. For some elder citizens, for example, chatting with another human at the till might be the only time in their lonely day they interact with another human being.

Should technology be ever allowed to trample and take priority over our humanity? Should governments take measures to protect our job market (and citizens) or just turn a blind eye allowing ‘free-market’ forces to take over and dominate?  Where do we draw a line when it comes to disruptive technologies gradually replacing human labour? What are the ethics and morals of it?

In addition to the facts presented in this article, it’s also worth remembering Amazon’s own employee treatment records. The retail amazon-shares-go-wild-after-earnings-beatgiant and its CEO Jeff Bezos have become targets from some human rights and activist groups for the way they treat their own employees. Some former employees have also voiced their disgruntled feelings with former employer to the media. Just last month a distressed Amazon employee has jumped off a building at the company’s HQ in Seattle (read full article). Amazon is not the only Global case, Apple, Nike and others have also been embroiled in similar cases.

Not surprisingly a company with such low track records in employee rights should not never be expected to be concerned about the ethics of employment. Global corporations are traditionally known for driving their decisions based on their shareholders best interests, market capitalization and financial outcomes. Forget about the triple-bottom line!

Apparently this is not only a blue collar problem. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, technology is bound to replace some top professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants.

“The claim that the professions are immune to displacement by technology is usually based on two assumptions: that computers are incapable of exercising judgement or being creative or empathetic, and that these capabilities are indispensable in the delivery of professional service. The first problem with this position is empirical. As our research shows, when professional work is broken down into component parts, many of the tasks involved turn out to be routine and process-based. They do not in fact call for judgement, creativity, or empathy.”

CHREATE is a new initiative with the aim to debate and create conversation around this area, they are a unique consortium of leaders and human resource executives (the Global Consortium to Re-imagine HR, Employment Alternatives, Talent, and the Enterprise). One of their focus is to map changes in organisational environment in order to identify future challenges designing the actions needed to make the future a sustainable reality.

The reality is that as large corporations start investing heavily in automation, robotics and AI; process efficiency as well as training their key workforce to absorb these new skills necessary to perform complex tasks, hundreds or thousands of other will still be dismissed or outmoded.  The ones who do not fit or adapt quickly to the new working environment will be left out of the job market. Ask yourself, what could be the consequences of a escalating uncontrolled levels of unemployment to our economy, local communities, security and order, etc?

Truth of the matter is that all these changes are not only forcing leaders, policy makers, researchers and academics, politicians, sociologists etc to reflect on the new nature of ‘work’ and what ‘job’ means nowadays but also opening the debate and the search for intelligent solutions addressing the ‘not-qualified’ or ‘outmoded’ mob. A critical questions is “how to equip current working force as well as train undergraduates and youngster to enter the workplace fast and efficiently?

Amazon’s automation plans threatening jobs are but the tip of the Iceberg. The retail industry is just one in many sectors undergoing substantial automation technological changes. The workplace currently is being disrupted by ‘Darwinian’ forces of cataclysmic proportions. The environment is changing faster than the ability people and the general population have to absorb new skills; universities, academies and schools have of reshaping teaching programmes or even, governments of creating new jobs.

“…rapid technological change has been destroying jobs faster than it is creating them, contributing to the stagnation of median income and the growth of inequality in the United States….Brynjolfsson and McAfee still believe that technology boosts productivity and makes societies wealthier, but they think that it can also have a dark side: technological progress is eliminating the need for many types of jobs and leaving the typical worker worse off than before.”  – David Rotman 

Right now you might be asking yourself “So, which jobs are most vulnerable?”.  Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne’s 2013 report examined the probability of computer automation for 702 occupations. They found out that a staggering 47% of workers in the US alone had jobs at high risk of potential automation. Sectors such as transport and logistics (such as taxi and delivery drivers), office support (such as receptionists and security guards), workers in sales and services (such as cashiers, counter and rental clerks, telemarketers and accountants) are topping the list. Deep Learning technologies such as Amazon Go will be increasingly so placing at risk a substantial numbers of employees across a wide range of occupations. Some other studies from within the UK put the equivalent figure at 35% of the workforce for Britain (where more people work in creative fields less susceptible to automation) and 49% for Japan. (source: The Economist)

Amazon Go will open its new store to the general public in Seattle early in 2017. However, there are still socio-technological hurdles to overcome and no guarantees that the system will be bug and glitches free, or even, totally safe for shoppers even though they are beta testing with their employees at the moment. These hurdles will gradually be overcome and other retailers will soon follow suit. Undeniably there are benefits for some of us in the implementation of these new technologies but the permanent damages that they can cause to society far outweigh the benefits.

Furthermore, the loss of social capital is the one we might come to regret in a near future because in the end of the day we are all connected.

What are your thoughts???

What Amazon Go presentation video – click here