Driverless Cars, Automated Trash Service: Here’s Why Blockchain Is The Operating System Of The Future
Recently, a program manager at Singularity University — whom I met at a speaking engagement — made a comment that really encapsulates the future of blockchain.
He said, “Blockchain isn’t necessarily something that stands alone. It seems more of a backbone technology, something we’d use as an operating system for a lot of other technologies.”
When we think of the future, we think of the IoT, big data, AI, machine learning, additive manufacturing, and robotics.
We’re pushing forward with these new technologies, but there’s going to be a need for convergence.
If we want a future with autonomous vehicles moving in harmony, drone deliveries, and refrigerators that purchase milk when we run out, then the systems we put in place need to communicate and operate together efficiently.
Blockchain may be just the operating system to use.
Solving For Fragmentation
To build the futuristic world we imagine, we have to integrate and connect a lot of different technologies and databases.
In the past, we’ve approached automation through complex pathways. All the current models have fragmented systems and centralized databases.
To get the systems communicating, we link each one through APIs on a one-off basis. That creates a really messy web of connections. It’s the equivalent of physically duct taping parts together to get a machine to work. It may be okay for a while, but we can’t use multiple technologies for anything too demanding.
This is extremely inefficient.
The systems aren’t talking to each other. And until they do, we’re never going to realize our vision — or the technologies true potential.
Optimizing Our Current Reality
I was reading Thomas Friedman’s Thank You For Being Late, and he brings up “the sensorization of everything.”
It’s an idea that the future will hold smart objects like refrigerators, toasters, and even toilets that collect data.
But one of the most interesting examples he gave was the concept of smart trash cans.
Let’s say five trash can companies sell their services to customers in New York City. They collect information on how often their smart trash cans get filled, so they can optimize the collection schedule. But they own their data, and they don’t share it with competitors. Which means any downstream partners are left with a fragmented view of the overall data.
Say these companies serve different districts in the city. Yet, these districts utilize all five of the smart trash can types.
Each collection company needs to integrate individually with the APIs of the smart trash can private cloud and build their own AI or analytics to determine the most efficient route.
This is incredibly inefficient.
In the future, if an AI company wants to build smart grids to connect autonomous trash collection to autonomous garbage trucks, they aren’t going to be able to do this without the data from every smart trash can, from other vehicles, and from a multitude of other sources.
That’s where blockchain comes in—it acts as an underlying operating system that can fully leverage the potential of these emergent and exponential technologies.
Linking Present To Future
Smart trash cans are also a perfect example of one of the fears people have about this type of automated future — the potential for lost jobs and careers.
Once trucks are automated, will we need human drivers for trash removal? For taxis?
Do we really want systems that are perfectly automated, that don’t allow for any sort of flexibility?
I’m not advocating for people to cheat the system all the time, but we like being able to bend rules and make exceptions.
Is there a local store that you visit every week where they know your face? Well, imagine you go there next week but forget your wallet. They’ll probably tell you, “Don’t worry about it. Come back with the money later.”
There isn’t room for that type of interaction in these systems. It’s a situation where data dictates what happens.
There’s still a real need for the human element within these systems, however they end up operating.
We don’t want to go down a “Black Mirror” path, but we need to think about the potential futures ahead of us in order to innovate technology the appropriate way.
Still, we have plenty of room to increase automation and efficiency without getting into any dystopian scenarios. We still have issues involving pollution, waste, and the use of natural resources. Increased efficiency helps address all of these problems.
And if we can save time and trash pile ups while we’re at it, we’ll likely be happy with the outcome.