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I had a dream, not a Martin Luther King type of dream but one which was very clear nevertheless, and it came before I ran across the other things I’m going on to mention in a moment. In this dream I was involved somehow with computer development across the world, which is strange because I am not a computer geek, I just use one for writing. In this dream we (don’t ask, I don’t know who else was in this dream) decided that to overcome the crime wave of Internet scams that is sweeping the world, the only way to overcome it was to entirely replace the entire stock of computers worldwide and shut down the WWW and create a completely new breed of computers that could only be used when they were identified with a particular person who could be identified as their owner-user and thus held accountable. (Don’t say I don’t think big, and I realise that is more about personal privacy than anything else!) There was more to the dream but that’s enough for here. A completely new form of computer. This may of course have been generated by the sense of annoyance at Microsoft who shut down my computers twice in two weeks to impose further upgrades.

And then came this news headline: “Apple has said that all iPhones, iPads and Mac computers are affected by two major flaws in computer chips.  It emerged this week that tech companies have been racing to fix the Meltdown and Spectre bugs, that could allow hackers to steal data. Billions of PCs, smartphones and tablets around the world are affected - Apple has now confirmed its products are too.” Apparently they’ve known about this for some six months but have kept quiet about it while they try and work out how to deal with it before smart but anti-social hackers join the scene. A need for a new type of computer do I hear?

And then I ran across Quantum Computing. Not wanting to be accused of providing material that creates headaches, I’ve done away with the usual light-hearted quotes with which we finish these articles and provide you instead, at the end, with some quotes about quantum computing and D-Wave computers. That way we avoid the heavy stuff in the middle of the article. Oh my goodness, a new type of computer – they think – but not everyone is sure about whether it works, but apparently they have been in the making for at least five years; it’s just that they may be getting more press because there are now more than one of them around. OK, so much for computers and the future; there’s enough there to whet appetites for the intellectually hyper-keen. That was strange area number one where nightmares appear.

Then I ran across a quote about Stephen Hawking: “Stephen Hawking is concerned that artificial intelligence could replace humans. The world-renowned physicist fears that somebody will create AI that will keep improving itself until it’s eventually superior to people. He says the result of this will be a “new form” of life.” It does seem that fears about the ongoing development of artificial intelligence are starting to rise up like a tsunami in the making. Of course, again, AI development has been around for quite some time; it’s just that new possibilities are being claimed and if the likes of Hawking are worried (and I don’t think it was fake news – it seemed to come from a reliable source) then we are about to move into yet another murky area. There have been numerous films that have dabbled in this genre, but we may be seriously moving into yet another undefinable area that could have long-lasting negative results. Second nightmare scenario possibility.   

And then a well-known fiction writer (who will remain nameless) came out with his most recent book (half price at the time in our local well-known mega supermarket) in which the ‘hero’ puts forward a development that will undermine people’s beliefs all over the globe. OK, spoiler warning – here it is as the hero explains it: “We are now starting to embed computer chips directly into our brains, inject our blood with tiny cholesterol-eating nanobots that live in us forever, build synthetic limbs that are controlled by our minds, we use genetic editing tools like CRISPR to modify our genome, and, quite literally, engineer an enhanced version of ourselves. Human beings are evolving into something different. We are becoming a hybrid species—a fusion of biology and technology. The same tools that today live outside our bodies—smart-phones, hearing aids, reading glasses, most pharmaceuticals—in fifty years will be incor­porated into our bodies to such an extent that we will no longer be able to consider ourselves Homo sapiens. In the blink of an eye, we will become the next page in the flip-book of evolution. And when we do, we will look back on Homo sapiens the same way we now look back at Neanderthal man.  New technologies like cybernetics, synthetic intelligence, cryonics, molecular engineering, and virtual reality will forever change what it means to be human.”

OK it is in fiction, but the scenario is built on present developments and the possibilities are very real. So which is the bigger nightmare? A world of computers that are utterly unsafe and which mega-powers are even now using to destabilize other nations, artificial intelligence that produces machines that eventually put us down, or human bodies so interlinked with science that the first on the scene will be supermen or superwomen who are superior to everyone else – and, of course, knowledge is power. Will these things ever reach ‘maturity’ or will we blow ourselves up beforehand?

Let me finish with a conversation overheard which is faintly linked to some of these things. One person to another, talking about young people working behind the counter in the bar of a restaurant-café: “The trouble with having young people behind the bar, is that they don’t know how to socialize, and so they don’t look you in the face. They spend so much time on their phones or their computers that they never have to relate face to face. We’re going to have to have classes in schools to teach personal interaction.” True conversation overheard. Which leads in to a completely different worrying area to do with technology, that is lightly called “social media” but perhaps will be eventually more accurately named, ‘unsocial media’ or even, ‘antisocial media’, and there it is, a tsunami of worries growing and growing.

So here is the world you and I still inhabit. Should this article be renamed, “The Doomsday Forecast”?  I don’t think so. What it does say to me, is that you and I are going to become vitally important in the lives of our grandchildren as they confront these issues that will be the norms for them. There are whole big areas of society that need our attention and they aren’t, as such, to do with these scary things above. Elderly people increasingly need affirmation and friendship and care as they grow older in a more and more bewildering society, and be helped to see that they have a very real role in stabilizing this society.  Our young people increasingly need love, care, acceptance and friendship to provide an underpinning security in an ever increasingly insecure world, and that is where you and I come in. No, we are not redundant or obsolete in 2018; we are increasingly needed. Hold on to that.

And now for the adventurous, those quotes that come from a variety of places on the Internet, and if you understand beyond the first few lines, you are doing well:

“QUANTUM COMPUTING IS real. But it's also hard. So hard that only a few developers, usually trained in quantum physics, advanced mathematics, or most likely both, can actually work with the few quantum computers that exist.”

“Traditional computers store information in "bits," which can represent either a "1" or a "0." Quantum computing takes advantage of quantum particles in a strange state called "superposition," meaning that the particle is spinning in two directions at once. Researchers have learned to take advantage of these particles to create what they call "qubits," which can represent both a 1 and a 0 at the same time. By stringing qubits together, companies like D-Wave hope to create computers that are exponentially faster than today's machines.”

“Our qubits are not even material things. But then again, the elementary particles that physicists run in their colliders are not really solid material objects.  Here we have non-abelian anyons, which are even fuzzier than normal particles. They are quasiparticles.”

“Some physicists are not even sure that the particular quasiparticles Microsoft are working with — called non-abelian anyons — actually exist”. 

Well, I did warn you!

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