By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy
Twenty years ago  ASCI Red ASCI Red became the first supercomputer to process more than one teraflop. It was created to run computer simulations of how nuclear weapons were aging. At full utilization ASCI Red could process 1.8 teraflops [18 followed by 11 zeros]. Red took up a tennis court of space, used as much electricity as eight hundred houses, and cost $55 million. Red continued to be the most powerful supercomputer in the world until about the end of 2000. In 2006 Sony offered the public the same compute power in the PS3.
The point here is that in 1996 BIG COMPUTE required BIG BUCKS and focused on NATION-STATE level issues. Ten years later BIG COMPUTE required a credit card and could be focused on just about anything. In 1997 IBM’s computer Deep Blue won a match against the world champion Gary Kasparov. In 2016 a free app on your smart phone can beat the best chess player in the world. In 2011 IBM’s Watson beat the world’s best Jeopardy champions. ‘Quiz-show contestant may be the first job made redundant by Watson,’ one of the vanquished men said, ‘but I’m sure it won’t be the last.’
The question leaders have to ask is “what does all this exponentially expanding computer power mean for the future of work?” Whole categories of work will be transformed by the power of computing, and in particular by the impact of robots.
Wassily Leontief, a Nobel laureate in economics, said in 1983 that ‘the role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses in agricultural production was first diminished and then eliminated by the introduction of tractors.'
We are used to the thought that the kind of work done by assembly-line workers in a factory will be automated. We’re less used to the thought that the kinds of work done by clerks, or lawyers, or financial analysts, or journalists, or librarians, can be automated. The fact is that it can be, and will be, and in many cases already is.
The future belongs to leaders who become adept at working with smart machines.
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