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What keeps me up at night: PHD’s Simon Bird

What worries you the most about technology?

How massively overblown the expectations and timeframes of the tech revolution are.

What excited you the most?

Having a virtual personal assistant do many of the annoying life admin things that I struggle to find time to do.

What’s your scariest prediction for the future?

Government officials with a poor understanding of technology and data using algorithms for social profiling.

If you could go back in time, what’s one technology advancement you would rave about to your great-grandparents?

The advent of smartphones though I suspect I wouldn’t be persuasive enough. Apart from spellcheck, which seems to be getting worse, it really is amazing what we can do on our phones in 2018.

What do you think New Zealand will look like as a country in 2038?

Well, I’d hope it looks rather like it does now. Obviously, there’ll be a few more screens, people and robots. It would also be great if the promise of fewer work hours actually occurs.

What’s your social media usage like?

It is probably as atypical as most advertising and marketing people. Interestingly whilst we were ahead of the curve in the adoption of social platforms we are also ahead in the way that we’re moving toward more restricted usage of social media.  

Do you try to limit how much personal information is available about you online?


What will be dead in the next five years? (Products, companies, trends, etc)

Hopefully Trump’s presidency.

What does your ideal robot look like?

The kind of robot I want is one that does stuff I don’t want to do like cleaning and washing. I don’t really care what it looks like, although the less human looking the better to stop our habit of humanising non-human things. If robots look too human we’d probably end up feeling sorry for them for making them do such boring jobs.

Will the robots become sentient and kill us all?

There are a lot of divergent opinions on this from people far more specialised than I am. My personal point of view is that it’s unlikely. However, given how extreme this event would be, it’s a topic we should keep thinking is plausible as we continue to improve AI (and it improves itself) and build in the appropriate checks and balances.

How likely is it that we’re living in a simulation?

It’s unlikely. It’s an interesting thought experiment but it’s quite narcissistic. If some super smart beings (real or virtual) exist why would they want to model us? Surely they’d have way more interesting things to spend time on. It’s akin to humans building a simulated rat world, which outside a few biology majors is unlikely to make for great viewing.

How far should we take human enhancement? (Bionic limbs, computer chips in brains, designer babies)

As far as the human enhancement ethics board allows us. 

What’s the best use of a chatbot you’ve seen?

The language translators are probably the most impressive but this technology is really in its infancy. I suspect the next five years will be far more impressive than the last five.

How would you feel about interacting with a chatbot fuelled by a deceased loved one’s texts and social media posts?

Unless your loved one died of Alzheimer’s, full interaction is likely to lack reality. Following on from the above comment this technology is so far off feeling human and they get ‘confused’ easily. It remains to be seen just how realistic this technology can get but maybe if their voice was perfectly captured then having a chatbot repeat a few favourite sayings from time to time might be quite powerful.

What about being a part of a social credit systemBlack Mirror style?

See earlier answer to scariest prediction.

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To read what’s keeping other industry folk awake at night, click here.

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