Wed Mar 26 2014
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Soldiers of the Future: Will GOOG Be Evil?

Robotic soldiers, intelligent TV, and personalized medicine … they’re all on the way. In some ways, they are already here.

Regular readers know how technology fascinates me. I started my career as a tech analyst and I love tinkering with machines. Just last week I assembled a new computer for one of our newUncommon Wisdom Daily team members. It saved him several hundred dollars and I had a fun Saturday afternoon doing it.

The computers we have in our homes are primitive compared to what’s coming. Today I want to look ahead to the world our children and grandchildren will know.


Google (GOOG) co-founder Larry Page gave a fascinating interview at the TED Conference in Vancouver this month. The video is about 25 minutes long, and I highly recommend you watch the whole thing.

Google is involved in many different businesses. I made the point last year that it is really a media outlet disguised as a technology company. If you listen to Larry Page talk, you’ll see he has a much grander vision.

Privacy is a big issue since the Snowden revelations, and Page didn’t shrink from the question. He doesn’t like that the government takes private information without asking permission.

Page says Google’s goal is to help everyone share the right information with the right people in the right way. Yes, advertising is part of it, but you’ll see in the video how access to information can help people in surprising ways.


Speaking of the government, the Pentagon’s Defense Advance Research Projects Agencysponsors an interesting event: the DARPA Robotics Challenge. Here is how they describe it.

The DRC is a competition of robot systems and software teams vying to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters. It was designed to be extremely difficult.

Teams from some of the world‘s most advanced robotics research and development organizations are collaborating and innovating on a very short timeline. They are developing the hardware, software, sensors and human-machine control interfaces that will enable their robots to complete a series of disaster-response challenge tasks selected by DARPA.

Follow the link above and you can watch some interesting robot videos. But there‘s something bigger I don‘t want you to miss  …

DARPA says it is funding robot research in order to help disaster response. I am sure robots could help U.S. forces on disaster relief missions. This is a good thing.

Let’s not forget, however, that DARPA’s job is to find better ways to defend the nation from foreign enemies. A robot that can move independently and dig victims out of collapsed buildings could also carry weapons and shoot people.

I wrote earlier this month about the robot presentation my colleague Patrick Watson attended at SXSW Interactive. Autonomous machines are coming, whether we like it or not. They will replace humans in many roles. Will future soldiers be robots instead of people?

We all hope our grandchildren never see war. The way technology is progressing, they may not haveto see it. Robotic proxies could do the actual fighting while people watch from a distance.

Frankly, I’m not sure if that will be an improvement or not. It could save human lives but also tempt leaders to use force too quickly. What do you think?


By the way, Google recently acquired two of the companies competing in the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

The company says it will let its new subsidiaries compete for the prize, but they won’t take any more funding from DARPA.

Google apparently doesn’t want to be known as a weapons-maker —  which makes perfect sense given its global ambitions.

I still think the technology it‘s developing will be weaponized eventually. If the U.S. doesn’t do it, somebody else will.


Since I’m talking about technology leaps, I have to acknowledge James DiGeorgia. He wrote a great column back in October called America’s Next Great Leap: 2029 Technology, Today’s Profits.

James was right on target back then. Now he’s describing those same trends as the “TEM Boom.“ I hope you watched his new video. If you missed it the first time, click here for another chance.


My Will Sanctions Bite Putin? story drew a mixed responses. Most people agreed with me that economic sanctions against Russia won’t make Vladimir Putin back down.

Reader Bruce M. says: “As I see it, we have four choices:

1. Land the Marines in Crimea (to protect Americans there) and mobilize our troops for war that could kill hundreds of thousands or millions of innocents or…

2. Mobilize NATO, draw a line and lob insults over it like we did in the Cold War (and still do in places like Korea) and risk killing hundreds of thousands, or…

3. Try to isolate Russia, which will do harm to tens of thousands + or…

4. Just forget about it and let Putin become bolder in the near future and will still harm tens of thousands or more…

Sorry! No good answer but it looks like the financial world has already taken the last option!“

Brad: Thanks, Bruce. This is a stark set of choices, but I have to agree with you. All the options are bad.

On our internal conference call this morning, Patrick said the only thing that could conceivably sway Putin would be driving crude oil prices down to $ 70 or lower. That’s how Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher made the Soviet Union collapse —  with some help from the Saudis.

Unfortunately, Reagan’s plan still took years to work. If the U.S. still had the ability to make oil prices fall that much, I think we would have already done it.

I’m open to other ideas, but I do not see the upside of “doing something“ that won’t solve the problem and might even backfire on us.

What if we had robotic soldiers now? Could they drive Putin’s Terminators out of Crimea? Any other ideas? Click here to send me your suggestions.


Here is your Tuesday roundup…

  • U.S. stock indexes ended higher. Technology and biotech leaders recovered some lost ground, but the blue chips still outperformed today.
  • Fuel cell supplier Plug Power (PLUG) made a sudden leap higher this afternoon. The shares were at $ 6.15 at 2:00 PM ET, then closed at $ 8.47 two hours later. That’s a 37% intraday swing.
  • What happened? PLUG CEO Andy Marsh told MarketWatch said the company had “signed an additional order with a global automaker.“
  • Fair warning to anyone tempted to jump aboard PLUG now: What goes up, must come down.
  • The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index came out much stronger than expected, hitting a six-year high. They must have polled the same consumers who bought PLUG in the last hour today.
  • The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city Home Price Index for January was up 13.2% from a year earlier. That was the lowest twelve-month gain since August 2013.
  • The IRS ruled today that digital currency Bitcoin is “property“ for tax purposes. That means Bitcoin owners will owe capital gains tax if they use their digital wallets to buy goods worth more than their Bitcoin cost basis.

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