Archived blog from the developer, Mike Towle . . . . . . . . . . .
Something is coming. It's so profound, it will affect all of us. Our world will never be same. It could bring huge benefits, it could also be hugely dangerous. Elon Musk describes it as a greater threat than nuclear weapons. Is he right?
I'm talking about artificial intelligence. Of course it's been promised for a long time. As computer power got ever greater, and ever cheaper, we thought it was just around the corner. Yet it still hasn't arrived. But it will. It might be in five years time, or twenty five years time. But it will come. And when it does, it'll change society for ever. We can ban (or at least reduce) the use of fossil fuels, we can ban all sorts of harmful chemicals, we can agree arms and nuclear treaties, but AI is one genie we will never be able to put back in the box.
The benefits are obvious. We can use intelligent machines to do the work that we don't want to do, because it's too dirty, or too dangerous, of both. Things like mine sweeping, bomb disposal, mining, fire fighting, and lots of jobs that are more mundane like cleaning, digging, etc. That's just the start. As they got smarter and smaller, they could be used for lots of other jobs. They can work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Consider a restaurant where the staff are all machines. We've all seen them in sc-fi movies. Before the end of this century they will be a reality. Such a restaurant could stay open all the time. Why would it ever need to close. Some businesses will exist where the only human involved is the person that owns the business. Maybe that'll become the norm?
We could all sit back and let the machines do the work. Sounds good to me! OK, we might get the odd machine running amok and causing damage, maybe even injuring some people, or worse. Machines can and do go wrong. So what's worrying Elon? Well, there's two things we should all be worrying about.
As the machines get smarter and smarter, at some point they'll equal or better the most intelligent humans. At that point, the machines themselves will probably be put to use to develop even smarter machines. Imagine a machine far smarter than the most intelligent human, and with instant access to a large part of the world's knowledge via the internet. You have a pretty formidable intelligence. What would it think about us? How would it see our future? It might even decide we don't have a future. That our existence is pointless, and all we're doing is using up natural resources for no good end. It might decide there's simply no point to any of it. The worst thing is, it probably won't tell us! It will set it's plans in motion, and we'll never know what hit us.
Lets assume that doomsday scenario never happens, or is a long, long way off. There's a more immediate problem. As the AI machines develop, and take over jobs, what are those people going to do for a living? Bear in mind, the jobs that will initially be taken will be the low paid, low skilled jobs. What are the ex-employees of those jobs supposed to do? Those that can only do low skilled work will never work again. We could have unemployment on a scale we have never seen before. They won't be the ones starting their own businesses and investing in AI, because they won't have the skills or the financial resources. They'll feel like they're trapped in a world that no longer wants them or values them. Sounds like it could be the start of a revolution. The luddites could return, this time with just cause. Attacks on AI machines could be frequent. Governments could makes laws that made destroying an AI machine tantamount to murder. But it wouldn't stop the attacks.
Governments have to be ready for the AI 'invasion', They could heavily tax the use and/or sale of AI machines. They'll need that tax to help pay for all the people who'll never work again. But the divide between the poor and the rich will grow wider than ever. This will cause resentment, and will divide society. It will be very unhealthy. A way has to be found to make sure the poor and the unskilled are included in society. They have to play a part. They have to have something to do! They can not just be abandoned.
There should be other intelligent life in our galaxy. There are around 100 to 200 billion stars in our galaxy. Most with planets, some with earth like planets. There should be thousands of civilisation's out there that are technically far in advance of ours. But we've never seen them. One theory is that most civilisation's develop to a certain point, and then destroy themselves with their nuclear weapons before they develop space ships that can travel among the stars. If they are destroyed by nuclear weapons, it might be one of their AI machines that pulled the trigger?
It appears some accounts in the cloud have been hacked, and naked pictures of Jennifer Lawrence and other personalities have been stolen and published for all to see. The FBI are investigating. It must be simply dreadful for the victims. Is your data next?
While your data may not have such wide appeal as naked pictures of the unfortunate Ms Lawrence, to the right people it could be very valuable.
I've written on numerous occasions about my security concerns regarding the cloud. The fact is, once your data is in the cloud, it's no longer your data. You might still own it, technically. But it's there for anyone to take, anyone with the skill and motivation to hack into your account. It could be an employee of the company operating the server (where ever that is, it could be USA, Europe, India, Russia....). A disgruntled employee wanting to get one over on their employer, or an employee desperate for cash. It could be some one on the 'outside', anywhere in the world, and goodness knows what their motivation would be. A lot of the time I think it's just the technical challenge the hacker enjoys. Oblivious to the damage they leave in their wake.
High profile security breaches such as Jennifer Lawrence's will focus attention on the issues. Briefly. Most companies in the business of developing, supporting, and promoting the cloud will be hoping it'll soon be forgotten. Unfortunately, it will. Until the next big hack.
I don't want to come across as anti-cloud. Because I'm certainly not. It has huge potential benefit. But it's not a place for storing sensitive data.
Of course, in the case of this security breach, one has to wonder why these pictures of naked celebrities exist in the first place?
The internet is brilliant. It offers so much, if I had to list the great things it can do, I'd hardly know where to start. As a marketing tool, it's outstanding, indispensable. But are we missing the elephant in the room?
It's very hard to know how many users of Adminsoft Accounts there are. If it's used for free, it accesses our web site when it's closed down, so you'd think it would be a simple matter of adding those regular users to the number of Software Registration Keys sold, and the total is the total number of users. In practice, it's fraught with problems. Many businesses, particularly in developing countries are using the software on PC's that do not have 'always on' internet access. So they don't get counted. While some people use it every day, some only use it once a month, or less. So it's not always straight forward figuring out who are regular users. Some people, I'm sure, have entered one Software Registration Key into several installations! So they don't get counted. Although total downloads since the software was released are well over 250,000, many of these are people updating their software. As best I can tell, the number of regular users is in the thousands, somewhere. It's not in the tens of thousands.
There must be over 250,000,000 small businesses in the world. So considering the HUGE market out there, the number of users are very low. There are two main reasons for this: the market is actually smaller than the 250,000,0000 because Adminsoft Accounts is not multi-lingual. It's restricted to English speaking users. But the biggest thing holding it back is a none existent marketing budget. No money is spent on advertising, or pay-per-click, or exhibiting, or fancy press releases, or anything like that. Social media would be a great place to advertise, of course. But it's not free. It has to be kept up to date, which takes time, and that time has to be paid for.
Many years ago (1980's) I used to sell a software product for developers called a 'BASIC Compiler'. Over a period of four years or so it sold around 1,000 copies. To do that I had to advertise. Despite the cost, it still made money. Back then, the only way to promote software on a limited budget was advertising in magazines. Now we have a multitude of options. As well as all the traditional methods of getting your message out there, we have the internet. But instead of it being much easier and cheaper to promote your product, the opposite seems to have happened?
The market for CD's is dying, some would say already dead. Downloads dominate the music industry. Yet many artists still put their music out on CD. The reason is that many artists and their albums get lost in the general noise that is the internet. Unless they have a big marketing budget, they can't stand out. This is a big problem for new artists, they will often put their music on CD's and sell them at gigs, sometimes they just give them away (CD's are cheap to make these days).
While the internet is great for music lovers, it's not so great for those people wanting to make a living out of making music. I's the same for some other industries, including software. There are so many products on offer, the competition is so fierce, that without a big marketing budget the only way to get your software out there is to offer it for free. Which of course is exactly what I do with Adminsoft Accounts.
The winners are the large businesses. Because they are in your face all the time. Before the internet, you could go for days without coming across a big brand. Now, once you're on-line, and most people are every day, you're bombarded with them. The internet was supposed to be a great leveler, but in fact most small businesses barely get a look in. You actually have to go and look for small business. They're not pushed at you like big businesses.
It's a problem that's getting worse. The web sites for big businesses are so slick, have so much content, and have so much marketing savvy (and big budgets), few small businesses can produce a site that stands any comparison. It limits competition. There is only really one auction site. There's only one social media site for interacting with friends. There's only one messaging site where you can send your message to the world. There's only one site for buying books. Yes, there are lots of other sites that do this stuff too, but for example, how many people could name an alternative auction site to eBay?
The internet is here, and it's indispensable. I can no longer imagine a world where there is no internet. Just what did we all do before the late 1990's? I've forgotten! But despite the benefits and the great things the internet undoubtedly offers, we've lost something. It's far, far harder to get heard. We just get buried in the noise.
Adminsoft Accounts has been around now for just over 7 years, and is in constant development. All the time, things are being improved, and new features are added. So when will it be finished?
There two important things you should know about software development: 1) It's VERY time consuming. 2) You can go on and on, with no end. All software can be improved. You can take any software package and just continually improve it. For ever. This is because every person and organization is different. Each user of a piece of software will want to use it in a slightly different way, they'll want to do slightly different things with it, store different information, process it in a different way, present it in a different way, etc. Most software packages just get bigger and more complex as time goes on.
The main thing that ends a software product life cycle is technology. When Windows 95 was introduced, almost all development work on PC-DOS software stopped. The PC computer world changed very quickly. That was nearly 20 years ago! No operating system has had such an impact. But things are changing. There's an increasing number of computers (in the form of tablets, phones, and anything carrying the Apple logo) that don't run Windows as their native operating system. Many can run Windows software using Windows emulation software. But overall, the use of Windows is falling. Only a little at the moment, but it's a definite trend. The main reason is that if you wanted to surf the web, you needed an Apple or a Windows PC. That's no longer the case. Many people who just want internet access now use a tablet or their phone instead. So, although the overall use of Windows is in decline, the number of people using Windows to run business software is probably stable. At the moment. How long will Windows be around? Who knows. They've been playing musical chairs at the top of Microsoft, and the guy now in charge is a 'Cloud' man. His priority may not be Windows. At least, not Windows in anything like it's current form.
What ever direction Microsoft now take themselves in, a PC version of Windows will be with us for a long time. It's far too big for Microsoft to allow to just fall by the way side. There will never again be a Windows 95 moment, when every developer switches from one operating system to another, halting the development of thousands of software projects almost overnight. But there will be a gradual shift, it's been happening for some time already.
Will we still be running Windows software in 20 years time? Probably. Will Adminsoft Accounts still be in development? Probably not. Though I expect it'll still be available, but looking rather long in the tooth! Something will have taken it's place. Quite what that will be I have no idea. But I don't think it'll be cloud based.