经济学人双语:万物互联的世界将如何变化

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Chips With Everything

万物皆有“芯”

How the world will change as computers spread into everyday objects

万物互联,世界将如何变化?


On august 29th, as Hurricane Dorian tracked towards America’s east coast, Elon Musk, the boss of Tesla, an electric-car maker, announced that some of his customers in the storm’s path would find that their cars had suddenly developed the ability to drive farther on a single battery charge. Like many modern vehicles, Mr Musk’s products are best thought of as internet-connected computers on wheels. The cheaper models in Tesla’s line-up have parts of their batteries disabled by the car’s software in order to limit their range. At the tap of a keyboard in Palo Alto, the firm was able to remove those restrictions and give drivers temporary access to the full power of their batteries.

8月29日,飓风“多里安”逼近美国东海岸之际,电动汽车制造商特斯拉公司老板埃隆·马斯克(Elon Musk)公开表示,在飓风影响范围内的特斯拉车主会发现自家的汽车在单次充电后能实现更远的续航里程。和诸多现代交通工具一样,马斯克的产品是互联网与汽车结合的范例。为限制廉价特斯拉汽车的续航里程,车内的软件会使部分电池失效。只需在帕洛阿尔托总部敲一下键盘,公司便能解除那些限制,为司机们临时解锁所有电池容量。


Mr Musk’s computerised cars are just one example of a much broader trend. As computers and connectivity become cheaper, it makes sense to bake them into more and more things that are not, in themselves, computers—from nappies and coffee machines to cows and factory robots—creating an “internet of things”, or iot(see Technology Quarterly). It is a slow revolution that has been gathering pace for years, as computers have found their way into cars, telephones and televisions. But the transformation is about to go into overdrive. One forecast is that by 2035 the world will have a trillion connected computers, built into everything from food packaging to bridges and clothes.

马斯克的联网式汽车仅是大趋势中的一个小案例。随着电脑和联网成本的下降,将电脑植入更多事物也是情理之中,从尿布、咖啡机到奶牛和工厂机器人,物联网(IoT)应运而生(详见科技季刊)。这是一场缓慢的变革。随着互联网已经进入到汽车、电话和电视等领域,多年来这场变革在不断加速,如今将会火力全开。有人预测截至2035年,世界上将会有一万亿台联网电脑,它们植入在大大小小的事物之中,包括食品包装、桥梁和衣物等。

Such a world will bring many benefits. Consumers will get convenience, and products that can do things non-computerised versions cannot. Amazon’s Ring smart doorbells, for instance, come equipped with motion sensors and video cameras. Working together, they can also form what is, in effect, a private cctv network, allowing the firm to offer its customers a “digital neighbourhood-watch” scheme and pass any interesting video along to the police.

这样的世界会带来诸多利好。消费者得以享受便利,联网式的产品能拥有原来所不具备的功能。例如亚马逊的子公司Ring生产的智能门铃就配备了运动传感器和摄像头。两者相辅相成,实际上便形成了一个私人闭路电视网络,公司能借此为消费者提供一个“数字化社区监控”的方案,并把任何“有趣”的录像传输给警方。


Businesses will get efficiency, as information about the physical world that used to be ephemeral and uncertain becomes concrete and analysable. Smart lighting in buildings saves energy. Computerised machinery can predict its own breakdowns and schedule preventive maintenance. Connected cows can have their eating habits and vital signs tracked in real time, which means they produce more milk and require less medicine when they fall ill. Such gains are individually small but, compounded again and again across an economy, they are the raw material of growth—potentially a great deal of it.

企业会更加高效,因为现实世界中曾经稍纵即逝、难以捉摸的信息如今变得具体可感、易于分析。建筑内的智能灯可节约能源。计算机化的机器可预测它本身的故障并规划预防性维修。物联网能实时监测奶牛的饮食习惯和生命体征,这意味着牛奶的产量将会更高,而奶牛生病时需要的药物也会更少。虽然这样的收获就其本身而言不过是涓涓细流,但是在整个经济体系中不断加强之后,这些细流就可能汇聚成一片汪洋大海,拉动经济增长。


In the long term, though, the most conspicuous effects of the iot will be in how the world works. One way to think of it is as the second phase of the internet. This will carry with it the business models that have come to dominate the first phase—all-conquering “platform” monopolies, for instance, or the data-driven approach that critics call “surveillance capitalism”. Ever more companies will become tech companies; the internet will become all-pervasive. As a result, a series of unresolved arguments about ownership, data, surveillance, competition and security will spill over from the virtual world into the real one.

但是从长远看来,物联网对世界运作方式的影响最为显著。我们可以把这视为互联网的第二阶段。它将沿用主导互联网第一阶段的商业模式,例如所向披靡的“平台”垄断公司,或者是批评者们称为“监控资本主义”的数据驱动手段。更多的公司将成为科技新贵,因特网将无处不在。最终,关于所有权、数据、监控、竞争和安全这一系列悬而未决的争论会从虚拟世界漫溢到现实世界。


Start with ownership. As Mr Musk showed, the internet gives firms the ability to stay connected to their products even after they have been sold, transforming them into something closer to services than goods.That has already blurred traditional ideas of ownership. When Microsoft closed its ebook store in July, for instance, its customers lost the ability to read titles they had bought (the firm offered refunds). Some early adopters of “smart home” gadgets have found that they ceased to work after the firms that made them lost interest.

首先是所有权问题。正如马斯克所表明的那样,即使这些产品已出售,网络使得公司仍与产品保有联系,如此一来产品更像是种服务而非商品。这就已经模糊了传统的所有权观念。比如,当微软在7月份关掉了旗下的电子书店后,顾客们无法再阅读他们购买的书籍(公司已退款)。一些较早购买“智能家居”设备的消费者会发现,在设备生产商对该行业失去兴趣后,家中设备纷纷停止运转。


That tilts the balance of power from the customer to the seller. John Deere, an American maker of high-tech tractors, has been embroiled in a row over software restrictions that prevent its customers from repairing their tractors themselves. And since software is not sold but licensed, the firm has even argued that, in some circumstances, a tractor-buyer may not be buying a product at all, instead receiving only a licence to operate it.

如此一来,权力的天平则从买方往卖方倾斜。美国高科技拖拉机制造商约翰·迪尔(John Deere)公司近来卷入了一场纷争:该公司的软件限制导致客户无法自行修理拖拉机。由于软件只是被授权使用而非出售,该公司甚至辩称,在某些情况下,顾客可能根本没有买下产品,只不过是得到了操作授权。


Virtual business models will jar in the physical world. Tech firms are generally happy to move fast and break things. But you cannot release the beta version of a fridge. Apple, a smart phone maker, provides updates for its phones for only five years or so after their release; users of Android smartphones are lucky to get two. But goods such as washing machines or industrial machinery can have lifespans of a decade or more. Firms will need to work out how to support complicated computerised devices long after their original programmers have moved on.

虚拟商业模式难免与现实世界产生冲突。科技公司通常乐于快速发展,也勇于创新。但是你无法发布内测版的冰箱。智能手机制造商苹果公司在新机发布后仅提供五年左右的系统更新;安卓手机的用户则比较幸运,每两年就能得到一次更新。但诸如洗衣机和工业机器等产品的使用寿命通常在十年及以上。企业必须解决一个问题,即在原来的程序员调换工作后,该如何继续为这些复杂的电脑化设备提供支持。


Data will be another flashpoint. For much of the internet the business model is to offer “free” services that are paid for with valuable and intimate user data, collected with consent that is half-informed at best. That is true of the iot as well. Smart mattresses track sleep. Medical implants observe and modify heartbeats and insulin levels, with varying degrees of transparency. The insurance industry is experimenting with using data from cars or fitness trackers to adjust customers’ premiums. In the virtual world, arguments about what should be tracked, and who owns the resulting data, can seem airy and theoretical. In the real one, they will feel more urgent.

数据将是另一个矛盾集中点。大多数网络商业模式是用“免费”服务换取高值且私密的用户数据。而这些数据通常是在用户不完全知情的情况下被授权采集的。物联网也是如此。智能床垫能追踪睡眠数据。医疗植入物能够观察并调整心跳频率和胰岛素浓度,但用户的知情程度各有不同。保险公司正尝试用通过汽车和健身追踪器的数据来调整顾客的保险费。在虚拟世界中,关于追踪对象和结果数据所有权的争论看上去好像不切实际、过于理论化。但是在现实世界中,这些问题会显得更加紧迫。


Then there is competition. Flows of data from iot gadgets are just as valuable as those gleaned from Facebook posts or a Google search history. The logic of data-driven businesses, which do ever better as they collect and process more information, will replicate the market dynamics that have seen the rise of giant platform companies on the internet. The need for standards, and for iot devices to talk to each other, will add to the leaders’ advantages—as will consumer fears, some of them justified, over the vulnerability of internet-connected cars, medical implants and other devices to hacking.

接着是竞争方面的问题。物联网各类装置产生海量数据,其价值不亚于那些从脸书发文或是谷歌浏览历史中搜集的数据。随着数据驱动公司收集并处理更多的信息,它们的绩效会进一步优化。按照这种运作逻辑,曾经大型网络平台公司兴起的市场动态将会重现。对行业标准的需求以及对物联网设备相互通讯的需求会扩大行业龙头公司的优势。还有消费者的担忧也会起到同样的作用,他们担心联网汽车、医疗植入物和其他设备容易遭到黑客入侵,而其中一些担忧不无道理。


Predicting the consequences of any technology is hard— especially one as universal as computing. The advent of the consumer internet, 25 years ago, was met with starry-eyed optimism. These days it is the internet’s defects, from monopoly power to corporate snooping and online radicalisation, that dominate the headlines. The trick with the iot, as with anything, will be to maximise the benefits while minimising the harms. That will not be easy. But the people thinking about how to do it have the advantage of having lived through the first internet revolution—which should give them some idea of what to expect.

预测任何一种科技带来的结果谈何容易,特别是物联网这样广泛应用的科技。25年前,人们对消费者互联网的到来感到过分乐观;近来,占据新闻头条的都是互联网的缺点,包括互联网垄断、互联网公司窥探隐私和网络极端行为等。应对物联网的诀窍和应对其他任何事情一样,就是将其益处最大化并将弊端最小化。这并非易事。但是那些思考对策的人们具有一个优势:由于经历了第一次网络革命,他们明白应该持有怎样的期待。



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