Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, April Koury, Alexandra Whittington, and Maria Romero are futurists with Fast Future, which specialises in studying and advising on the impacts of emerging change. Here, they delve deep into the meaning of Artificial Intelligence and explore the many ways in which it impacts day-to-day (and more speficially) business life
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a hot topic; a combination of breathless excitement and near-paralysing fear are driving the debate with countless – often ill-informed – predictions about how the technology which will revamp our future lives.
At its core, AI is a type software or hardware that learns; the technology is being applied to learn our habits, our likes and our relationship patterns. Just as Netflix uses an algorithm to suggest films you might watch, a similar “Lifestyle AI” could help choose your wardrobe, your next meal, your job, even your romantic partner.
The capabilities of AI tools and the range of applications are growing exponentially. Indeed, by 2020 AI could be present in some form in everything we do, and by 2030, AI is likely to have infiltrated our lives in much the same way as smartphones, the internet and global travel are now taken for granted.
So, how might AI change our day-to-day existence?
Managing our mental health
From workplace stress to full breakdowns and a range of other conditions – people are struggling to cope with the pressures of modern life. To address this, AI tools on our phones and computers could monitor everything from our speech patterns and keyboard strokes to an array of medical indicators captured through body worn devices and implanted sensors.
From early detection of possible issues to providing background guidance during stressful calls and conversations – AI could help manage our mental health.
Anticipating your ‘party sick’ Fridays
Some companies are exploring the idea of monitoring employees’ social media activities to determine if they may be partying a little too hard tonight and thus likely to call in “sick” tomorrow. Knowing in advance would allow for cover to be arranged. Employers might even offer staff “party days” – where they can accrue extra hours which can then be used to sleep it off the morning after a big night without it affecting their pay or employment records.
The entire set of activities described above could all be conducted by AI with no human intervention.
Making good decisions
Our AI could become a sort of conscience, reminding us of right and wrong at every turn. This could work on both the individual level (“should I lie on this job application?”), and at an organisational scale (“should we rip off this customer?”). Not only might AI be deployed as a form of monitoring or ‘truth detecting’ technology that sets off alarms at the source of any mistruth, but data could also become so ubiquitous and verifiable that it won’t pay to lie.
Crimes of all kinds could become much more difficult to commit. Indeed, law enforcement could eventually get bored and look for something else to do – possibly investing the time in strengthening community engagement.
Mandatory personal growth
The ability of AI to help us understand ourselves and learn could lead to lives filled with learning. The “unexamined life” could become obsolete – it may one day be legally impossible to avoid the constant “big brother” data gathering and feedback about one’s daily progress against officially defined or personally set physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual development goals. The absence of such goals or tracking information might indicate antisocial tendencies.
The gathering of data to improve one’s performance in every area would be viewed as a must-do, otherwise, what’s the point of collecting it – or indeed – what’s the point of living in an organised society?
The end of solitude
The days when someone could take a few days off the grid and disconnect from everything may be coming to an end. For AI to really know its user, the blanket of visible and hidden data collecting sensors that enshroud us must be on and working everywhere and around-the-clock. While you could be physically alone, your digital footprint could reveal your whereabouts in a microsecond.
Privacy issues may arise if terms and conditions are not properly established, and security systems will remain vulnerable to hacking. You may still be ‘allowed’ to voluntarily turn off your AI, but that alone would be a red flag that might trigger further and more in-depth scrutiny of your behaviours.
Legal dispute resolution
Many current cases could be directed away from the courts to be resolved by AI judges. For example, in divorce cases, employment tribunals, industrial injury and many customer-supplier disputes, judges today are largely applying standard formulae to determine settlements.
With AI, a much larger volume of precedents could be considered in a fraction of a second to find the cases that best resemble the current one. Hence greater consistency could be achieved in the resolution of similar disputes. In more severe cases such as robbery, murder or violent crimes, data could be collected and analysed from the IoT array of sensors built into everyday objects such as furniture, clothing and electronic appliances. If the TV room surveillance camera, the sensors in the sofa and your mobile phone AI all say you committed the crime, then AI might be able to resolve the case faster and more cheaply than a traditional court room. A jury might still be involved but the AI would be providing them with more consistent, up-to-date and precise guidance than any human could ever hope to achieve.
Communities may be better organised since AI could monitor and analyse the ‘health’ of the community – covering everything from environmental indicators through to levels of crime, engagement in public spaces and discussions on web boards and social media.
Community planners could harness the intelligence of AI for optimal planning, ensuring that public works and services are available where and when residents need them. For example, AI mapping might help planners identify and predict faster that an area with a rapidly growing population will soon lack sufficient access to schools, health facilities, libraries, and even a fresh food markets.
Community managers might send mobile classrooms, GPs, libraries, and fresh food trucks to those areas, or help reorganise the community to self-provision some of the missing essentials.
Environmental conditions may improve by using AI and sensors connected through the Internet of Things (IoT) to help monitor the local and even global environment. Sensors may constantly feed AI software that records and analyses the latest local environmental data on factors such as air and water quality.
Based on AI predictions and recommendations, commuters may be redirected to public transport or to use reduced emission roads on certain days. In addition, trees and greenery might be planted in specific areas to reduce soil erosion and decrease potential flooding, while entire cities may be redesigned to lessen overall environmental impact on the planet.
Artificial intelligence could replace the technical information delivery role currently undertaken by teachers. Each student could be specifically monitored by AI on a range of subjects designed to prepare the student for the future world of work.
No longer will all students work to the same or similar curriculum through all 11 years of primary and secondary education. Instead they would have a carefully planned and constantly monitored, evolving and personalised programme. This would be designed to stretch and develop each student with the skills he/she needs for the expected types of jobs or further education landscape they might encounter at 16 years of age.
Students will still need someone in the classroom, but maybe the human “teacher” is responsible for helping advise on research strategies and problem-solving approaches, encouraging group working and collaboration, nurturing individuals, providing emotional support, and helping the students develop the social skills required to enable each to play a full role in the emerging world – served by the machines – thus ensuring every individual a very human future.