The year is 2030, and humans have come to depend on artificial intelligence (AI) for a growing variety of everyday and some complicated tasks. Robots have become our doctors, waiters, sales associates, and even a semblance of friendly companion. What may sound like the opening of a science fiction novel is in fact a not-too-distant reality — the foundation for which is already being laid.
Forms of artificial intelligence have been present in our lives for several years, whether we are aware of this fact or not. Many of us take for granted the modern luxuries we enjoy today, that afford us ease and convenience in the approach and performance of otherwise tedious and mundane tasks.
Modern robots have been programmed to mimic basic tasks, movements, and actions of humans. This can range anywhere from simple tasks such as ATM banking, to more complicated avenues such as autonomous vehicles, advancements in medical technology, and other aspects of daily life.
While public opinion varies greatly on the advancement and expanded use of artificial intelligence, there should be no doubt that AI will present an impact on nearly every facet of life as we know it today. As earlier stated, this form of digital disruption is already being heavily researched and perfected.
To be fair and accurate, this is not the first go-round for artificial intelligence. In the 1980s, a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs dedicated their professional lives to the hopes of being on the ground floor in the advancement of AI technology. For a variety of reasons — some known and some speculated — their endeavors never garnered widespread interest, and the movement ultimately ended in what is now referred to as the ‘AI Winter.’
Artificial intelligence enthusiasts — like Shivon Zilis, a Bloomberg Beta investor — assert lessons from the past have been hard-learned. Zilis believes businesspeople and average citizens have finally begun to warm to the idea of widespread AI implementation. “There is no chance of a new winter,” he says.
However, some experts have accepted that assertion with an ample dose of caution. Renowned scientist Stephen Hawking joined others in urging thoughtful restraint in the realm of artificial intelligence — particularly as it pertains to autonomous weaponry and robot-dependent warfare.
Perhaps best known as the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, Elon Musk is also co-founder of OpenAI. A long-time proponent of artificial intelligence research and advancement, he still shares concerns about the methods by which AI will be implemented.
“I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish.”
Meanwhile, others (like industry expert Ron Neale) have suggested technology has already progressed to a point where it would be all but impossible to regulate — much less prevent — the use of AI as a replacement for or enhancement of nearly every aspect of modern life.
“Such a warning about the application of AI and its derivative intelligent machines (IMs) — especially in the area of military application — might be appropriate. But what if IMs are really just a new branch on the tree of evolution that has led us from the original Protists to where we are today?”
For many, the most pressing concern surrounds how the advent of artificial intelligence will alter our livelihoods and ability to financial provide for our loved ones. There can be no argument to the fact that AI will drastically disrupt the workforce as we know it today, though the extent to which that disruption will affect our daily lives remains as yet unclear.
In their study on artificial intelligence, economics professor Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne theorized that more than 700 industries will be affected or completely eclipsed by automation in the near future.
The study analyzed a multitude of occupations, and the probability of machine replacement ranged from a low (but still alarming) 11 percent for journalists, to a staggering 98 percent for loan officers. According to the study, surgeons and elementary school teachers were the least likely careers to see a major artificial intelligence disruption.
Some with a more optimistic view of a future working in a robot-centric world have suggested many workers will actually be freed from ‘mind-numbing and tedious automated tasks,’ and that artificial intelligence could actually expose these workers to and empower them with new professional avenues by which to navigate lucrative opportunities down the line.
Those opportunities, however, will not come about without increased effort on the part of the worker, according to Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory director Andrew Ng.
“There will always be work for people who can synthesize information, think critically, and be flexible in how they act in different situations. Still, the jobs of yesterday won’t be the same as the jobs of tomorrow.”
Still others, such as Aki Ito, predict that, so long as workers are willing to learn new proficiencies and are able to quickly adapt to a changing workforce, they will continue to secure and thrive in positions suited to both their interests and marketable skills.
“Workers will likely need to find vocations involving more cognitively complex tasks that machines can’t touch. Those positions also typically require more schooling.”
As earlier stated, forms of artificial intelligence have existed for years now and have had a mostly positive affect on our daily lives. While it cannot be ignored that AI has forced some to workers to seek alternative employment and/or gain new skills, the technology has not led to the rampant layoffs and industry shift as once predicted.
For example, proponents of artificial intelligence will point to the 1964 example of a gas station utilizing (by today’s standards, crude) robots to assist in dispensing fuel. In this year, gas station owner John Roscoe outfitted his establishment with an electric box that enabled workers to activate gas pumps while inside the store, thereby instantly increasing productivity at the business.
This innovation was soon followed by self-serve gas pumps in the 1970s. In fact, the industry would witness a flurry of new technology still advancing in the present age. At the time of Roscoe’s implementation of that first known gas station automation, the idea that customers would be able to pump and pay for their own fuel without the intervention of any attendant was, of course, unheard of and even dismissed as a pipe dream.
A similar transformation came to the banking industry in the form of automatic teller machines (ATMs). Other forms of automation currently in widespread use include self-checkout, touch-screen food ordering kiosks, and more. In each case, workforce reduction has been minimal, and many workers have been able to remain at their posts by adapting to the new technology and learning new skills.
Today, the artificial intelligence that may not be widely viewed as AI exists in such cases as Google’s search engine, which uses AI to ‘learn’ from the billions of searches performed through the service each day. Facebook alerts users to products and services of possible interest to them through analysis of web behavior and past purchase history. Smartphone virtual assistants such as Siri, Cortana, and others have forever changed the way in which even “technically-challenged” individuals use and interact with technology.
Beyond communication, many other daily tasks will be — or are already being — simplified or enhanced through use of artificial intelligence.
Meteorologists are relying more and more on AI software to help predict and deliver accurate forecasting. Far-reaching weather data collection and reporting has the potential to early-on inform the public of severe weather scenarios — potentially saving lives and protecting property.
For many people, house-cleaning is among the most despised daily tasks. Current technology has already provided consumer with such inventions as the robotic vaccum cleaner. Experts predict future robots will “diversify” into other chores, such as washing dishes, performing minor repairs, and even child and pet care.
Time Management and Productivity
Software applications already readily available allow us to remotely control our home thermostats, security systems, and more. Advancement in artificial intelligence will go one step further, allowing us to save time and resources by performing such tasks as preheating an oven for dinner, closing shades as the sun begins to set, and more.
As earlier stated, artificial intelligence will continue to alter the ways in which we work. Some industries will be all but taken over by AI technology, while others will require workers to gain additional skills and proficiencies in order to thrive in a robot/human workforce.
Autonomous vehicles (sometimes referred to as driverless cars) are currently in use in several states. In the future, experts predict this technology will replace a number of driver-dependent professions, including transportation (taxis, buses, etc.), long-haul trucking, and product delivery. Other industries will also be affected, including insurance, vehicle service/repair, and more.
Of the industries most anticipated to see a major impact is the field of medicine. Doctors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center are researching technology that would allow them to detect heart diseases, and stop heart attacks long before they occur. Artificial muscle and other tissues that mirror natural muscle movement allow patients to experience a life virtually free of disability. Surgeons rely on ‘robotic assistants’ that streamline the surgery process and eliminate human error.
Bossa Nova Robotics unveiled a ‘virtual checker’ that uses AI to navigate store shelves and perform inventory checks, while using sensors to avoid colliding with shoppers.
Taking the idea to a new level, logistics giant Amazon recently made headlines with the announcement of Amazon Go — a grocery store that relies solely on technology, allowing customers to select and purchase items without ever waiting in line or interacting with an employee. Currently only available through one shop at their Seattle headquarters, the retailer hopes to implement the technology worldwide in the coming years.
Automation has also been implemented in retail environments in the form of self-checkout and touch-screen technology.
Office-dwellers won’t be able to escape the grasp of artificial intelligence advancement. Experts predict administrative duties will all but completely be replaced with AI functions, and even senior-level executives will be forced to learn new skills to remain relevant and competitive in the increasingly human/robot mixed workforce culture.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates has expressed concern that many people will simply dismiss or ignore the prospect of artificial intelligence entirely, whether out of some fear of the unknown, or an unwillingness or inability to process such a drastic forthcoming change in the current life they know.
“The mindset of the government and people have not adjusted to view the future, even though technology is exploding this decade into a world of the Internet of Things and the propulsion into artificial intelligence.”
Meanwhile, writer Zachary John predicts a relatively smooth transition into robot/human co-existence.
“AI has allowed us humans to tailor-make robots that fit perfectly into our daily lives, suggesting faster routes to work, recommending TV shows we might like, even telling us jokes when we’re feeling down.”
Regardless of public opinion, however, when it comes to artificial intelligence, the future is now. There will be no turning back from the idea, and no stopping the potential for a human/robot symbiotic relationship. While — as with many new technologies — there may exist rampant and feverish resistance to the robotic revolution, in the end, humans must learn to accept and adapt to this new reality. There will be simply no other option.
YouTube. Historical and Scientific Documentaries. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itdpnojR1kw . Accessed 09 Dec. 2016.
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Frey, Carl Benedikt. Osborne, Michael A. “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization?” Oxford Martin School, 17 Sept. 2013, http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf . Accessed 09 Dec. 2016.
DeAngelis, Stephen F. “Artificial Intelligence is Changing the World and Humankind Must Adapt.” Enterra Solutions, 07 July 2014, http://www.enterrasolutions.com/2014/07/artificial-intelligence-changing-world-humankind-must-adapt.html . Accessed 09 Dec. 2016.
Ito, Aki. “Your Job Taught to Machines Puts Half U.S. Work at Risk.” Bloomberg News, 12 Mar. 2014, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-03-12/your-job-taught-to-machines-puts-half-u-s-work-at-risk . Accessed 09 Dec. 2016.
Evangelista, Benny. “Robot Retail is Here.” San Francisco Chronicle, 15 June 2016, http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Robot-retail-is-here-8148122.php . Accessed 09 Dec. 2016.
John, Zachary. “Robots: The Possibilities of Artificial Intelligence.” Liberty Voice, 22 Mar. 2014, http://guardianlv.com/2014/03/robots-the-possibilities-of-artificial-intelligence/ . Accessed 09 Dec. 2016.
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