Despite fears of a dystopian future from luminaries such as Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and others, artificial intelligence is actually helping people live better lives in the present, and its future is especially bright.
Artificial intelligence is not only here to stay — it is one of the few technologies that “could profoundly affect our economic well-being in the 21st century,” reshaping the way labor and capital are allocated, according to International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde.
Investment in the space has soared over the last five years, from $45 million in 2010 to $310 million in 2015.
“It’s likely that artificial intelligence will help humans make better decisions in many aspects of our lives, helping us better model which decisions are likely to lead to the best outcomes, helping us cure diseases, preventing accidents and natural disasters, and so on,” says Jan Dawson, Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research.
I suspect there are very few fields which won’t be touched in some way by AI over the coming decades, and in many cases AI will entirely transform the way we do things.
Whether it’s making smarter financial decisions, improving health care and the patient diagnosis process, or simply handling mundane tasks such as booking hotels and restaurants, artificial intelligence is augmenting and improving life for the better.
Artificial intelligence in the now
Take something as difficult as predicting the weather — meteorologists have been trying to do it for years, with mixed success. Now, thanks to artificial intelligence, the predictions can be far more accurate with wider-reaching implications.
IBM’s purchase of The Weather Company for a reported $2 billion-plus spurred the creation of its new hyper-local predictive model, Deep Thunder, which uses historical data to train machine learning models to precisely forecast the weather and its impact on businesses. In addition to being able to predict the weather, IBM will help its clients increase efficiency by predicting consumer behaviors during even the slightest changes in weather patterns, helping them market and stock products in real time.
Not all artificial intelligence is created equal, however. It’s important to understand the differences between what you might see every day when you check your smartphone first thing in the morning and what goes on behind the scenes at a big corporation.
Soft AI, which includes services such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa and Viv that function as intelligent assistants, is already here and aiding in simple tasks, such as sending texts, booking hotels or restaurant reservations, and ordering taxis.
There is also hard AI, in which the software actually makes decisions on its own and augments human intelligence.
Artificial intelligence isn’t likely to be limited to products and services; it can also help with creative tasks — things humans have traditionally excelled at over machines, says Chris Mazzei, EY Global Chief Analytics Officer.
“An example of this is various pieces of music — some have been composed by people, others by machines, and people were asked to tell which were composed by man and which were machine,” Mazzei states. “The punch line is that people couldn’t tell the difference, demonstrating the creative process can be handled by AI and machine learning, with boundaries being stretched and challenged on things humans are uniquely qualified to do.”
AI is also a huge component of the future of smart technology and connected devices, the so-called Internet of Things, in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.
Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing is using artificial intelligence to help make drivers' routes more efficient. Didi’s Head of Corporate Communications, Liang Sun, notes the company is working with municipalities to help make better sense of their data.
“We’ve got to make sure the technology is good enough to handle demand fluctuations and not have drivers sit in congestion, losing income,” Sun says. “This is where we’re putting our money into changing the broader traffic picture and changing people’s lives — no one is going to wait for 15 minutes for a car, even if they’re getting a little subsidy.”
Artificial intelligence can also be used to improve call centers and improve customer service. Amelia, developed by IT services firm IPsoft, has algorithms that can understand instruction manuals and guidelines to help customers, tasks that ordinarily would take a person weeks or even months to fully comprehend.
“Amelia learns with every transaction and builds a mind map on the fly,” IPsoft CEO Chetan Dube said in a 2015 interview with Entrepreneur. “As more incidents come in, this mind map is rapidly building, just the way humans build their mind maps. Soon it represents the cumulative intellect of all the different [employees] who have been fielding these different calls.”
A brighter future for all
As artificial intelligence and the future of smart attempt to make humans more efficient, Facebook is currently using AI to help disabled users.
In a mid-June Q&A on Facebook Live, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg detailed how Facebook is using AI to help the blind “see” photos, with AI describing the images aloud, or adding subtitles to videos if someone is hard of hearing.
The company is also using artificial intelligence to build a better search engine, hoping to use DeepText, a text learning engine, to better understand what people’s interests are, as well as build a deep neural network architecture.
Combining artificial intelligence and the plethora of connected devices can help cut costs significantly and make marked improvements in both robotics software and hardware, with applications like robotic process automation becoming more prevalent.
Spending in the robotics sector, where artificial intelligence may see its greatest impact, is expected to reach $135 billion by 2019, up from $71 in 2015, for a compound annual growth rate of 17%, according to research firm IDC, highlighting the need for AI as robotics becomes more prevalent.
While disruption of the workplace in some shape or form is inevitable, humans should seize the upside and use the technology to free people to do what they do best.
There’s the notion that AI is something that will enhance, make people and businesses more productive — that’s the notion of AI working alongside humans. It can help free people up to be more productive and effective in the roles they’re in, improving quality of work and access to information.
Artificial intelligence is already becoming integral to both our work and personal lives. It allows people and businesses to free up time for more difficult tasks or new experiences, adding value in new ways. Companies that invest in these capabilities over time and understand them will be ahead of their peers, putting them at a competitive advantage.