Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer the stuff of science fiction books and movies. It is a reality that is already permeating society and is affecting our daily lives. If you use facebook or google, artificial intelligence enables machines to virtually understand what you’re looking for or to augment your network. In some countries and states in the US, self-driving cars have already taken to the streets. Elsewhere, companies are experimenting with bots that can act like lawyers, tellers, or doctors.
Progress in AI is picking up steam as more and more people and companies jump the bandwagon. Hundreds of new startups launch every year, focusing on using artificial intelligence to solve complex problems — some of which are impossible to solve otherwise. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from B-movies is that you have to be really careful with a technology which has the potential to outwit humanity.
Fifteen years from now in a North American suburb
That’s what the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence (AI100) is for — an ongoing projected hosted and funded by Stanford University. The project was first conceived in 2014 by Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research’s Redmond laboratory. Since then, a panel of experts was assembled coming from various backgrounds to assess the economic, political and social impact of AI.
Two years later, the 17-member panel of international experts released their first report titled Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030, which looks at how a typical AI-enabled North American city might look like in 2030.
The report makes this incursion in time manageable by breaking down the discussion into eight sections. The first half discusses applications like transportation, robots, health care, education, entertainment while the second delves into the effect technological AI might have on employment, public safety and security, and low-resource communities. In each section, the authors review the progress AI has made in the past fifteen years but also look into the future to anticipate what AI will look like fifteen years from now.
“This process will be a marathon, not a sprint, but today we’ve made a good start,” said Russ Altman, a professor of bioengineering and the Stanford faculty director of AI100. “Stanford is excited to host this process of introspection. This work makes practical contribution to the public debate on the roles and implications of artificial intelligence.”
Eight sections from AI100
Transportation: Autonomous cars, trucks and, possibly aerial delivery vehicles may alter how we commute, work and shop and create new patterns of life and leisure in cities.
Home/service robots: Like the robotic vacuum cleaners already in some homes, specialized robots will clean and provide security in live/work spaces that will be equipped with sensors and remote controls.
Healthcare: Devices to monitor personal health and robot-assisted surgery are hints of things to come if AI is developed in ways that gain the trust of doctors, nurses, patients, and regulators.
Education: Interactive tutoring systems already help students learn languages, math, and a host of other skills. More is possible if technologies like natural language processing platforms develop to augment instruction by humans.
Entertainment: The conjunction of content creation tools, social networks, and AI will lead to new ways to gather, organize and deliver media in engaging, personalized and interactive ways.
Low-resource communities: Investments in uplifting technologies like predictive models to prevent lead poisoning or improve food distributions could spread AI benefits to the underserved.
Public safety and security: Cameras, drones and software to analyze crime patterns should use AI in ways that reduce human bias and enhance safety without loss of liberty or dignity.
Employment and workplace: Work should start now on how to help people adapt as the economy undergoes rapid changes as many existing jobs are lost and new ones are created.
“AI technologies can be reliable and broadly beneficial,” said AI100 chairwoman and Harvard computer scientist Barbara Grosz. “Being transparent about their design and deployment challenges will build trust and avert unjustified fear and suspicion.”
There is no consensus among academics on what ‘artificial intelligence’ means
One important takeaway is that artificial intelligence is far from being a mature technology. There isn’t even a precise definition of artificial intelligence yet, the authors note, given that there is no general purpose AI yet. Rather, AI today like that used to control Google’s self-driving cars or IBM’s Watson are designed to tackle specific tasks. Machine learning is integral in this respect as it enables artificial neural networks to interpret vast swaths of data and make sense of it all. Yet, while a machine can derive meaning or ‘understand’ data, not just identify definition, there is no AI today that can sustain a long-term goal or intent on its own. These are adaptable, responsive machines — but not thinking machines.
So what will a North American city look like fifteen years from now? Schools will “use intelligent tutors and other AI technologies to assist teachers in the classroom and at home” and learning based on virtual reality application will become increasingly important. Transportation-wise, “one vision is a network of connected vehicles that can reach a high level of safety in driving with car-to-car communication” while robots and drones “are also likely to take part in transportation by carrying individuals and packages.” The home of the future will also feature new pets — home robots.
“Special purpose robots will deliver packages, clean offices, and enhance security, but technical constraints and the high costs of reliable mechanical devices will continue to limit commercial opportunities to narrowly defined applications for the foreseeable future,” the authors of the report wrote.
Health care advances in AI are a bit blurry due to regulations, current or pending. However, AI is expected to play a critical role in health analytics, health robotics, mobile health and elder care. With targeted incentives and funding priorities, AI technologies could help address the needs of low-resource communities.
The cities of 2030 are expected to seriously implement AI-enabled tech for public safety and security.
“These include cameras for surveillance that can detect anomalies pointing to a possible crime, drones, and predictive policing applications. As with most issues, there are benefits and risks. Gaining public trust is crucial. While there are legitimate concerns that policing that incorporates AI may become overbearing or pervasive in some contexts, the opposite is also possible. AI may enable policing to become more targeted and used only when needed. And assuming careful deployment, AI may also help remove some of the bias inherent in human decision-making,” the authors wrote.
Perhaps the most important chapter in the report deals with AI’s impact on employment. Previously, we reported that half of all US jobs are at risk of being overtaken by robots and AI100’s board is also worried stating AI will “have a profound future impact on employment and workplace trends in a typical North American city,” but “it is difficult to accurately assess current impacts, positive or negative.”
“To be successful, AI innovations will need to overcome understandable human fears of being marginalized. AI will likely replace tasks rather than jobs in the near term, and will also create new kinds of jobs. But the new jobs that will emerge are harder to imagine in advance than the existing jobs that will likely be lost. Changes in employment usually happen gradually, often without a sharp transition, a trend likely to continue as AI slowly moves into the workplace. A spectrum of effects will emerge, ranging from small amounts of replacement or augmentation to complete replacement. For example, although most of a lawyer’s job is not yet automated, AI applied to legal information extraction and topic modeling has automated parts of first-year lawyers’ jobs. In the not too distant future, a diverse array of job-holders, from radiologists to truck drivers to gardeners, may be affected,” the authors wrote.
The authors note that their project is all about informing society about the risks and impacts AI will have so that any negative effects might be minimized. At the same time, an educated society is less fearful of AI and thus will help the technology grow unhindered by potentially irrational policy. The panel offers three general guidelines to address concerns surrounding rapidly evolving artificial intelligence.
1. Define a path toward accruing technical expertise in AI at all levels of government. Effective governance requires more experts who understand and can analyze the interactions between AI technologies, programmatic objectives, and overall societal values.
2. Remove the perceived and actual impediments to research on the fairness, security, privacy, and social impacts of AI systems.
3. Increase public and private funding for interdisciplinary studies of the societal impacts of AI.