Artificial intelligence (AI) could be the most transformative technology in the history of mankind — and we may not even see much of this sweeping change coming. That’s because we often overestimate what technologies can do in five years, and underestimate what they will be able to do in 20.
The power of AI lies in its ability to continuously improve with more data, dramatically exceeding human performance, for single-domain tasks. This is why AI’s greatest applications today are Internet and financial applications, where everything is digital and quantitative. In the future this will be expanded to more and more industries and domains, until eventually AI will know us better than we know ourselves. Websites, apps, and other digital devices will know our psyche and motivations through not only every click, purchase, and pause (which are captured today) but every action, movement, and speech (which will be captured in the future, in a secure way that protects our privacy).
This will have profound consequences for everything from how we work and play, to how we communicate and learn.
These robots will become self-replicating, self-repairing, and even partially self-designing. Houses and apartment buildings will be designed by AI and use prefabricated modules that are put together like Lego blocks by robots, thus dramatically reducing housing costs. AI will work 24/7, won’t get sick, won’t complain, and won’t need to be paid. As a result, AI will reduce the cost of most manufactured goods to a small increment over the cost of materials. AI can help assist research analysts, lawyers, and journalists by scouring every piece of data in the world, compiling this data, giving time back to professional workers to think about more strategic and complex issues. While professional jobs are amplified by AI, routine white-collar jobs like telemarketing, entry-level accounting, or “paper pushing” will be displaced by AI. These technologies will start as assistants but take over all routine jobs completely over time. Within a corporation, AI will gradually displace entry-level routine jobs throughout each department.
At the same time AI is upending the workforce, it will also be improving our lives in meaningful ways — including by making us healthier. Right now, healthcare is being digitized, with everything from data from patient records, to radiology, wearable computing, and multi-omics moving online. This creates an opportunity for AI to redefine healthcare as a data-driven industry, revolutionizing the entire healthcare value chain from diagnosis and treatment to also health alerts, monitoring, and long-term care.
As more digital information for each patient becomes available — including medical history, family history and DNA sequencing — precision medicine will become increasingly feasible. AI is ideally suited to deliver this kind of individualized optimization. Diagnostic AI for general practitioners will emerge later, one disease at a time, gradually covering all diagnoses. Because human lives are at stake, AI will first serve as one tool at doctors’ disposal, or will be deployed only in situations where a human doctor is unavailable.
AI will also make people’s lives better on the road, where autonomous vehicles will bring about a transportation revolution. On-demand cars that take you to your destination with lower cost, greater convenience and better safety. Autonomous cars will become the safest drivers on the road, eventually reducing 90% of traffic fatalities. Autonomous vehicles will be part of a full smart-city infrastructure designed to host autonomous vehicles as part of an interconnected transport system. As automation rates increase, cars will be able to communicate with one another instantly, accurately, and effortlessly. For example, a car with a blown tire can tell nearby cars to stay away. In addition, consider a car passing another can communicate its movement path precisely to nearby cars, so two cars can be two inches away, yet with no risk of collision. Or, if a passenger is in a hurry, their car can offer an incentive (say five cents) to other cars for slowing down and giving the right-of-way. These improvements will create an infrastructure of mostly AI drivers, eventually.
An AI teacher will notice what makes a student’s pupils dilate or eyelids droop. It will deduce a way to teach geometry to make one student learn faster, even though that method may fail on a thousand other students. AI will give each student different exercises, based on his or her pace, ensuring a given student achieves a full mastery of a topic before moving to the next. With ever-more data, AI will make learning much more effective, engaging, and fun. In this AI-infused learning, teachers will be human mentors and connectors for the students. Human teachers will be the driving force behind stimulating the students’ critical thinking, creativity, empathy and teamwork. And the teacher will be a clarifier when a student is confused, a confronter when the student is complacent, and a comforter when the student is frustrated: roles AI cannot play.
When we leave school and work, AI will be waiting for us at home — opening up new worlds of immersive entertainment and delivering a virtual experience indistinguishable from the real world. Combined with technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), the boundaries between real life, remote communications, games, and movies will blur. By 2041, we will be able to teach children science by having them interact with virtual Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, and use VR to design specialized treatment for psychiatric problems, such as PTSD. AI will make great toys and companions — in VR they will be fully photo-realistic, and as robots they will become increasingly realistic. AI won’t, however, be able to truly love us back.
AI in 2041 will be as challenging as it will be exciting. AI will create efficient services that will give us back our most valuable resource — time. It will take over routine tasks, and liberate us to do more stimulating or challenging jobs. Humans will work symbiotically with technology, with AI performing quantitative analysis, optimization, and routine work, while we humans contribute our creativity, strategy, and passion. Each human’s productivity will be amplified, allowing us to realize our potential. We are the generation that will inherit the unprecedented wealth from AI, so we must also bear the responsibility of rewriting the social contract and reorienting our economies. But if we do, and if we begin to plan for the future now, AI will create unprecedented economic opportunities, save millions of lives and push us into thinking more deeply about what really makes us human.