Recently, President Barack Obama and MIT Professor Joi Ito were interviewed by Wired magazine about the future of artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential impact on our future lives. What the President and Professor Ito said are below, which were very enlightening to me. For what it’s worth, I’ll put my two cents afterward, adding a few other observations.
(apologies to Professor Ito for leaving him out of the title but it took away the ring and rhyme with too many more syllables)
There is no doubt AI is all around us, even if you’re not that immersed in technology. Most of it is still specialized AI at this point, with algorithms doing something specific, but increasingly more complex, and figuring out how to do it better with more data, calculations and/or different approaches. AI, even if only in its specialized form, has a lot of potential to improve all of our lives. However, the potential cost to it is just as great.
AI is highly technical. It takes a lot of skills and knowledge to be able to harness it. That doesn’t come cheap, so it also takes a lot of resources. It’s hard to really get in the game with a fair chance of succeeding, in other words. It might sound like there are a lot of start-ups popping out of nowhere with success doing this or that, but those aren’t like your “mom and pop shops” corner store type of business that anyone can start. You’ve got be highly trained, or be able to afford some highly trained people, to start something that will make a practical impact, in other words. And who’s got the resources to do this? Mostly the wealthy. People can get loans, sure, but it’s like their working with a handicap, or at least a relatively low cap, in terms of resources.
AI will ultimately only drive more money to the wealthy as they eliminate common jobs, most but not all of which will be of the low paying kind, requiring little physical dexterity (more in the next post). AI will replace the mind faster than robots can replace the body in terms of progress, in my opinion. To harness AI without creating a social revolution in addition to the technological one, we will have to figure out a fair and reasonable way to redistribute wealth as it is taken away from those with less and further pooled into the hands of those with more. We will have to retrain a lot of people eliminated from their jobs to do something else. We might have to pay for that training, fairly or not according to current labour and social standards. We might have to make menial jobs worth more, maybe even go to fixed income. How we resolve the redistribution of wealth that the advancement of AI will force upon us will be our biggest challenge to accepting AI. We will need a moral revolution in perspectives there as big as the technological revolution happening now, or else we’re going to end up with a social revolution that it will take a lot more than AI to resolve!
As for generalized AI where a machine can really think like us at our level of complexity to take on moral problems about life and society, among everything else humans try, I think the President and Professor are right. It’s still a long way off. If we’re not practical about things to deal with the specialized AI challenges we are already facing, and will face only in greater degrees in the very near future, there won’t be a future to think about with generalized AI in it! I’m not saying we’ll be exterminated. We’ll just have so many other things to worry about that generalized AI will be the least of our concerns, and thus, priorities to develop further.
For now, specialized AI is the main challenge and benefit for us. If you haven’t noticed or felt impacted by AI before, you likely will in 2017. If business and government entities have felt the impact of AI to be negligible to them before, that won’t be true any more in 2017. The question that remains now is what are you doing to get ready?
Now, when it comes to robotics, I think 2018 will be the year when you’ll really start noticing AI robots “everywhere”. Not as in as crowded as people in a town or city outside the home, but maybe like bicycles in North America these days. It won’t take you long to encounter one if you’re out and about enough, providing you don’t have one at home. There’ll be enough AI robots around in 2017 to catch a lot of people by surprise as to their advancement. Certainly, I hope to be a part of that movement with my own robots in AIRO (my Artificially Intelligent Robots Order). However, I think 2018 will be the year when you’ll get used to them enough it will no longer be of shock value to you. That’s why I’m jumping in the game right now as the first AI robots are made available to consumers, AI robots that can move about and interact with you, not just come through your phone like Siri or a speaker in the home like Echo.
Next, President Obama, Professor Ito and I will discuss (separately) how AI will affect jobs.