Tuesday, 15 September 2015

On AI and the future

The Future Soon by K Rupp on flickr
Last Friday was the last dConstruct (at least in it's current form). For the past ten years this has been an interesting design conference held in Brighton looking at the culture/technology intersection.

As a Artificial Intelligence graduate the subject matter was right up my street and changed the way I look at things just a little. While at University I had a certain nostalgia for the golden age of AI in the late 50s to early 70s, to have been around while Winograd, Weizenbaum, Schank, Newell and Simon were writing the papers that founded approaches and I was studying all those years later.

What changed after dConstruct was that I now almost wanted to have been born later, with advances like 3D printing, robot kits that retail for around $1,600, and 10 companies with self-driving permits in California it feels like an exciting time to be studying, creating and entering the job market. 

Looking at my Twitter timeline, this doesn't seem to be the general consensus in the press though. With fairly sensationalist stories like How to keep software from stealing your job and Will a robot take your job? not uncommon. I do think the rise of automation is a challenge, one that feels like it could be similar to that faced by the hand loom weavers or labourers when the steam powered drill was introduced. However, I also feel that this challenge will be to find ways of working where the new technology helps you or provides entirely new work and even industries.

That's the optimistic picture of the future I chose to believe in. I can't predict which "creative" enterprises will be safe, since even recipe creation can be a done by computers now! Although there is something utterly believable in the scenario described in Hello and goodbye in portuguese, in this short story a world is revealed in which we slowly work out how to replace jobs with automation and it gives us a glimpse into how humans might react.

This change won't be easy and we have to start thinking about designing that future and working towards it now. Some writers like Andrew Mcafee can't wait for a future when there is no work required by humans and think we are close to this world, although I feel that this chart tweeted describes what work will look like in my lifetime

A couple of areas creeping this way already are better analysis of data in real time and disruption of current technologies in travel to improve how we get around. Going back to the driverless car example, I think that an incremental approach like BMW's will be how we get there. The car they are working on deals with the standized and routine, while the human will for now deal with the more creative.

I don't feel that the world is ready for the big bang completely automated cars yet, as the saying goes "artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity", for starters the legislative process and insurance market will probably combine to restrict usage in the short term. That means that we probably have time to reflect and think ... what kind of world would I like to live in? How can greater automated make the world a better place?

Further Reading