Looking Ahead: Predicting the Future of Artificial Intelligence


In our last two posts, we talked about the history of artificial intelligence and covered some of the latest developments in AI. So it's only natural we'd end this trio with a look ahead into AI's future.

When you hear the phrase "the future of AI", you might envision any number of unprecedented doomsday scenarios. This isn't a coincidence, considering how AI is portrayed in popular culture. Movies and TV shows like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Westworld are enough to spark outlandish conspiracies and alarmist predictions.

But these anxiety-inducing depictions ignore AI's potential to improve healthcare, education, and life in general. Much of the fear around the future of AI comes from misunderstanding. AI is a spectrum. And if you use Siri, Netflix, or Google regularly, you already rely on AI every day.

Now let's dive a little deeper to examine both sides of the debate of AI's future in work, healthcare, and education.

AI and the future of work

Companies already rely on tools like automated webchat to save time. Businesses automate routine tasks, like capturing leads and sending out marketing collateral.

Algorithms created to perform a specific task, like a chatbot or social media scheduling tool, probably aren't going to take your job — yet.

Still, people are terrified of losing their jobs. Google's algorithm processes countless search queries on this subject everyday:

"Will AI replace lawyers?"

"Will AI replace doctors?"

"Will AI take my job?"

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This fear isn't exactly unfounded. Microsoft recently replaced over 2 dozen of its news curation journalists with AI. So yes, it is possible that artificial intelligence might replace your job someday.

But don't expect an AI uprising just yet. Experts predict AI will create more jobs than it will replace in 2020 — over 2 million, to be exact. And by 2022, AI and other technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will create over 130 million new jobs globally.

It's equally important to acknowledge that AI will profoundly influence the future of work. According to the World Economic Forum, we'll need new skills to adapt alongside artificial intelligence. There's no need to discount networking and human connections, though — these still matter and always will.

Try as you might, you can't automate authentic human connection. The same goes for essential soft skills like collaboration and creativity.

The key takeaway: The future of AI and work isn't a takeover. It's a collaboration. AI will most likely complement human abilities instead of replacing them entirely.

AI in healthcare

Healthcare is one of the most compelling use cases for artificial intelligence. Automation is already revolutionizing the way we detect, diagnose, and treat disease. An algorithm even predicted the coronavirus outbreak 9 days before the WHO announced it. And biotech engineers are making great strides in designing and producing bionic prosthetics controlled by the brain. Wearable devices like the FitBit already allow us to monitor our health using AI.

This is just a tiny sample of AI applications in healthcare. So yes, AI is already making our lives healthier and safer.

But not everyone believes this is a good thing.

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Some academics point out that biotech can be used for nefarious purposes. One of the most worrying predictions is AI's potential to "hack humanity" and understand people better than they understand themselves. What seems like a benefit on the surface could turn out to be much more sinister. Such an understanding can be used to manipulate people on a large scale.

That sounds like fearmongering, and some of the world's most famous AI experts agree. After all, these predictions pose a lot of questions but provide few answers. This is one reason why Stanford University's Fei-Fei Li compares AI to other disruptive technological advancements, like fire. We can use fire to warm our homes or destroy entire forests. The outcome depends entirely on how we use it.

Aside from the tech itself, some warn that automation in healthcare might worsen wealth inequality. The corporations and individuals that own the algorithms will keep getting richer as AI becomes more commonplace. On the flip side, AI will likely provide better, cheaper healthcare.

How do we balance these contradictory predictions and facts? Unfortunately, we can't and won't know the answers until a few years from now. The good news is, many leaders in the field are focusing on and passionate about a "human-centered" approach to AI.

The key takeaway: AI is already better at detecting disease than humans. Unlike the human brain, algorithms can learn about, update, and store information about every drug and illness. However, this information could be used for nefarious purposes, so we must proceed with caution. This is why human-centered AI is imperative.

AI in education

Now that we've taken a somewhat sobering look at AI in healthcare, let's move on to something a little lighter: AI in education.

Schools at every level in every country have added AI to their curriculum. Some schools have taken it a step further by integrating AI technology into the classroom experience. For example, high schools in China use facial recognition technology to identify students who lose interest or focus.

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AI also breaks barriers to education. Take Google, for example. As long as you have the technology, you can find instant answers to just about any question.

The problem is, not everyone has access to that technology. That's why UNESCO's mandate on AI in education includes a commitment to providing "AI for all" by closing the technological gap between the countries that have it and those that don't.

On a somewhat less aspirational note, AI can streamline grading to give educators more time to spend connecting with their students. It also delivers a personalized approach tailored for every student's progress and learning style.

The key takeaway: AI in education ensures that all students, no matter their proficiency or abilities, get the most out of their learning experience. But it's important to provide access to AI-powered educational technology to everyone all around the world.

The future of artificial intelligence: wrapping up

Just like our other posts on the past and present of artificial intelligence, this one only scratches the surface. AI has applications in practically every industry and field of study. It's easy to speculate, but it's hard to accurately predict AI's future.

But the good news is, we have time to evaluate our progress and steer it in the right direction. Most experts don't believe AI will reach its "full" potential until roughly 50 years from now.

And while fearmongering isn't helpful, we must be realistic about the capabilities of AI and monitor its progress closely. We are, after all, treading into unknown and previously unexplored waters.

Historians and anthropologists speculate that the most advanced forms of AI are a serious threat that could render the human race "useless" and worsen wealth inequality. On the other hand, AI-powered tech like home security systems and bionic prosthetics are already making life safer and healthier.

So what will happen with AI in the future? Only time will tell, of course.