AI Talk: A peek into the future of AI

April 24, 2020 / By V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD

This week I am going to review two books I read this month—both examining AI and related technologies and their implications. One was written by Diamandis and Kotler: The Future is Faster Than You Think. The other was written by Scott and Shaw: Reprogramming the American Dream.

Future is Faster Than You Think

Peter Diamandis is an entrepreneur who has started 20 companies. With a degree in genetics and aerospace from MIT and a MD from Harvard, he is a quintessential thinker and doer! He was instrumental in launching XPRIZE Foundation, which organizes big idea competitions. So, what is the core theme of his latest book? There are significant advances in core technologies that, when combined, provide a synergistic boost that is more than the sum of their parts. What does he consider core technologies? Here is a list: quantum computing, AI, networks, sensors, robotics, virtual and augmented reality, 3-D printing, blockchain, nanotechnology and biotechnology.

Technology convergence is transforming the world as we know it. Every sector of our economy is being reshaped by a series of solutions that result from accelerated convergence of these core technologies. This is an incredibly optimistic and inspiring book. In dealing with pandemic-induced isolation, I recommend reading this book and taking heart. There will be disruptions of course, but there are solutions as well. Whether it’s climate change, water shortages or food insecurity, there are technological solutions that will come to the rescue. Diamandis also has an optimistic take on the disruptions caused by technology. When ATMs were introduced, was there a loss of bank teller jobs? Turns out, banks expanded branches by 40 percent and there were more bank jobs! It does take concerted action by all to navigate this transition to a technology-infused future. Here is a review of the book in Forbes. I missed earlier books by this author—perhaps it’s time to go back and read them.

Reprogramming the American Dream

Microsoft CTO, Kevin Scott, has an optimistic take on the field of AI as well. His upbringing in rural Appalachia shapes his world view that AI is going to bring prosperity to all. Artificial General Intelligence, where a robot will have the capacity to think like a human, is not something we need to worry about in his opinion. Solutions using AI will be, by and large, augmenting human intelligence, not replacing it completely. His main thrust is to ensure that gains from AI are widespread, particularly infrastructure (like 5G) in rural America that will enable everyone to pursue the American Dream.

According to Scott, it is essential to prepare the workers of tomorrow to do the jobs of tomorrow. Farming, for instance, will become highly technical, assisted by a range of AI tools that process sensing data over an entire farm field. Displaced and new workers need to be trained to be technical as well. He does not believe in the doom and gloom of technology taking away jobs. Scott says only the most routine and boring jobs for humans are being automated and it is better for society that these jobs are done by robots. People will be freed to be more creative. He argues that Universal Basic Income (UBI), advocated by many as a counter to job displacement, misses the point. Instead, he believes what is essential and more important is ensuring proper education to weather the future. Here is a recent interview of Scott by Geekwire where he remains optimistic about the pace of innovation as we get through the current coronavirus crisis.

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V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD, is Director of Research for 3M M*Modal and is an AI Evangelist with four decades of experience in AI and Computer Science research.