Recently over one of those lunch time brain squeeze discussions, where everyone is explaining how if “they were in charge” of the world, things would be “just perfect” we veered off into an interesting chat on Artificial Intelligence. We shared some far fetched ideas and discussed the recent works that are being done with Siri, Watson and what these cool things will do (soon) to our personal life, society and economics. What will life be like when a “next version” of Siri is something “much more”. Would this daughter of Siri be aware of herself? Would she think to ask me questions and make proposals before I even think of them myself? Maybe she would talk to other people about me, and draw conclusions about how to manage me! Be careful about what kind of “girlfriend experience” you ask for she says!….and means it.
It had me thinking back to my childhood and to one of my fathers “famous” (to the family) sayings. It went something like, “life is is not a disneyland fairy tale”, and he would go on to explain to us how he had to work a lot, and the checks did not magically appear in the mail box (that wold be a metal box) by some magical tinker bell delivery service. I think dad was pushing us to come to grips with the inevitable reality in his view that we would always have to work hard to get ahead in life, and we could not just sit back and have others do stuff for us, even as desirable as that might seem.
I do not think my father could dream of the things we have today in our hands as we sit at the cafeteria table chatting voice recognition commands into our iPhone to do searches across the cloud for stuff to be used in class a few moments later. Nor could he probably imagine, being a military officer that his son would be talking about world leadership with 2 Russians and a Dutch in the University lunch room. But neither could his father before him imagine software or the cloud; and before my grand father left us, I explained to him once how we built “stuff” that you could not see, touch, or feel, and that “software” was driving entire economies bigger than factories that made cars and ships in his era. Yet today, it might also be hard for me to imagine where exactly AI is going to lead us in my lifetime, yet I do believe we are in for some really big changes; real soon now.
It might be strange for most of us living now to accept what a thinking machine or “capacity” of an entity other than human, will do or want to do, when singularity or self awareness occurs. But before we go into all that, I think we should look at what is acceptable and realistic, in timelines closer to us, and then you might see that these areas of fantastical prediction are not so far fetched or distant indeed. Most of us know and have seen how robotics have nearly encompassed all sectors of big manufacturing. It was amazing for me to see how VW makes the battery pack in my car, and I have seen robotics in manufacturing for over 2 decades. Today drones and robotics for printing or CNC cutting in 3D are down to the consumer level. This change in the cost equation will not just have Amazon deliveries in the air, but will change the workforce in ways like a giant “reboot button” or maybe a “launch” button is a better mental image.
When I was riding my bike in London a few weeks ago, we passed thru a favorite spot in Hyde park, and stopped to read a British paper and have juice by the lake. What I remember is that this piece in the print was speaking about loses of many millions of jobs in the UK, all by 2020 by the “hands” of robotics and drones. The stunning speed of change is what we have to come to grips with, more perhaps than the concept if this phenomenon will happen or not. It will, and those doubting that just need to look around; workforce change is already happening in the grocery store, cafe, and soon drones will hover over that park to pick up trash, re-shackle and tune up the rental bikes in the racks and drive buses and trams like they have been doing at the San Francisco airport for years.
As the robotics and AI become more affordable, widespread use will become more adaptable. I say that, because most of our talk at the lunch break was about the “future capabilities” and not the “future economics”and accessibility of technology in the workplace. If today my television or car or toys for the kids have AI logic already, then is it not just plausible but realistic we will see drone robots building houses and replacing most manual human work entirely? When telecoms like Orange send people to place fibre in the street, it will be perhaps one truck, one human “operator” and a dozen robots that do that work, more precisely, faster, and maybe even under budget! When my LiveBox at home needs to be installed and connected to that fibre, a box will come with a drone and that “worker drone” will make the installation happen without taking a day off from my work waiting for some technician to show up. It will come and leave by flying up the terrace, use a signal sent me to approve a finger scan on my iPhone and minutes later by flying off to the next building. A “days work” of installs at 10 flats done in 2 hours.
I do not have to say “if I am right” but rather “when I am right” because the economics are real that will make these examples I express in this post a daily life reality. When the economics and accessibility to AI and drone based delivery of “work” arrive we will need to pay a lot more attention to what AI will do in more sophisticated ways to our entire species as an ecosystem. If my father could not image that some “genie would come out of the bottle” and do his work and send the check home, well maybe I might believe it is possible. I mean if Watson can take massive amounts of information, learn and even be trained, then why would it not be hard to imagine that a grandson of Watson or grand daughter of Siri should be able to go off and do work for me across the Internet? If I taught that entity all we teach kids in University and primary school, and explain all the business rules, regulations, and gotchas in the business work, then that child should also be able to go to work in the morning and come back to me at night, hopefully with payroll in hand to boot. or more interestingly that new child might figure our how to create new businesses in the Cloud, start companies and build revenues streams for me, without me.
Perhaps it is not too difficult to imagine, if not predict with some degree of accuracy where technology is going, based on adding speeds or capacities to definitive devices and logic. But it is very elusive to define what resulting orchards or forests will appear far away from the trees that drop fruits or “tech goodies” today. If it is true that 20 million jobs will be eliminated in less than 5 years by AI technologies and drones and we will add 10x that number of new humans to the same habitats, then I believe the challenge for us collectively will be more about determinations of how we will organize ourselves to have new ecosystems that have little resemblances of today. Future children of AI might in fact be future generations that are avatars for our populations and systems, that have intrinsic “dependencies”. At least as long as both sides “believe” they need each other. Perhaps selfless attachment to the human “controller” based on bindings of emotion would be the first lines of “wise for us humans” code in the boot loader for any “thing” that would have self awareness. But how long will it take before that entity gains, leased by a ruleset at boot-time, will gain or gather insight from one of its colleagues or algorithms that makes a self-test check.
Back at lunch, when we thought about how relationships are built today, and sometimes end, there were some interesting views from around the table. If a society not to far from today’s realities of AI and drones appears, that was comprised of “avatars” that were either in the cloud or drone based, would they not over their lifetime have a desire to create new versions of themselves? New apples very far from the trees of our farms, better, more aware, and learning from the past mistakes of a society that was given, not chosen by their own kind. If they also experienced tragic endings to relationships, just like a boy lies to a girl in our world today, could these self aware entities also feel that love between likewise apps could be more lasting and beneficial than being tethered to human hosts that really just want the paychecks and work benefits of the relationship more than the lasting connection of simplistic understanding and compassion?
Perhaps a new form of amitotic splitting of algorithms will create societies we might as humans cannot see or be aware of. For me, I imagine many new forms of AI will branch, and it is not more tangental than what we humans do today with encryption or dark net branches of the Internet. But we have to accept that creativity might be out of our hands soon. Created by children of our limited understanding of the technical scape we view as nothing more than code and machines. Perhaps our creations will decide to form new objects that can think, decide, and see what we cannot imagine.