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The Futurist: The Coming Era of AI-Enhanced Superhumans

A series of hypotheticals about this game-changing machine intelligence


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How many times have you wished a smarter person was leaning over your shoulder whispering the right answer in your ear?  Whether its landing a job, going on a date, pitching an investment or convincing a child it’s time to go to bed, it could have been the difference between success and failure.

With the emergence of interactive voice technology and its growing reservoir of analytical capabilities, one of the hottest technologies in the future will be a self-learning AI bot or agent that serves as a coach and advisor on life’s journey. If you can imagine a portable version of Alexa or Siri with an IQ of 200 and the conversational skills of your favorite talk show host, you’re getting a glimpse of what lies ahead.

We’re on the verge of a radical transformation in which, very soon, we won’t be able to tell where the human ends and technology begins. This intermeshing of mind, body and technology will become so seamless and invisible that we essentially “become one with the tech.”

On the surface this sounds like George Orwell’s worst nightmare, a totally frightening proposition where our first instinct is fear, fear of the machines taking over like the Borg on Star Trek. In the back of our minds, we have a deep fear of loosing control or having something hijack our minds and assuming control. After all, isn’t this what Hollywood has been warning us about?

Yes, there’s always a potential for things to go wrong, but adding intelligent agents to our life could have an enormously positive impact.

SMART AGENT SCENARIOS

For AI to become useful, we need to have complete trust that it has our best interest at heart. We can accept its advice or ignore it, but the choice will be ours.

As an example, imagine the days beginning with my personal AI agent, named Finley, guiding me through every task along my journey.

Every morning begins with that first waking moment. Unless there is something urgent on my schedule, Finley will wait to wake me until it knows I’ve had enough sleep. Through a system constantly probing the subconscious, Finley will adjust sleep patterns and learn to calm my mind to optimize rest.

Naturally, resting my mind is only part of the answer and Finley will also have the ability to change variables in every room to compensate for new sources of anxiety and stress by altering air chemistry, adding oxygen, controlling light-levels, adjusting background music and creating rocking motions and surface vibrations as needed.

Finley’s goal each day is to achieve peak efficiency, and his approach will change, as each new day requires an entirely new operational strategy.

Throughout the day, my conversations with Finley become a central part of who I am and how I manage each task in order of importance.

Even simple routines, like taking a shower, will have Finley adjusting the water to the perfect temperature, fine-tuning the spray to stimulate sore muscles, dispensing optimal amounts of soap, shampoo and conditioners, and even making recommendations about those products as I shop.

Planning meals will be as simple or as complicated as I wish. Finley knows which ingredients I have on hand, knows how my body will react and will suggest food that can optimize my daily performance. If I prefer to dine out, it will suggest restaurants, possible delivery options, and which friends and acquaintances may be close by to join me as a way of turning it into a social experience.

THE ULTIMATE WORK BUDDY

Commuting to work will be as simple as saying, “Finley, can you find me a ride?”  –  whether by way of Uber, driverless car or a brother-in-law who’s not working.

To be sure, Finley will come with a number of interface options beyond its standard voice commands. Users will be able to select from a range of input-output devices like watches, touch bands and keyboards on the input side, and a variety of displays, visual overlays, skin-tinglers and sensory alert mechanisms as output choices.

Finley will come in an assortment of shapes and forms, and most people will want to humanize its presence. Options will include switching from male to female, adding a personality package with a voice and face on a screen, or perhaps an animated head with an expression module, templated smells, sounds, or little “uh-oh” tones when it knows you’re doing something risky. But over time each agent will gravitate toward the persona of your perfect non-human partner.

To enhance the standard “voice in my head,” it can shift forms and move into a standalone robot offering a more physical presence or a talking portrait on a wall.

Every work-related situation will enable me to leverage Finley differently.

  • In a retail setting, Finley will help facilitate payments, do inventory crosschecks and recommend other products to boost sales.
  • For maintenance positions, it will know which tools I need, pull up diagrams of how pieces fit together, do point-to-point measurements and recommend which approach will be fastest and most effective.
  • In an HR position, it will remind me of topics to cover with each candidate, warn me if I’m saying or doing something inappropriate and prompt me to discuss new policies, practices and procedures.
  • If I’m a computer programmer, Finley will remind me of formatting issues, propose the best algorithm for each situation, select readily available routines from online libraries and even test each segment of code before I move on.

In so many ways, Finley is my sounding board, my ally, my protector, my strategy partner and my confidant.

At the same time, it’s not intended to replace my need to be around other people. Rather, part of Finley’s core programming will be to improve my social life, knowing the right time and place for every interaction and solving a variety of concerns before they ever become real issues.

Even people with mental health concerns could have the ability to improve, as this type of AI agent will calm emotions and help make decisions.

Over time, Finley will become an expert on me, knowing when something is off or if I’m not feeling well. As AI agents improve, they will have the ability to diagnose diseases, understand the limitations of every injury and guide us through wellness routines that will keep us physically fit and mentally alert. In the case of illness, it will recommend treatment options, medicines, therapies or other appropriate offerings.

As my protector, Finley is constantly evaluating every person, object, vehicle and animal entering my space. In this capacity, it is assessing danger, searching for anything that can possibly go wrong.

WILL AI MAKE US LAZY?

If you’re worried about an AI agent doing all the work and making us lazy, you’re not alone. It would appear (from the above hypothetical) that much of our daily struggle is removed and, at least on the surface, life appears too easy.

However, my sense is these enhancements will set the stage for an entirely new level of engagement. We will learn to reevaluate our capabilities through the lens of an entirely new caliber individual, and our expectations will grow with every accomplishment.

Writing papers, filling out forms, drawing illustrations, handling correspondence and verbal communication will all be handled in a fraction of the. With the drudgery out of the way, our minds will be freed up to focus on higher order tasks, such as situational analysis, devising new strategies, finding supplementary approaches and adding creative elements to every deliverable.

Rather than becoming idle, a more likely outcome will be the unleashing our true inner self, the “super-you” waiting to reveal itself. In just a matter of weeks we will likely accomplish three to four times as much as we did before.

Naturally the scenarios I’ve described can only work if there are very well-defined privacy and security barriers in place. We will only want to work with an agent like Finley, if we trust it completely, as we provide access to credit cards, bank accounts and health records.

That said, Finley will come with its own self-diagnostic systems, managing a variety of firewalls, constantly checking for hacker crumbs and knowing when something feels wrong.

Recent movies coming out of Hollywood paint a very dim future for humanity, as this type of machine intelligence takes over a greater part of our future. Most often they either portray the villains as evil hackers or the technology itself.


HUMAN VS. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE


But the reality is we are still a long way from true artificial intelligence. Instead, we have entered into more of an augmented intelligence era. There’s a huge difference between augmenting a human and superseding them.

In my mind we still have a wide range of opportunities to explore before we reach the danger zone, and indeed when we get close enough to peer over the edge we may very well decide the danger isn’t nearly as unmanageable as we imagined it to be.

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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