A few weeks ago, Google debuted a forthcoming flavor of its virtual assistant called Google Duplex, powered by artificial intelligence. The virtual assistant used natural language to pose as a human assistant calling an unsuspecting hair salon receptionist to make an appointment for “a client.” The conversation went back and forth as they tried to schedule a convenient date and time. The virtual assistant spoke in a very natural voice, answered questions, made decisions and even added human-like sounds such as “hmmm” and “um.” The appointment was made flawlessly, and the salon receptionist had no idea she was speaking with a computer. Collective jaws dropped in the audience, followed by laughing and cheering. It was both fantastic and terrifying.
Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning and Robots
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is defined as the ability of any device to analyze data to make decisions based on its environment to reach a goal. The goal could be any task, such as making an appointment, picking up a passenger, locating wreckage on the sea floor, or—gulp—having a drone search for a specific human target and strike when it “thinks” a match is made. Deep learning is the ability of machines to not just make decisions based on programming, but to actually learn from mistakes and make corrections for the next time a similar experience is encountered. This is very similar to how children learn, by making mistakes. There is a growing fear that robots will take over the world some day. That may be only half-true. Robots are useless without A.I. and/or deep learning. As a body needs a brain to control it, robots are really just physical extensions of the software that controls them. If you’re thinking about the “Terminator” movies, then you’re not far off base. The technology isn’t on the horizon; it is already here!
The Good News
Looking through optimistic lenses, fundamental positive changes to our society are coming. Cars will become safer and eventually eliminate accidents. Medical researchers will be able to analyze millions of test results to look for patterns within seconds instead of years. The playing field will be leveled for people with disabilities. Computerized assistants will carry out tasks in order to save our most precious commodity—time.
The Bad News
While mega-corporations like Google and Facebook seemingly give away their services for free, we have no idea what is being done or will be done with the data being collected. Experts warn that Google itself may not even know how to leverage the data being collected on all of us. We all carry mobile devices that have GPS, fingerprint readers, facial recognition, gyroscopes and time-/location-stamped photos. All of which paint a strikingly clear picture of who we are. Some studies even suggest that these companies know more about us than our closest friends and family.
Rethinking Careers and Education
“Baxter” is a factory robot. It costs about what a minimum wage worker makes in a year. However, Baxter takes the place of three workers, never needs breaks, vacation, benefits or sick leave. Companies like Uber and Lyft are working hard to create autonomous vehicles that may some day replace the roughly 4 million professional drivers on the road. “DaVinci” is a robot performing so many surgeries today that the surgeons themselves are forfeiting the scalpels for supervisory roles. DaVinci doesn’t slip, doesn’t shake, and uses laser-guided precision to cut, study, remove, suture, clean up and perform other tasks involved in routine surgery.
Today’s children will be faced with challenges unseen since the industrial revolution, but on a larger, global scale. To be successful, our children will need to choose fields that supplement the technology instead of the other way around. Jobs that rely on human thinking and contact today will most likely be replaced by technology tomorrow. Physical work will be replaced by robots. Jobs that rely on data analysis will be replaced by A.I. Research will be carried out by systems using deep learning. Eventually these systems will not only be able to program themselves but one another. The winners may just end up being the people who build the systems that build other systems. This will be the new reality. Anyone pursuing an education now or in the future should start planning for this shift immediately.
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Rich Suweidan, a.k.a. Webwizard, is a webmaster for the City of New York. He is also the chief principal and webmaster of Webwizard Solutions LLC designing websites and web-based solutions for almost 20 years. Visit webwizardsolutions.net for all of your website needs.