Friday, February 13, 2015

Another 2050 Prediction

Another prediction for how artificial intelligence will impact 2050: People won't own cars.

Most people expect that in 35 years, cars will be fully automated and able to drive themselves. Yay! Driving will become much safer, and I won't have to worry about my grandchildren learning to drive. The time people currently spend moving from one place to another will be put to better use, and we'll all be nicer people for not having not had to deal with traffic and road rage on a daily basis.

Self-driving cars are inevitable. Their impact on our world, however, is less obvious. My guess is that by combining self-driving cars with the emerging "sharing economy," we will create a world where individuals can request a ride, get picked up immediately after their request, and be driven directly to their destination in comfort.

Self-driving cars + Uber + Zipcar = On-demand transportation

On-demand transportation will allow people to leave from wherever they are, whenever they want, and go wherever they want privately, just like personal car ownership does right now. But it will be much cheaper than car ownership because the vehicles will be used much more efficiently.

Self-driven "shared" cars will rarely be idle. Even during off hours when human demand for transportation is low, we will develop a container-style approach to the transportation of goods that will allow cars to move packages from one place to another. And when cars are not in use they can be packed in tightly to parking garages, since people will not need to navigate the garage and individual vehicles are interchangeable. Street parking will become a thing of the past, and we will use that extra space to increase the size of our sidewalks to make cities more pedestrian friendly.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Predicting the Future

Yesterday I attended a Microsoft Research meeting on artificial intelligence, where, in addition to discussing a number of grand challenges in AI, attendees celebrated Eric Horvitz's recent AAAI Feigenbaum Prize by writing down our predictions for artificial intelligence in 2050. It was really interesting to read everyone's reflections on what the world might look like in 35 years.

My 2050 prediction: The nature of information work will change drastically. Many information work tasks will be done by intelligent systems, with people only providing input to fill in the gaps that the system cannot perform. Most information workers will either be unskilled or highly specialized, and the work they do will often be decoupled from the larger task to which they contribute. Task subcomponents that require human input will be matched to the worker who is optimally qualified to address it, and only the necessary context to complete the subtask will be provided. Because information tasks will be modularized and self contained, many information workers will be able to integrate paid work into their personal lives, working in their spare moments from home when it is convenient instead of in large chunks from the office. Improved efficiency and automation will mean they will be able to work less or fewer information workers will be needed.

Our emerging ability to transform large tasks into microtasks will drive this change. People once believed a skilled craftsman was needed to build a car, but then they figured out how to decompose the task into repeatable subcomponents that could be completed by unskilled workers and, later, robots. Similarly, while many believe that complex information tasks can only be performed by skilled information workers, we are discovering it is possible to pull out the repeatable subcomponents from these tasks to be performed by the task owner (selfsourcing), the crowd (crowdsourcing), and, eventually, artificial intelligence. The transformation of information work into microwork will change when and how people work, and enable individuals and automated processes to efficiently and easily complete tasks that currently seem challenging.

Now it's your turn. What is your prediction for artificial intelligence in 2050?