Education Opinion

Living With Smart Machines

By Tom Vander Ark — October 24, 2016 4 min read
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Last week the White House hopped on the artificial intelligence bandwagon with a well-written report outlining how it will increase productivity and wealth but reduce demand for skills that can be automated. President Obama summarized the emerging consensus:

We’ve been seeing specialized AI in every aspect of our lives, from medicine and transportation to how electricity is distributed, and it promises to create a vastly more productive and efficient economy. If properly harnessed, it can generate enormous prosperity and opportunity. But it also has some downsides that we’re gonna have to figure out in terms of not eliminating jobs. It could increase inequality. It could suppress wages.

Obama noted that as AI progresses it’s likely that, as computers do a lot of the work, the link between production and distribution will be further attenuated--and that will force some tough decisions.

We underpay teachers, despite the fact that it’s a really hard job and a really hard thing for a computer to do well. So for us to reexamine what we value, what we are collectively willing to pay for—whether it’s teachers, nurses, caregivers, moms or dads who stay at home, artists, all the things that are incredibly valuable to us right now but don’t rank high on the pay totem pole—that’s a conversation we need to begin to have.


Right on Mr. President! It’s time to talk about AI. For the last month, we’ve been working our way through the new Stanford report: Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030 which identified eight domains where AI is already having or is projected to have the greatest impact: transportation, healthcare, public safety and security, education, low-resource communities, employment and workplace, entertainment, and home/service robots.

The last topic, life at home, is the subject of this post. We’ve spotted 10 AI-driven trends:

1. Verbal UI. Google believes that AI virtual assistants and a conversational user interface (CUI) will largely supplant search engines and mobile apps for many users.

The Stanford report notes that “The great advances in speech understanding and image labeling enabled by deep learning will enhance robots’ interactions with people in their homes.”

2. Household chores. “In the past three years, low cost and safe robot arms have been introduced to hundreds of research labs around the world, sparking a new class of research on manipulation that will eventually be applicable in the home, perhaps around 2025. More than half a dozen startups around the world are developing AI-based robots for the home, for now concentrating mainly on social interaction,” according to the Stanford report. You can expect improvements in vacuuming robots and even laundry folders.

3. Smart home control systems. Check out these smart home startups. A lot of these use AI behind the scene to get smarter over time.

4. Better music. Companies like Spotify use algorithms to learn user behavior and present them with individualized, contextualized experiences. Over time, these models become smarter and improve capabilities.

5. Transforming retail. From discovery to delivery, AI delivers tangible and important advantages for both retailers and their customers. It will make shopping both easier and more personal. And it’s already happening, all around you.

6. More art. Musicians and artists are pushing the limits of computational creativity. The man-machine partnerships are creating beautiful products.

7. Health monitoring. Your bathroom mirror is about to get smarter. Prototypes track skin firmness, texture, clarity, brightness and health.

8. Better you. Earlier this year, CEO Sundar Pichai announced an enhanced virtual assistant and machine learning tools. Pichai is bullish about the potential for the technology and its role in everyday life. “We believe the real test,” Pichai said, “is whether humans can achieve a lot more with machine learning assisting them.”

The chief data scientist at Intel said, artificial intelligence is going to help us get better at the things we do best.

9. Sticking around. If a loved one loses the battle, you can keep them around with a memory bot--a computer compilation of your soul mate that you can interact with.

For the next few decades, it will be combinations of human and machine intelligence that make a difference. “Using our natural intelligence and the external extensions of intelligence we’ve progressively built over the last millennium, we have now developed tools of creation such as genomics, synthetic biology and robotics that literally allow us to program our existence in any way we can imagine,” said Bryan Johnson (@bryan_johnson), founder of @KernelCo. “We have progressed from players to makers of the game.”

Johnson predicts that the combination of human and machine intelligence will yield “the most significant advancement to our capabilities of thought, creativity and intelligence that we will have ever had in history.”

Why #AskAboutAI?

Frustrated with the dialog of the two mainstream candidates? There’s Zoltan Istvan, the 2016 U.S. Presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party. He’s running because of the dramatic change coming over the next 10 years as “robot nannies” make their way into our households--and often with great affection.

For billions of people, life at home will improve rapidly over the next decade as machine intelligence augments human intelligence. However, these promising developments come with new ethics and privacy issues:

  • Who will gain access to machine intelligence?
  • How will we safeguard privacy when everything is connected to the internet?
  • How do we provide lifelong learning opportunities so that everyone can benefit with life with machine intelligence?

These developments make it a good time to #AskAboutAI.

For more see:

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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