There are many doomsday scenarios worthy of SF books surrounding artificial intelligence, but the facts of history indicate AI will prove to be just be another powerful tool for improving life quality.
AI will soon be like every person having thousands of additional employees to support their work at very little cost (or even for free). Mastering it will just be a matter of being a good manager.
Time and attention
People spend a lot of time doing repetitive tasks like setting up meetings, sending emails, filling in reports, sorting files — repetitive things that don’t require too much thought but take up a lot of time. This is time which could be spent thinking bigger, growing or simply relaxing.
Besides being time-consuming, these kinds of tasks also require attention. A lot of things can go wrong when relying on human attention. Think about day-to-day examples like setting up a meeting at the wrong time because of different time zones, misspelling an important number in a report form, saving files in a wrong folder, forgetting to attach files to an email — these are things we can all relate to. To err is human.
We’re on a path where AI will be able to complete a lot of these routine tasks without making mistakes. But while AI can complete tasks accurately at a great speed, it scores low on creative thinking, ethics, emotional intelligence and understanding the bigger picture. AI is specialized, but humans live in the real world and are aware of different kinds of information.
So it will become a team effort, where computers do things super-fast and with no mistake and where humans orchestrate and interpret. This human-AI joint force is enhanced by having a massive network of available information. Great results will be achieved by a greater understanding of both human and AI possibilities and limitations.
It’s a bit like managing a team and assigning the right tasks.
Let’s look at some examples
In the past an accountant could keep a very limited number of books and it was super-easy to make mistakes (misspelling, miscalculating, losing invoices).
With the invention of accounting software they were able to avoid all these problems but also to achieve exponentially more speed in doing their tasks. In this way they could take on more clients, earn more money, and focus on more important legal aspects. They evolved from being bookkeepers to advanced functions like CFOs.
A photographer’s enthusiasm is driven by thinking about and designing a photoshoot. Finding the right atmosphere, including the right props, getting the models in the mood and finding the perfect frames.
The fun stops when he gets back to his computer and has to edit and sort hundreds of shots. AI can help with that, so the number of shots that have to be analyzed is substantially reduced. Also, some of the enhancements and corrections can be performed automatically letting the photographer focus on the artsy part.
Imagine hiring a new employee. He needs new credentials, a parking space, an access card, a new computer, software on that new computer, briefing. This process can involve a lot of people and take a lot of time. A lot of newly-hired employees lose their enthusiasm waiting for these stages to be completed. AI could help with speeding the process up and automating a lot of these things.
Nowadays most of us have too many apps that we need to use. There’s Skype, Slack, Messenger, Whatsapp, Wechat for chatting, Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, One Cloud, iCloud for storage, than Basecamp, Jira, Wrike… So many things to keep track of it’s easy to get distracted and miss some important mail or task. AI can make a little order in this chaos by making connections between the apps that we use. We don’t have to worry about manually moving things from one place to another.
Agriculture is another industry that benefits a lot from automation and AI. Machines perform tasks at a huge scale that the regular farmer could never manage alone. Game theory is used to maximize crop earnings, databases predict weather, drones supervise crops and scare crows, and sensors indicate plant health or the presence of unwanted visitors. Humans don’t have to get their hands and knees dirty anymore, or their faces burnt. They can get a much better crop from a more comfortable setting just by using the latest technologies. It’s like managing a team of thousands.
So how do we grow together?
No matter how intelligent a human is, they will always be prone to mistakes, exhaustion and bias, and will have limited time and energy. But in all the examples above we see how, with the help of technology, one human’s capabilities grow exponentially. A team of one or few can reach the potential of a team of thousands.
On the other hand, AI can’t succeed on its own because it lacks the bigger context, emotional intelligence, out-of-the-box thinking, empathy, and an understanding of things outside its specialization. So it can’t thrive on its own. It needs human guidance.