How artificial intelligence is changing our lives
From smart phones that act as personal concierges to self-parking cars to medical robots, the artificial intelligence revolution is here. So where do humans fit in?
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"If we're able to develop technology that is very unobtrusive and can monitor people continuously, we may be able to pick up on changes the person may not even recognize," says Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, a professor in the WSU psychology department who is helping with the research.Skip to next paragraph
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Sensors seemed poised to become omnipresent. In a glimpse of the future, an entire smart city is being built outside Seoul, South Korea. Scheduled to be completed in 2017, Songdo will bristle with sensors that regulate everything from water and energy use to waste disposal – and even guide vehicle traffic in the planned city of 65,000.
While for many people such extensive monitoring might engender an uncomfortable feeling of Big Brother, AI-imbued robots or other devices also may prove to be valuable and (seemingly) compassionate companions, especially for seniors. People already form emotional attachments to AI-infused devices.
The new movie "Robot & Frank," which takes place in the near future, depicts a senior citizen who is given a robot and rejects it at first. But "bit by bit the two affect each other in unforeseen ways," notes a review at Filmjournal.com. "Not since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid has male bonding had such a meaningful but comic connection.... [P]erfect partnership is the movie's heart."
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Not everything about AI may yield happy consequences. Besides spurring concerns about invasion of privacy, AI looks poised to eliminate large numbers of jobs for humans, especially those that require a limited set of skills. One joke notes that "a modern textile mill employs only a man and a dog – the man to feed the dog, and the dog to keep the man away from the machines," as an article earlier this year in The Atlantic magazine put it.
"This so-called jobless recovery that we're in the middle of is the consequence of increased machine intelligence, not so much taking away jobs that exist today but creating companies that never have jobs to begin with," futurist Saffo says. Facebook grew to be a multibillion-dollar company, but with only a handful of employees in comparison with earlier companies of similar market value, he points out.
Another futurist, Thomas Frey, predicts that more than 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030 – though he adds that new technologies will also create many new jobs for those who are qualified to do them.
Analysts have already noted a "hollowing out" of the workforce. Demand remains strong for highly skilled and highly educated workers and for those in lower-level service jobs like cooks, beauticians, home care aides, or security guards. But robots continue to replace workers on the factory floor. Amazon recently bought Kiva Systems, which uses robots to move goods around warehouses, greatly reducing the need for human employees.
AI is creeping into the world of knowledge workers, too. "The AI revolution is doing to white-collar jobs what robotics did to blue-collar jobs," say Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, authors of the "Race Against the Machine."