Think that human augmentation is still decades away? Think again.
This week, government leaders met with experts and innovators ahead of the World Government Summit in Dubai. Their goal? To determine the future of artificial intelligence.
It was an event that attracted some of the biggest names in AI. Representatives from IEEE, OECD, the U.N., and AAAI. Managers from IBM Watson, Microsoft, Facebook, OpenAI, Nest, Drive.ai, and Amazon AI. Governing officials from Italy, France, Estonia, Canada, Russia, Singapore, Australia, the UAE. The list goes on and on.
Futurism got exclusive access to the closed-door roundtable, which was organized by the AI Initiative from the Future Society at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and H.E. Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, the UAE’s Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence.
The whirlwind conversation covered everything from how long it will take to develop a sentient AI to how algorithms invade our privacy. During one of the most intriguing parts of the roundtable, the attendees discussed the most immediate way artificial intelligence should be utilized to benefit humanity.
The group’s answer? Augmenting humans.
At first, it may sound like a bold claim; however, we have long been using AI to enhance our activity and augment our work. Don’t believe me? Take out your phone. Head to Facebook or any other social media platform. There, you will see AI hard at work, sorting images and news items and ads and bringing you all the things that you want to see the most. When you type entries into search engines, things operate in much the same manner—an AI looks at your words and brings you what you’re looking for.
And of course, AI’s reach extends far beyond the digital world.
Take, for example, the legal technology company LawGeex, which uses AI algorithms to automatically review contracts. Automating paper-pushing has certainly saved clients money, but the real benefit for many attorneys is saving time. Indeed, as one participant in the session noted, “No one went to law school to cut and paste parts of a regulatory document.”
Similarly, AI is quickly becoming an invaluable resource in medicine, whether it is helping with administrative tasks and the drudgery of documentation or assisting with treatments or even surgical procedures. The FDA even recently approved an algorithm for predicting death.
These are all examples of how AIs are already being used to augment our knowledge and our ability to seek and find answers—of how they are transforming how we work and live our best lives.
Time to Accelerate
When we think about AI augmenting humans, we frequently think big, our minds leaping straight to those classic sci-fi scenarios. We think of brain implants that take humans to the next phase of evolution or wearable earpieces that translate language in real time. But in our excitement and eagerness to explore the potential of new technology, we often don’t stop to consider the somewhat meandering, winding path that will ultimately get us there—the path that we’re already on.
While it’s fun to consider all of the fanciful things that advanced AI systems could allow us to do, we can’t ignore the very real value in the seeming mundane systems of the present. These systems, if fully realized, could free us from hours of drudgery and allow us to truly spend our time on tasks we deem worthwhile.
Imagine no lines at the DMV. Imagine filing your taxes in seconds. This vision is possible, and in the coming months and years, the world’s leaders are planning to nudge us down that road ever faster. Throughout the discussions in Dubai, panelists explored the next steps governments need to take in order to accelerate our progress down this path.
The panel noted that, before governments can start augmenting human life—whether it be with smart contact lenses to monitor glucose levels or turning government receptionists into AI—world leaders will need to get a sense of their nation’s current standing. “The main thing governments need to do first is understand where they are on this journey,” one panelist noted.
In the weeks and months to come, nations around the globe will likely be urged to do just that. Once nations understand where they are along the path, ideally, they will share their findings in order to assist those who are behind them and learn from those who are ahead. With a better roadmap in hand, nations will be ready to hit the road — and the gas.