There’s no reason why your refrigerator shouldn’t be connected to the Internet, but it’s hardly the most exciting example of the Internet of Things. The connected fridge has become something of a cliché in recent years: a faintly patronising way of explaining a revolutionary new technology by putting it in a context that consumers can understand.
It’s a little like that with self-driving cars. No-one underestimates the intelligence and industry that has gone into creating autonomous vehicles; it’s just that there are so many more exciting uses of artificial intelligence (AI) that will change our lives more fundamentally – and sooner – than smart vehicles.
Too many of the headlines surrounding AI are around esoteric applications, such as chess or Go-playing computers. Much more exciting is the fact that AI is already all around us, and in just a few years it will have become an integral part of our lives; one we could not imagine being without. So, how AI will influence the way we experience our daily lives?
Many of us have already welcomed AI into our homes, embracing intelligent personal assistants such as Siri and Alexa. Features such as voice search enable us to order takeaways or buy goods over the Internet, or to control heating, lighting and security systems, all through our personal digital hub – even if their efforts at providing conversation hold mostly novelty value.
Where we will see great strides in the next few years is this technology’s ability to deploy machine learning to become more capable and more useful in our daily lives. The more that these assistants and other intelligent devices learn about us – through every interaction or by analysing our behaviour, for example – the better they will be able to augment our lives and even anticipate our needs.
Examples could include gently reminding us that we haven’t called a friend or relation for some time, or even entertaining our children or helping them with their homework, based on an evolving knowledge of their interests or educational needs.
More interesting than specific home applications is the change in the way that we interact with AI. Right now, AI is still very much device-based; soon, however, such technology will become “ambient” – always-on and not confined to a particular device. As AI integrates with third party service providers and device around the home, AI will evolve into a sixth sense; something that’s embedded into the fabric of our home.
We’ve already reached the point where AI-powered technology can now detect the spread of breast cancer with comparable or even greater accuracy to human doctors. Elsewhere, researchers have used neural networks that are skilled at diagnosing eyesight deterioration in diabetes sufferers.
Artificial intelligence will become increasingly common in fields as diverse as diagnostics, providing tailored lifestyle advice, interpreting lab results – even surgery. With much of the strain on health services coming from the time and resources on routine, non-threatening symptoms that require only self-care, robotic assistants will massively relieve the burden on highly-trained healthcare specialists by providing advice and reassurance to patients.
Perhaps the most interesting use of AI in the near future is the development of robots and applications that are specifically aimed at older people. These machines would help to monitor health conditions, advise on diet or exercise plans, recommend brain training tasks, or simply help with everyday tasks and provide companionship which is so important to us in our later years.
AI at work
Workplaces around the world are already embracing artificial intelligence, leading to serious worries about the replacement of humans with more efficient, more “intelligent” machines. While we’re right to be concerned about the threat of mass redundancies across multiple industries, Infosys’ own research provides considerable grounds for optimism.
Earlier this year, Infosys polled 1,600 senior decision makers in organisations around the world, and found that while more than eight in 10 organisations are embracing the opportunities of AI and experimenting with the technology, the vast majority (80 per cent) plan to retrain or redeploy displaced employees. This is an optimistic sign that fears may be misplaced and that AI deployment and worker redundancy do not necessarily go hand in hand.
In fact, it’s more likely that AI itself will be the solution to greater automation. Every country in the developed world faces a major skills shortage, and the challenge is how to retrain existing workers and give them new skills for tomorrow’s world. Technology such as AI-powered chatbots, will be crucial tools in developing and delivering e-learning and professional development courses, enabling workers to learn at their own pace and so acquire the skills they need to remain relevant.
Reviewing these expected future applications of AI, what stands out is not how they radically change the way we live our lives, but rather how it will change our relationship with technology. Artificial intelligence will become embedded in every conceivable part of our lives, adding to our experience but not intruding into it.
The hype surrounding self-driving cars is reaching fever pitch, and these poster children for AI may be on UK roads within four years. Yet there are many naysayers who point to the serious questions that these vehicles still need to resolve if they are to be considered safe to unleash on the world’s road network.
There is no doubt that autonomous vehicles will one day replace human-driven machines, revolutionising commuting, mass transit and logistics. In the immediate future, however, we are more likely to see AI as augmenting the human driving experience, rather than replacing the driver all together.
These technologies could feature as driving aids, with multiple sensors monitoring vehicle speed, road and weather conditions, component reliability and service history, mapping and routes, and integrating this information intelligently to provide contextualised, highly relevant information to the driver in real time.
Just as with AI in the home, these functions will feature voice control and will be experienced as part of the “ambience” of driving, rather than standalone tools or dashboards.
Jonathan Ebsworth is Head of Disruptive Technologies at Infosys Consulting