According to most science fiction, when it comes to the future, we—humans—seem to be sure of two things: 1) artificial intelligence (AI) will become a really big part of our society and 2) these robots will eventually enslave all of us and kill those who resist. Instead of heeding our own warning, though, many industries are integrating the technology into their products and services. All jokes aside, the rise in AI is poised to make life easier, and we’re likely to see it become a regular part of our day-to-day lives. In fact, AI is already giving us a friendly hand in most of our lives, albeit in smaller, more narrow usages. From phones to cars, AI is already here and already impactful. But what does the future hold?
What is Artificial Intelligence, anyway?
Before getting into what it does, it’s good to have a grip on what artificial intelligence actually is. In basic terms, AI is computers programmed to be “smarter.” That is, they can “think” like us and also learn new things that help them think and function better and more efficiently. Often artificial intelligence adapts its behavior based on the new information it receives in a way that mimics the presence of consciousness. Tesla CEO Elon Musk and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking have both been incredibly critical of too advanced AI development and how it could spell trouble for the human race, including eventually replacing us in the labor force or re-designing itself to the point of superseding our intelligence (that’s probably when they’ll take over and the bleak, Terminator-style future kicks in).
For now, everything’s all good, and here are four areas where AI is booming.
You’ll be hearing a lot about self-driving cars for the next five years, especially since that seems to be the target timeframe for getting them on the road. To be clear, there are already cars that have some self-driving functions like automatic braking, lane centering and self-park but that still require the presence of an active driver. By 2021 or so, though, the AI will be developed to the point of the cars being fully autonomous without needing driver interaction. Earlier this year, Google’s self-driving car qualified as a legal driver. Ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft are also making plans to introduce autonomous cars into their respective fleets as well as making inroads into the shipping and trucking industries. Robots delivering beer? Hell yes! The transportation revolutions raises issues, however, about whether self-driving cars are being tested out with enough drivers to learn true driving behavior of humans. Or, will the cars be “perfect drivers” and obey all traffic laws, which rarely happens in a realistic reality.
Technology trend forecasting company CB Insights reports that between 2011 and 2015, the number of companies using AI in healthcare went from less than 10 to 60, and well on its way to becoming massively beneficial to the industry. Predictions include: AI making diagnostics happen faster by assessing images via a smartphone and transmitting the info to a doctor, virtual nurses becoming a viable way for doctors to monitor chronically ill patients without the patients having to come into an office, and AI reminding patients when to take medication or schedule routine checkups. CB Insights has seen investments pour into startups with a focus on medical imaging and also those using AI to reduce the time it takes to discover life-saving drugs.
You’ve likely asked Siri a question or two on your iPhone, ranging from NFL scores to getting directions to making dinner reservations. (We’ll just pretend those 2 am demands for Chick-Fil-A never happened). Siri seems like a basic iPhone feature now, but when it debuted on the iPhone 4s it was a pretty big deal. Its speech recognition ability is near perfect (unlike customer service AI) and it seems to have a sense of humor. Now, personal assistants with AI have moved out of our pockets and into our homes. Amazon Echo, a Bluetooth speaker that’s always on, can take standard vocal requests like setting alarms, playing music and relaying the weather, but it can also order pizza, get an Uber and control the lights and temperature in your smart home. Google isn’t too far behind with Home as the battle between tech behemoths has officially entered our houses and apartments. Of course, they still can’t perform extremely useful tasks like picking up your dry cleaning or a pack of toilet paper when you need it most. Yet.
Finance has been one of the industries to watch when it comes to technological development and banking has never been easier since it went mobile. The introduction of AI has been game-changing, too. Automatic savings service Digit uses artificial intelligence to pay attention to your checking account activity, including income and spending, and helps you save small amounts of money daily; its app features a chatbot that accepts commands too. Investment firms have gotten into the game too, and firms like Betterment and Charles Schwab are employing robo-advisers that decide where and when you should invest your money without much human assistance.