Lately I spent a lot of time brushing up my programming skills. On top of blockchain and cryptography, which were already on the table, so to speak, I also studied artificial intelligence. I find this domain absolutely fascinating, but for reasons slightly different than the mainstream opinions on AI.
To make a long story short, I don’t see artificial intelligence like a conscious awareness, like some sort of autonomous agent who can take initiative mischievously, plotting to overcome his creators. This type of perspective may be profitable for mainstream media, as we all know that fear sells, but it’s completely disconnected – at least in my opinion – from reality.
Artificial intelligence is really just a set of algorithms (some of them quite old), that are crunching large amounts of data, while tuning a set of parameters. At the end of this process, they’re spitting out data again, based on those tuned parameters (or what “they learned”). That’s all there is to it.
Some may wonder why AI is making such a big impact only recently, if the underlying algorithms (like neural networks) were around for decades. The short answer is: big data. And the slightly longer answer is that the rise of the internet and the advances in computing power and storage had a very interesting consequence: we suddenly woke up surrounded by a lot of data generated by our devices. And it turns out that over a certain threshold, big data produces very good results when paired with some finely tuned algorithms.
Just like all the technical building blocks for blockchain were around for decades, but the blockchain itself didn’t explode until an external event – namely the 2008 financial crisis – hit the world, similarly AI took a step forward only when there was enough available data to produce relevant results.
But I’m derailing myself. Thanks for stopping me.
Without further ado, let’s see what are these ten directions in which AI will stretch our current world, to the point of disruption.
1. Autonomous Driving
Tesla is probably the fastest growing automotive company in the world. I’m sure you’ve heard of it and you know that it’s a company focusing on electric cars. But one of the most interesting parts of this company is autonomous driving. I’m not sure wether or not Elon Musk had this detail in mind when he envisioned the actual car, but fact is this secondary benefit is taking a life of its own.
There are already a lot of autonomous driving projects out there, including Google, with its famous Google map car, which can be regularly seen driving (more or less) autonomously on some parts of the world.
This autonomous driving technology is not at all easy. Visual recognition takes a lot of computation power, obstacle detection even more, and all this power must be packed in a moving object, with limited autonomy. These are great technical challenges, but seems like great challenges are producing big results.
So, how this will disrupt our lives?
Well, for starters, I think there will be very soon a convergence between the sharing economy and autonomous driving. The Ubers and the Lyfts of the near future will be driven not by humans, but by AI. The disruption may stretch to the point that even the vehicles will start to adjust, based on demand. For instance, instead of cars with 5 seats, 2 in the front, and 3 in the back, we may see cars with 6 or 8 seats, all aligned on the edges, facing inwards, so passengers can see and talk to each other.
2. DeepFake News
We already live in a post-factual world. Social media leveled the expression field in such a way that everybody, no matter how relevant, how sane or how educated is, can freely emit opinions on any topic, at any time, from anywhere in the world. This huge amplification effect suddenly created a “system overload” in which our familiar reality, based on verifiable facts, was replaced by a mix of loudness and insistence. What we knew as “truth” is now just the loudest or the most viral post we read on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, regardless of the affinity of that information with reality. Personal opinions are facts.
Now, imagine that on top of this world we may add another social engineering layer. One in which information is careful crafted in such a way that our most sensitive buttons will be hit before we even question the truth value of what we see. Some of the effects of this twisting of reality have already been seen in the latest big election scandals. Troll farms, fake news outlets, photoshopped “evidence” and inexistent witnesses to imagined crimes are just business as usual today.
AI may turn this post-factual world into a deep-fantasy world, in which any identity will be instantly duplicable. Barack Obama? We can make a video with him talking about cleaning products, if we want. Morgan Freeman’s “inimitable” voice? We can generate a soundbite with the same tone, pitch and intonation. Your blogging “style”? We can train a text generation model in a few minutes and it will start spitting article after article with the same “tone of voice” as you.
DeepFake will challenge our most intimate assumptions about what we consider “reality”, “news” or “facts” and in this process our entire approach towards communication will change. Counterintuitively, maybe, communication which doesn’t really on technology – like people talking to each other, in real life – will start to be considered the de facto norm.
3. Instant Translation Of Every Language
Not all artificial intelligence will be as toxic as DeepFake, though, or so I hope. One of the areas in which AI will have a huge impact, this time a constructive one, will be linguistics. We already see relevant progress in models which are capable of restoring lost languages, like the languages of the native Americans in the United States.
Given enough data and just the right parameters, all spoken languages on Earth will be eventually reconstructed and my personal opinion is that this will have a tremendous impact. Instant translation will become possible, StarTrek style. Which means we could use our native tongue to communicate instantly with everybody on this planet.
As you read this in English, you may think: “why do we still need native languages, when pretty much everybody speaks English today?”. Well, at least 1 in 7 humans doesn’t speak English, but Mandarine or Cantonese. We are so biased by our current context that we can’t really understand how immensely beneficial instant communication with everybody can be.
4. Predictive Trading
Time series is an artificial intelligence branch which takes a time based input (events which are happening in a sequence) and then generates potential occurrences of the same events, in another sequence. One of the areas in which highly accurate predictions can be a huge game changer is trading. Being it stocks, forex or cryptocurrency trading (I have a hunch that the first two will be mixed with crypto-trading soon, but that’s another story, for another article).
There are already a few stable projects for building trading strategies with artificial intelligence. Their impact may not be felt at this moment, as they’re quite far from reaching mainstream. And by mainstream I mean “the vast majority of trades in a given market”. Although many big traders are already using some sort of algorithmic trading, artificial intelligence assisted trading, which aims at incorporating a lot more parameters into the mix, including behavior and apparently uncorrelated events, is relatively new.
The impact will be huge here and one of the consequences will be the leveling of the entire field. As various AI models will become more and more powerful, strategies will being to even out and profits will decrease. At some point, trading will be a question of intention, rather than “buy the rumor, sell the news”. Perceived value will change at the moment of placing a trade, not at the end of the execution.
5. DNA Repair
The human genome is already mapped and we have a pretty good idea about what’s inside. Biotechnologies like CRISPR are already mainstream and it is possible today to do some basic DNA alteration in your garage, using off the shelves tools. Not that I support or recommend something like this, I’m just saying.
But, although we mapped the genome structure, how the totality of these genes are reacting together in all possible setups, well, that’s something beyond our current capacities, and definitely a field where AI can shit things forward. I am confident that we will soon understand and reverse many of the DNA mutations that are causing illnesses we catalog today as “incurable”.
The consequences of such a breakthrough? Well, here I see a mixed bag. On one side, we will definitely start to enjoy longer life spans, but on the other side, social constructs like pensions will be blown away. Not to mention the cognitive burden of adjusting and adapting to a world which is changing at a frantic pace. I still remember disc telephones and I can successfully operate complicated devices, but my parents generation is already having a hard time adjusting to these…
6. Logistics Overhauling
Data-driven marketing is not new. But AI agents analyzing data from supermarkets and from people’s consumption habits, and then predicting not only necessary stocks, but also trends and wants, well, that’s definitely new. The result? Whatever you want to buy, you’ll find that there is there, on the supermarket shelf, when you want it and in the exact quantity you want it.
The most important consequence of that will be on the supply chain, or logistics. Because based on these predictions, AI agents can also suggest what’s the best vehicle for carrying the next supply, what is the needed volume for it and so on and so forth. Huge waiting times may be eliminated and the range of vehicle needed to do the refills will be changed.
Logistics will be transformed in a way that’s hard to imagine right now.
7. Commercial Support and First Steps Orientation
In any commercial activity, support is crucial. We already see chatbots popping up for a couple of years already, but the real momentum hasn’t been reached, yet. We may see AI support in a variety of areas where we don’t see them now: from orientation in physical locations (AI bots for welcoming people in new cities, AI bots for guiding visitors in museums) up to emotional support (anxiety relief, performance enhancement for athletes).
Especially what I call First Steps Orientation will be an area that will grow dramatically. Imagine you change job and move to a new location. Anything you need to settle there will be packed in a very easy to understand form, spreading probably on many devices at once (from home automation like Alexa or Siri, up to your phone or watch) all carefully coded so it will guide when you need and just how you need it.
And with this I think we segway into the next area, which is somehow related to this.
8. Autonomous Education
School is a very old institution. It went through many transformations, during the last few centuries, that’s true, but its basic tutor-pupil model survived the tests of time. In any school, knowledge is still passed from teacher to student, these days.
Well, I think we’re on the verge of the collapse of this model, to be honest. Artificial intelligence advances will make possible a new type of education, a new type of school, in which the tutor, as a physical person, will be replaced by an AI agent which will be connected with other AI agents, all supervising the progress and goals of their pupils.
Education will be self-assessed by an all pervasive layer of ubiquitous knowledge, distilled and refined every second, and distributed based on the recipient needs and levels of understanding. No, I don’t think this “ubiquitous layer of knowledge” will become “God” or a super-intelligence, I see it more like a very flexible on-demand-school, which will be self-fed, self-distributed and self-assessed.
9. Space Exploration
One of the fields in which artificial intelligence is making relatively small and not so spectacular steps is the sky, namely analyzing data from our solar system planets and from other astronomical sources. I think this area is still in its infancy, but I reckon it will play a massive role, probably bigger than everything we mentioned so far, just because of the sheer implications of relocating parts of the human race on other planets, or facing an encounter with another life form.
Because, sooner or later, both these events will happen. And the leap that we’ll have to take will be like nothing else we’ve experience, as a human race. I cannot see a future in which we can inhabit other planets without massive support from AI. From molecular support in terraforming other planets (being them Mars, or just some moons of Saturn), up to the navigation patterns, life support on board of space ships and strategies in dealing with alien life forms.
All this sounds SciFi to you? Well, in all honesty, video calling sounded just as SciFi to our parents, and our kids are doing video calls like this thing was always available. That’s how fast the world evolves these days.
10. Privacy Management
If we look at DeepFake more carefully, we will soon realize that one of the parts that will be changed by it will be privacy. Or, if you prefer this term better: “identity enforcement”. Our identity, our real identity will become one of the most important assets we possess. Harmful AI agents will try to steal it, to impersonate us in front of other institutions (think like stealing my password today) and we will have to defend ourselves.
I can see a completely new industry being created, one that will build “personal identity management” AI agents, to protect individuals from all the intrusive AI agents that more powerful entities, like states, or pan-state corporations (or, like I said, just harmful AI agents), may enforce upon them.
This “personal identity management” will probably include things like burner identities, to which you can deflect parts of your behavior, or just use as bait for the intruders, or deep identity structures that, in the form of vertical informational structures, will hide the true identity of a person under thicker and thicker layers.
Are these the most important areas in which AI will change our lives?
Obviously, nobody knows that yet. But it was a fun exercise to write this.