I’m going to take a pause from writing about digital strategy and tech commentary to offer a vision about what the near future might look like with artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence is often a scary subject, with the average person immediately thinking of something horrendously violent like a robot apocalypse or super depressing like job automation. But there are going to be steps in between, where AI can help us externally before something like Neuralink starts to integrate it into our physical selves.
Now I’m not talking about things that exist today necessarily, like product recommendations on an e-commerce site or chess programs that can beat other chess programs. I want to talk about what an AI assistant can bring to our lives. A program built into our personal devices (phones, glasses, whatever that might be) that can help guide us in a better direction.
The timeframe is important too, since AI that can plug into existing data sources like your calendar, weather apps, and exercise stats will come into existence sooner than anything which will be linked to our bodies directly. It is this window where AI will prove itself to be the most benign and helpful, and will usher in an acceleration in its adoption.
Let AI help you
Imagine an AI that knows us, I mean really knows us: it understands our deepest desires, our characters, our flaws and our strengths. It understands the context of our lives: where we live and work, the people around us, the things we consume and what we do with our time. Now imagine that AI being programmed to help us get what we want.
Let’s say that I really want to write a novel. Writing a novel when you have a full time job, a family, and a brisk social life is not easy. Trust me, I know. The thing is that despite the fact that I have a long term desire, my short term needs and desires will always take precedence. Sure I will say yes to getting beers with a friend after a long day at work instead of dusting off my notes. Of course I’m going to take my son to the park on Saturday when it’s sunny out for the first time in two weeks instead of parking him in front of Paw Patrol for an hour as I rework some dialogue. As time marches on though, I realize that I am no closer to reaching my goal.
AI can help. An AI assistant can analyze how I’m spending my time and push me in the right direction, in very complicated and unbelievably intelligent ways. It could analyze my work schedule for the day, show me that if I get to work a half an hour earlier and work at my desk through lunch, I can free up an extra hour at the end of the day before my son gets out of school where I can sit down at a cafe and knock out a few pages. It can even block the time in my calendar so that it’s uninterrupted, letting only calls from my boss and my wife come through for something important.
It can create a long term action plan that takes into account fluctuations and constantly updates so that it can reason with me even during times when I want to go grab a few pints – showing me that each time I make a short term decision, it has an impact on the long term goal.
(Of course an AI this intelligent could probably just write the novel for me, but where is the fun in that?)
Overtime, by reminding me and creating time, the AI can help me achieve a goal that I might never be able to achieve by myself. It can make me more aware of how the decisions I make impact what I hope to get done over the course of my life.
Take another example, I want to lose 5 kgs. We all know how hard it is to lose weight, no matter what your situation is. Even with vigorous exercise, losing weight can be nearly impossible. AI could help here in a big way.
By understanding my metabolism thanks to a wearable device like an Apple Watch, my food cravings, and my nutritional needs, an AI can steer me in the right direction. It can propose a grocery list for exactly what I need to buy at the store on the weekend, taking into account drinks and dinners throughout the week. It can monitor the calories that I eat automatically – instead of having to use a calorie tracker. It can show me real-time progress and predicted progress if I follow the path.
It can go further: if I’m really hungry it can tell me what I should eat. Should I have a piece of steak with vegetables? Should I have some soup? Is eating this cookie really that bad? By explicitly telling you at any moment during the day what you should eat or not to achieve your goal, AI can find the most persuasive arguments to encourage you. Maybe that includes showing you pictures of you on the beach from last summer when your belly was flopping in the sand? Maybe it’s showing you pictures of an ideal body type that you want. Maybe it’s showing you photos of slaughtered animals to keep you from eating meat, articles about cancer to keep you from eating processed foods, success stories of people who lost a lot of weight to show that you can do it too…
A personal AI will know what motivates you the most through trial and error, eventually getting to the point where it is entirely customized to you. And when the AI can know you better than yourself, say by analyzing a saliva sample along with your average heartbeat, it can provide insights into how your body functions better than anything we can say about ourselves.
The AI sweet spot
We are on an irreversible track of progress that might very well end in cyborg beings that are part organic and part machine, where humans harness the power of biotechnology to evolve into an entirely different species. While this vision may come to fruition sooner rather than later, there are still a number of major steps that must come before it.
Having our own completely personalized AI assistant on a device that is not embedded into your body will mark the achievement of technology as a service, existing to help us be more productive and get things done while remaining in the realm of what we believe today about human beings and the limits of our selves.
Once the AI systems start getting embedded into our brains, an entirely new type of inequality will immediately come up, with the rich being able to upgrade themselves while the poor cannot. Sporting a new cyborg eye that can see through walls and maybe even see the future or the past will be like driving a Ferrari today, except instead of showing status and driving a bit faster, there will be insurmountable advantages that will serve to separate the powerful from the powerless.
If that makes you shudder a little bit, you’re not alone. The idea of merging with machines in this type of context goes way beyond getting a knee replacement or even an artificial heart. Messing with the brain in a mechanical (and not just chemical) way is uncharted.
That’s why the AI sweet spot will come first, when AI is still sweet and cute, with a fun name like Siri and hidden behind screens that fit nicely in our hands, conveniently at arms length without being intrusive, despite the fact that it knows everything about us.
We’re close to this reality, and we need to take advantage of it as much as we can before the robot induced end of the world as we know it.