by Rob Enderle

Why we must prepare for the rise of the machines

May 12, 2017
Artificial IntelligenceEmerging TechnologyIT Leadership

Columnist Rob Enderle writes that all generations need to be prepared for a future of automation and artificial intelligence, but should also know how to function without an app for everything.

While at DellEMC World this week [Disclosure: DellEMC is a client of the author] there was an interesting panel, led by The Institute of the Future, on how increasingly more intelligent machines will interact with humans by 2030. The panel included experts on millennials, human machine interfaces and two future facing analysts (otherwise known as futurists).   Given this is a topic that will likely define us as a race and drive products and services more and more as we exit this decade and enter the next.  

[ Related: The future of AI is humans + machines ]

This was fascinating in a number of ways, let me share what I heard and my own thoughts.

Bifurcation of views

There was a clear delineation in the views of the people who were normally focused on the present. The human interface expert and the millennial either develop products for today’s market or study a market segment as it exists today. As a result, both were skeptical that artificial intelligence (AI) will be able to do much of what people do now. The impact will either be improvements in machine/human interfaces or just faster more capable machines, but nothing that could approach making the kind of choices people currently make. They were projecting a linear performance view of the future and downplaying any major disruption.

The futurist took a very different view arguing that these future intelligent machines would be massively disruptive. This disruption would force humans who wanted to remain viable to enter a period of massive retraining. He pointed out that one of the biggest problems to overcome as we transitioned wouldn’t be technological it would be social as machines replaced the people we are currently used to dealing with in mass.  

Younger generations will be lost, too

The message seemed to be that the older you are the more screwed you’ll likely be because, as we age, we fight change more aggressively and adapt less successfully. But the millennial expert shared a story about how she was unable to deal with a current problem that didn’t have a related app, and said her younger sister (8) is growing up believing that services like Uber and Airbnb are how everyone does things.  

Advances don’t happen at the same time worldwide. You might still have to know about payphones as they still exist in parts of the world where cellular technology hasn’t been deployed. Given that, there will certainly be areas that are going to be slow to adapt robotics and AI. This suggests that in 2030 not only will older people be lost at times when faced with these new technology changes, but young people will be helpless in places that haven’t evolved yet. Bridges for both groups will likely be critical to ensure neither is excessively harmed by these ever advancing changes.

[ Related: Don’t fear the robots, embrace the potential ]

Removing intimidation and encouraging information research

People are often intimidated by new technology and this will be exacerbated by systems that may be more intelligent and/or informed than the user. Keeping those users from being intimidated and afraid of using those systems will be critical to assuring they will be used effectively. Conversely we often focus on creating skills in children that force them to develop individual skills and knowledge but, in the future, the better skill may be to know what system to ask the relevant questions of and how to more effectively ask those questions.

With ubiquitous information the need to memorize and retain information will be massively reduced and the practice might actually become a disadvantage. This is because information tends to evolve and what we believe one day may no longer be true the next. The information in our heads won’t change, but what is online will. This does suggest that if we don’t solve the problems associated with “fake news” by 2030 we really could be screwed.

Keep an open mind

After listening to the panel it is clear we should be modeling the future far more than we are. We clearly aren’t preparing either kids or our aging population for the future. Folks in the middle of their life now could be screwed because they will be the older generation we spoke of when technology progresses to autonomous robotics (including cars and planes), AIs, and the likely emergence of more invasive human machine interfaces.  

Best advice is to keep your eyes and ears open, don’t lock down on any particular view so hard you don’t remain open to the possibility you are wrong or out of date, and be willing to consider retraining early. And I’d really consider passing this on to your kids along with a little history on what came before in case one of them gets stranded and has to use a wired phone, a car with a driver (and understands that the guy offering them a ride from the airport isn’t the same as Uber), and that there sometimes isn’t an app for that (and who to call if they need help).