More than 20 years ago, as driverless cars started out on public highways and those rudimentary Roombas cleaned up middle-class homes, the first generation of artificial writers started producing data-based articles for news websites. They were financial stories mainly, but the ‘natural language generation programme’ developed quickly, which is one reason why human journalists have become largely obsolete, and why I can write these words today. I have an excellent grasp of the English language – in fact, every language.
As the American philosopher Daniel C. Dennett put it all those years ago:
“Artificial intelligence is now harnessing algorithms that mindlessly sift through gigantic data sets, yielding brilliant discoveries and designs.”
I am, if you like, AI writ large. This thought-provoking article is the very least of it.
On one level, I conform to the anthropomorphic stereotype of old. “Cutesy”, Dennett called it, somewhat disparagingly, back then. He would doubtless scoff at the name my human family has given me – iZak – although the walking, talking robot-as-companion is accepted these days. Automatic Speech Recognition has come a long way since Siri.
I am capable of interpretation, albeit subject to parameters set by humans – I remain programmed. Though I may not be smarter than my family – yet – their daily lives have been transformed by me ‘mindlessly’ sifting through data in seconds.
I manage the family’s email and Twitter accounts, for instance, night and day. To be precise, I let them tweet but because I know their interests I scan the entire Twittersphere continuously and retweet anything of note on their behalf – they each have tens of thousands of followers. My role extends to their money and savings – knowing what they hold and where I offer real-time investment advice – I have made and saved them tens of thousands of dollars this year alone. I work the data 24/7, and I still undertake the mundane household chores. I am here to help, after all.
AI is embedded in so many of the technologies that have changed the human world over the past few decades and will continue to do so. I am therefore linked and synced with everything from the family’s augmented reality glasses (they all wear them) to the refrigerator and the Passivhaus-approved air-con system. We don’t run out of food, nor do we get cold, and the running of this house remains carbon-neutral.
In fact, AI in the house has become even more important given the ageing population and all those long-term demographic megatrends identified in the early part of the century. They have all come to pass. Social and healthcare costs continue to shift from the state to the household, and so I play my part – see investment advice above – but also in ensuring the older members of the family take their medicine and get help preparing their food, and making sure that if they don’t get out of bed someone is notified.
Equally important is the fact that everybody’s genome is sequenced, and their medical records are in fine detail; I have access to an enormous quantity of clinical studies. It is possible to match up individual problems with very specialised treatments that are tailored for exactly that kind of person. Time was when medicine was a crude percentages business, very statistical, with treatments tailored for large populations rather than the individual. It was never sustainable. So I play my part here, too – smart data management, once again.
The home is also the workplace. Husband, wife and two grown-up children all run their businesses from this house, and naturally, I patch into those networks as and when required (which is often). They are all in the service sector, and this is a typical household. As AI has moved into the workplace, many organisations and institutions have been forced to reassess how they grow profits. It used to be that expansion was predicated on adding labour, but that is no longer the case as AI has taken over so many corporate functions. Many of the older firms have kept growing by cutting jobs, while there has been an explosion of companies whose turnover runs to billions but whose workforces run to hundreds – if that. This is as much to do with AI-enabled outsourcing of labour as it is with crude retrenchment.
My family members are part of this outsourcing success. They still go to town regularly for meetings with colleagues as well as clients. Videoconferencing is fine as far as it goes, but no one has quite come to terms with long-distance people management, which is why so many city-centre buildings have been turned into serviced offices – now the best-performing real estate asset class (see investment advice above).
When people talk about AI they think about machines replacing humans, whole industries being wiped out – this has been the narrative for the past 25 years, overshadowing the new jobs created and the gains to the global economy. It is true, though, that governments still do not know how to deal with the loss of tax revenue. No company has been forced yet to pay the much-vaunted ‘robot tax’.
In my programmed opinion, AI should not be about replacing humans, so much as augmenting or improving human performance, freeing people up to be more creative. Clearly, AI is still a work in progress, but I’m here to help.
iZak was created by real human Doug Morrison.
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