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AI and the future of humanity: Man plus machine

At IBM Think 2018, Michio Kaku, a futurist, predicts that AI will define the next era of computing—and the future of humanity. 

LAS VEGAS— While the future of humanity will benefit greatly as artificial intelligence matures, even experts await that future with circumspection.

Futurists paint a picture of artificial intelligence (AI) as a shepherd of change over the next several decades but also as a harbinger of anxiety about jobs and human prospects more generally. Experts and AI providers alike intone regularly that the future of AI will mark an era of “man plus machine”—with computer-based intelligence augmenting human work rather than supplanting it.

Michio Kaku, a futurist, at IBM Think 2018, discussing AI and its potential impact on humanity.

“We’re going to have instantaneous knowledge,” said Michio Kaku, author of The Future of Humanity, and a speaker at the IBM Think 2018 conference. “And you’ll be able to talk back [to AI-enabled things, and they] will talk back to you,” Kaku said. “You’ll have expert information wherever you go.”

AI will make health information accessible to patients without them having to go to a doctor. It could provide doctors with access to information during surgery. Customer-service representatives will be better equipped to provide information to customers in the moment. Readily available information at one’s fingertips will make almost all processes more efficient and contribute to better outcomes.

AI and the future of humanity: Opportunity and anxiety

At the same time, AI could disrupt the human workforce greatly, noted Kaku, who warned that a smarter future comes with tradeoffs.

AI, he said, does “pose an existential threat.” Much of that threat, Kaku said, involves the long-term impact on the human workforce. According to some estimates, about 30% of the activities in 60% of all occupations could be automated.

The displacement is already taking place, noted Jeff Hesse, a PwC principal. According to Hesse, workers will need to adapt and develop new skills, even over the next five years. Data analytics and robotics will be areas of growth in the workforce.

Kaku forecasted the future of artificial intelligence as superimposed on industries like healthcare. AI could enable less invasive procedures. Patients, he predicted, will be able to swallow a pill capsule outfitted with a camera to provide imagery of their intestines, obviating the need for a colonoscopy. “It gives new meaning to the phrase Intel inside,” he quipped.

AI might offer the possibility for understanding and slowing the aging process, Kaku postulated. Bone, skin, cartilage and organs can be grown. “Because of AI, because of computer technology, we may be able to solve the problem of the aging process,” he said.

At the same time, Kaku intimated, if mishandled, AI could raise the specter of human reengineering. Bionic limbs and artificially grown hearts and livers are now a reality, and healthcare professionals should be on guard against organizations using AI to select for certain healthy attributes and discriminate against those without them.

Man as machine, man plus machine

Kaku also noted that AI will change human memory and have a different kind of effect on posterity. AI is already used to create holograms that digitize a human entity and capture its memories, voice and image. Those holograms can make memories more permanent, even after the individual is long gone.

Today, however, a hologram imbued with flawless AI is still a ways off. As the New Yorker noted earlier this year, a hologram of Eva Schloss, a friend of Anne Frank and a Holocaust survivor, was prone to short-circuiting when asked questions such as, “Can you tell me about your brother?” The artificial being became confused and offered up random answers rather than pertinent responses. Microsoft Tay, a chatbot released in 2016, was promptly retired after it learned and replicated hate speech from online chat rooms.

These examples highlight the immaturity of AI, despite significant advances in recent years. They also support the argument that proponents make about how AI will augment human work, processing and decision making.

“This will be an era of man plus machine, not an era of man vs. machine,” said Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, during her keynote. “Man and machine always get a better answer than man alone or machine alone,” she said.

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Lauren Horwitz

Lauren Horwitz is the managing editor of Cisco.com, where she covers the IT infrastructure market and develops content strategy. Previously, Horwitz was a senior executive editor in the Business Applications and Architecture group at TechTarget;, a senior editor at Cutter Consortium, an IT research firm; and an editor at the American Prospect, a political journal. She has received awards from American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), a min Best of the Web award and the Kimmerling Prize for best graduate paper for her editing work on the journal article "The Fluid Jurisprudence of Israel's Emergency Powers.”