Vision of the Future

I often find it exhilarating to hear about visions of the future. To be fair, these can sometimes be dystopian but I’m thinking more along of the lines of the Disney World vision of “Look at these amazing things ahead!”

Visually these conversations bring to mind a scene from Epcot’s Spaceship Earth. Spaceship Earth is a ride inside the iconic geodesic dome at Epcot at Walt Disney World. The ride, at one point sponsored by AT&T (corporate sponsorships for rides, genius!), tells the story of the history of communication through animatronics: cave paintings in France, the lectures of Socrates, and the invention of the printing press are a few of the scenes presented. There is also a section that looks ahead to what is possible for human communication using technology.

One of these visions particularly thrilled me in the 1990s – a mother archaeologist, on site at a remote dig, video chatting with her child comfortably at home. This was a vision of the future I wanted to be a part of. First, a working mother who travels with an exciting job – amazing! But also the ability to connect with close family no matter the distance.

Well, it’s 2019 and we have Facetime. So that dream has come true. But I get this same feeling of exhilaration reading some of these predictions about AI and its potential to enhance human connection and performance in this article.

Here are some particuarly hopeful selections:

  • “By 2030, most social situations will be facilitated by bots — intelligent-seeming programs that interact with us in human-like ways. At home, parents will engage skilled bots to help kids with homework and catalyze dinner conversations. At work, bots will run meetings. A bot confidant will be considered essential for psychological well-being, and we’ll increasingly turn to such companions for advice ranging from what to wear to whom to marry.” —Judith Donath, Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society
  • “The developed world faces an unprecedented productivity slowdown that promises to limit advances in living standards. A.I. has the potential to play an important role in boosting productivity and living standards.” —Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
  • “People will increasingly realize the importance of interacting with each other and the natural world and they will program A.I. to support such goals, which will in turn support the ongoing emergence of the ‘slow movement.’ For example, grocery shopping and mundane chores will be allocated to A.I. (smart appliances), freeing up time for preparation of meals in keeping with the slow food movement. Concern for the environment will likewise encourage the growth of the slow goods/slow fashion movement. The ability to recycle, reduce, reuse will be enhanced by the use of in-home 3-D printers, giving rise to a new type of ‘craft’ that is supported by A.I.” —Dana Klisanin, psychologist, futurist and game designer

To be fair, many of the predictions in the article are not nearly so rosy. Many point out the potential for AI to be destructive and misery-making for much of humanity — scary stuff. Reading these comments from AI experts and futurists, I appreciate the spectrum of visions that seemed lacking when I was happily dreaming about my 2019 life during a Disney trip. I think (and I hope) that these warnings are driving conversations about how industries will shape AI as we move into the future.