It's 2030; Internet technology has become ubiquitous in its place in our society reaching a point where human and machine intelligence is indistinguishable. All but the most important jobs are taken over by artificial intelligence. The world is dominated by two categories of worker, those who automate and those who are automated.
Although this may sound a like a story line from a futuristic drama, the reality is this future may be closer than you think. Call any support line or customer service centre today, and you hear a very simple phone bot. It's an awful experience burned by repetitive questions resulting in a less than optimal experience. For most, the first response is to hit 0 and hope to speak to an actual person. Advancements in natural language processing and generation are quickly propelling this kind of experience to a point where you soon won't even know you're speaking to a bot when you hit 0. Instead, the system will adapt to your preferences. The voice is smooth and comforting, a replica of the company spokesman Morgan Freeman. Prefer a woman? No problem, you've got academy award winning actress Meryl Streep at your service, a virtual version.
This type of artificial voice service is already possible. At its annual MAX event last week, Adobe showed off Project #VoCo, a joint project between Adobe Research and Princeton University. In the presentation made by Adobe researcher Zeyu Jin, showcased a tool that will do for audio what Photoshop does for the manipulation of images. Using a 20-minute recording of a speaker's voice, VoCo can insert single new words that the speaker never said and even create entirely new natural-sounding sentences. For most celebrities, 20 minutes of audio is found in a few interviews or even a single movie making the idea of natural sound in artificial voice platforms are a reality.
As artificial intelligence improves we may soon begin to see more administrative, IT jobs formerly done by humans transitioning to computer systems. What's more, we may not even know it. The most obvious candidates for this type of automation are initially the simplest and most simplistic types of tasks. Areas such as customer service or consultation specific such as tax advice or legal advice. Googling for an answer is ok, but getting a personalised response based on exactly what you need is better. On the surface, this seems like what a service like Apple Siri does, but the next generation of AI will supercharge what Siri started. Interacting with technology will look more like interacting with another person than interacting with a machine.
We are now even beginning to see forms of AI in creative pursuits such as original music composition. One example is from SONY CSL Research Laboratory where they recently created two entire pop songs composed entirely by Artificial Intelligence. The achievement was thanks to a new technology called Flow Machines, which learns music styles from a huge database of songs. Then, exploiting unique combinations of style transfer, optimisation and interaction techniques, it can compose in any style. If you thought pop music was formulaic, you are right, and it is this very fact that the music we enjoy shares similarity that makes it ideal for AI-driven creation.
If you'd like to hear an example, listen to "Daddy's Car", a pop song in the style of The Beatles built entirely by the Sony AI.
Interestingly, Sony is currently conducting an experiment to see if people can tell the difference between real and fake J.S. Bach chorale arrangements. Some of them are excerpts from original J.S. Bach music, and some have been composed entirely by Artificial Intelligence.
Over the next decade, the role of workers will be shifting from that of a creator to an overseer. As this shift occurs the way we think about ourselves in the work world will also need to change. Those working entry level jobs doing things that could be easily automated will probably suffer first. As the happens, the question, will AI open new opportunities or will it create a disparity between those who are fortunate enough be able to afford AI that improves their lives?
According to Morgan Stanley, autonomous technology will save the freight industry $168 billion annually, nearly half of which will come from staff reductions.
What applies to the transportation industry will be true of many others. We will enter what the Atlantic's Derek Thompson called "an era of technological unemployment," in which machines render human labor useless and inefficient.
As the work world shifts, universal basic income (UBI) may become a prerequisite for a displaced workforce. UBI is a form of social security where citizens receive an unconditional wage from the government.
A basic income may address the need to pay ourselves, yet the bigger questions remain; What do our day to day lives look like in a world dominated by AI? Do we continue to define ourselves by our jobs or is what we do with our lives what matters when we no longer have to worry about doing the mundane task of the past? Are we better off or worse off? Does this technology augment us or enslave us?