Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Predicting the Future


Yesterday I attended a Microsoft Research meeting on artificial intelligence, where, in addition to discussing a number of grand challenges in AI, attendees celebrated Eric Horvitz's recent AAAI Feigenbaum Prize by writing down our predictions for artificial intelligence in 2050. It was really interesting to read everyone's reflections on what the world might look like in 35 years.

My 2050 prediction: The nature of information work will change drastically. Many information work tasks will be done by intelligent systems, with people only providing input to fill in the gaps that the system cannot perform. Most information workers will either be unskilled or highly specialized, and the work they do will often be decoupled from the larger task to which they contribute. Task subcomponents that require human input will be matched to the worker who is optimally qualified to address it, and only the necessary context to complete the subtask will be provided. Because information tasks will be modularized and self contained, many information workers will be able to integrate paid work into their personal lives, working in their spare moments from home when it is convenient instead of in large chunks from the office. Improved efficiency and automation will mean they will be able to work less or fewer information workers will be needed.

Our emerging ability to transform large tasks into microtasks will drive this change. People once believed a skilled craftsman was needed to build a car, but then they figured out how to decompose the task into repeatable subcomponents that could be completed by unskilled workers and, later, robots. Similarly, while many believe that complex information tasks can only be performed by skilled information workers, we are discovering it is possible to pull out the repeatable subcomponents from these tasks to be performed by the task owner (selfsourcing), the crowd (crowdsourcing), and, eventually, artificial intelligence. The transformation of information work into microwork will change when and how people work, and enable individuals and automated processes to efficiently and easily complete tasks that currently seem challenging.

Now it's your turn. What is your prediction for artificial intelligence in 2050?

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