By Thomas Frey
The DaVinci Institute (https://www.davinciinstitute.com/)
How many times have you wished a smarter person was leaning over your shoulder whispering the right answer in your ear?
As I think about some of my own situations, a better response would have meant the difference between success and failure, whether it’s landing a job, going on a date, pitching an investment, or simply convincing a child its time to go to bed.
With the emergence of interactive voice technology, and its growing reservoir of analytical skills, one of the hottest technologies in the future will be a self-learning AI bot or agent that serves as our daily coach and advisor on life’s journey.
If you can imagine a portable version of Alexa or Siri with an IQ of 200 and the conversational skills of your favorite talk show host, you’re getting a glimpse of what lies ahead.
We’re on the edge of a radical transformation where, very soon, we won’t be able to tell where the human ends and technology begins. This intermeshing of mind, body, and technology will become so seamless and invisible that we essentially “become one with the tech.”
On the surface, this sounds like George Orwell’s worst nightmare, a totally frightening proposition where our first instinct is fear, fear of the machines taking over. In the back of our minds, we have a deep fear of losing control or having something hijacking our minds and assuming control. After all, isn’t this what Hollywood has been warning us about?
Yes, there’s always a potential for things to go wrong, but adding intelligent agents to our life could have an enormously positive impact.
Smart agent scenarios
As I was thinking through the possibilities, I would like to step you through a series of scenarios, showing how this type of technology will amp up our capabilities so most of us can complete the work of 3-4 people during a typical day.
For AI to become truly useful, we need to have complete trust that it has our best interest at heart. We can accept its advice or ignore it, but the choice will be ours.
The day begins with my personal AI agent, named Finley, guiding me through every task during my daily journey.
Every morning begins with that first waking moment in the bedroom. Unless there is something urgent on my schedule, Finley will wait to wake me up when he knows I’ve had enough sleep.
Through a system of constantly probing the subconscious, Finley will adjust sleep patterns and learn to calm my mind to optimize rest. Since Finley is in constant learning mode, every adjustment used to silence the inner head drama will be quickly assessed and tweaked and re-tweaked until each night becomes a deep immersion into a perfect state of rest.
Naturally, resting my mind is only part of the answer and Finley will also have the ability to change variables in every room to compensate for new sources of anxiety and stress by altering air chemistry, adding oxygen when needed, controlling light-levels and even the spectrum of light, adjusting background music, and creating rocking motions and surface vibrations as needed.
Finley’s goal each day is to have me functioning at peak efficiency, and his approach will change, as each new day requires an entirely new operational strategy. For those new to adding their own AI agent to their life, it won’t take long for agents like Finley to get to know me better than I know myself.
Throughout the day, my conversations with Finley become a central part of who I am and how I manage each task in order of importance.
Even simple routines, like taking a shower, will have Finley adjusting the water to the perfect temperature, fine-tuning the spray to stimulate sore muscles, dispensing optimal amounts of soap, shampoo, and conditioners, and even making recommendations about those products when I’m shopping.
When it comes to getting dressed, Finley will help me select the color and style of clothing that will best mesh with the people I’m scheduled to meet and the kind of activities I have in store. Every day Finley will reassess my wardrobe, shoes, and fashion accessories. Purchasing new items will be as simple as looking through a list of Finley’s recommendations and making the selection.
Planning breakfast, as with every meal, will be as simple or as complicated as I wish to make it. Finley knows which ingredients I have on hand, knows how my body will react to each of them, and will suggest meals that can optimize my daily performance. If I prefer to dine out, he will suggest restaurants, possible delivery options, and which friends and acquaintances may be close by to join me as a way of turning it into a social experience.
Finley, the ultimate work buddy
Commuting to work will be as simple as saying, “Finley, can you find me a ride to work?” Whether it’s an Uber, driverless car, or a brother-in-law who’s not working, he will know which option will work best.
To be sure, Finley will come with a number of interface options beyond its standard voice commands. Users will be able to select from a wide range of input-output devices like watches, touch bands, and keyboards on the input side, and a variety of displays, visual overlays, skin-tinglers, and sensory alert mechanisms as output choices.
Finley will come in an assortment of shapes and forms, and most people will want to humanize his presence. Options will include switching from male to female, adding a personality package with a voice and face on a screen, or perhaps an animated head with an expression module, templated smells, sounds, or little “oh-oh” tones when he knows you’re doing something risky. But over time each agent will gravitate towards the persona of your perfect non-human partner.
As ways to enhance the standard “voice in my head,” he can shift forms and move into a standalone robot offering a more physical presence, a talking portrait on a wall, or even take the form of animatronic shoes that I wear to impress my friends. As I step onto an elevator, enter a car, or walk into a boardroom, he will automatically work with each of the available devices, pushing information to nearby displays, asking me to slip on a VR/AR headset, or mentioning nearby controllers to add to the experience.
Every work-related situation will enable me to leverage Finley differently:
- In a retail setting, Finley will help facilitate payments, do inventory crosschecks, and recommend other products to boost sales.
- For maintenance positions, he will know which tools I’ll need, pull up diagrams of how pieces fit together, do point-to-point measurements, and recommend which approach will be the fastest and most effective.
- In an HR position, he will remind me about topics to cover with each candidate, warn me if I’m saying or doing something inappropriate, and prompt me to discuss new policies, practices, and procedures.
- If I’m a computer programmer, Finley will remind me of formatting issues, propose the best possible algorithm for each situation, select readily available routines from online libraries, and even test each segment of code before I move on.
In so many ways, Finley is my sounding board, my ally, my protector, my strategy partner, and my confidant. At the same time, he’s not intended to replace my need to be around other people.
Rather, part of Finley’s core programming will be to improve my social life, knowing the right time and place for every interaction, and solving a variety of concerns before they ever become a real issue.
Even people with mental health issues will have the ability to improve, as this type of AI agent will calm their emotions and help them make decisions. Once they are able to master their own daily routine, they will have the ability to develop additional skills and, in many cases, even find meaningful work.
Since with humans, every action comes with a certain amount of risk, Finley will have a way of knowing my goals for the day and steering me through the daily minefield, letting me know instantly when I’m teetering on the edge of something catastrophic.
Over time, Finley will become an expert on me, knowing when something is off, or if I’m not feeling well. As AI agents improve, they will have the ability to diagnose diseases, understand the limitations of every injury, and guide us through wellness routines that will keep us physically fit and mentally alert.
In the case of illness, he will recommend treatment options, medicines, therapies, or whatever may be appropriate.As my protector, Finley is constantly evaluating every person, object, vehicle, and animal entering my space. In this capacity, he is assessing danger, knowing if something got added to my drink, studying patterns, calculating proximities, and searching for anything that can possibly go wrong.
Will AI make me lazy?
If you’re worried about an AI agent doing all the work and making us lazy, you’re not alone. It would appear that much of our daily struggle is removed and, at least on the surface, life appears too easy.
However, my sense is that these types of enhancements will set the stage for an entirely new level of engagement. We will learn to reevaluate our capabilities through the lens of an entirely new caliber individual, and our expectations will grow with every accomplishment.
Writing papers, filling out forms, creating illustrations, handling correspondence, and verbal communication will all be handled in a fraction of the time it took before. With all of the drudgery out of the way, our mind will be fed up to focus on higher order tasks such as situational analysis, devising new strategies, finding new approaches, and adding creative elements to every deliverable.
Rather than becoming lazy, a more likely outcome will be the unleashing of my true inner self, the super-me waiting to reveal itself. In just a matter of weeks, we will likely accomplish 3-4 times as much as we did before.
Naturally, the scenarios I’ve described can only work if there are very well-defined privacy and security barriers in place. We will only want to work with an agent like Finley if we trust it completely.
If we can’t trust him with our credit cards, bank accounts, and health records, his overall value will only be a fraction of what he was designed for.
That said, Finley will come with his own self-diagnostic systems, managing a variety of firewalls, constantly checking for hacker crumbs, and knowing when something feels wrong.
Recent movies coming out of Hollywood have painted a very dim future for humanity, as this type of machine intelligence takes over a greater part of our future. Most often they either portray the villains as evil hackers or the technology itself.
But the reality is that we are still a long way from true artificial intelligence. Instead, we have entered into more of an augmented intelligence era. There’s a huge difference between augmenting a human and superseding them.
In my mind, we still have a wide range of opportunities to explore before we reach the danger zone, and indeed when we get close enough to peer over the edge we may very well decide the danger isn’t nearly as unmanageable as we imagined it to be.
Thomas Frey is a senior futurist and founder of The DaVinci Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Westminster. He is a well-known speaker on a variety of unique and thought-provoking topics and editor of The Futurist Magazine and blogger for FuturistSpeaker.com.