How A.I. is about to elec­trify the world

Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is com­ing soon to re­shape your busi­ness—and the world

Inc. (USA) - - DEPARTMENTS | CONTENTS - Amy Webb Amy Webb is an au­thor and fu­tur­ist and the founder of the Fu­ture To­day In­sti­tute, a lead­ing fore­cast­ing and strat­egy firm that re­searches tech­nol­ogy for a global client base. She is the au­thor of The Sig­nals Are Talk­ing: Why To­day’s Fringe Is To

IT’S 1890. YOU OWN A SMALL in­sur­ance com­pany that sells ac­ci­dent pro­tec­tion and marine poli­cies. Your busi­ness is grow­ing quickly but faces one key chal­lenge: There’s no elec­tric light. Your pro­duc­tiv­ity rises and sets with the sun. (Gas lamps are avail­able, but they’re dan­ger­ous, messy, and not that bright.)

Then you get word of a new set of in­ter­lock­ing tech­nolo­gies that prom­ises to trans­form daily life. It all be­gins with Thomas Edi­son’s light bulb and the elec­tric cur­rent that turns it on, cour­tesy of a power util­ity’s cen­trally lo­cated gen­er­a­tor in New York City. Elec­tric­ity quickly changes ev­ery­thing. You can work longer hours and process more poli­cies, which al­lows you to hire more peo­ple. Elec­tric­ity also flows into fac­to­ries, soon pow­er­ing ma­chin­ery along vast as­sem­bly lines and al­low­ing for the mass pro­duc­tion of cars (which opens up a whole new in­sur­ance mar­ket for you). It changes things at home, too: Elec­tric­ity em­pow­ers women, who, be­fore long, come to rely on elec­tric clothes wash­ers and cof­fee per­co­la­tors. In time, elec­tric­ity will un­der­pin count­less on­ce­un­think­able inventions: ra­dio, refrigeration, tele­vi­sion, com­put­ers.

It’s 2017. You own a small in­sur­ance com­pany, your busi­ness is grow­ing quickly, and you have a chance to take ad­van­tage of the big­gest trans­for­ma­tive tech­nol­ogy since elec­tric­ity: ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

You’ve ex­pe­ri­enced nar­row forms of A.I.: an­tilock brak­ing sys­tems, email spam fil­ters, weather apps. All only hint at the com­ing new age of hu­man­ma­chine in­ter­ac­tion, in which A.I. will per­form any in­tel­lec­tual task just as a hu­man would. Google, Face­book, Ap­ple, Ama­zon, IBM, Mi­crosoft, and Baidu are all build­ing the foun­da­tions of A.I., but hun­dreds of star­tups are fo­cused on an­cil­lary tools ( just as, 125 years ago, many com­pa­nies made wooden poles, cop­per wire, and lamp fix­tures). Nvidia is build­ing com­puter chips that al­low ma­chines to re­act to their sur­round­ings in real time. Fanuc is work­ing on an un­su­per­vised learn­ing sys­tem, so A.I.-pow­ered ro­bots can learn skills on their own. Tesla is de­vel­op­ing A.I. infrastructure for au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, which in­cludes new kinds of maps and de­ci­sion-mak­ing soft­ware. And Clar­i­fai is build­ing soft­ware that will au­to­mat­i­cally tag, or­ga­nize, and search con­tent. If you’re an in­surer to­day, you’ll need to plan for self- driv­ing cars that don’t get into ac­ci­dents. And you’ll need to cre­ate poli­cies for com­pa­nies that want pro­tec­tion against al­go­rithms that run amok. Like elec­tric­ity, A.I. will usher in huge changes for every sin­gle in­dus­try. Over the next two decades, you’ll en­counter key bosses who aren’t hu­man. And chang­ing in­dus­tries will re­quire new skills: Smart farming. A.I. will en­able the pro­duc­tion of sig­nif­i­cantly more food in much smaller spa­ces. Col­lab­o­ra­tive ro­bots will de­cide what to plant, har­vest the fruits and veg­eta­bles, and then trans­port them to au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles that will drive the pro­duce to fac­to­ries for pro­cess­ing. We’ll need fewer field la­bor­ers—but more hor­ti­cul­tur­ists and man­agers who are cross-trained in com­puter science.

Med­i­cal ro­bot­ics. The med­i­cal cen­ter of the fu­ture will be re­mote. There—as­sisted by A.I., nanobots, and health data— doc­tors who know ro­bot­ics will mon­i­tor and treat us be­fore we get re­ally sick, and with far fewer in-per­son of­fice vis­its.

Hu­man-ma­chine re­sources. Busi­nesses will even­tu­ally out­source key de­ci­sions and or­ga­ni­za­tional man­age­ment to al­go­rithms. Many hu­mans will find them­selves man­aged by ma­chines for per­for­mance as­sess­ments, raises, and con­flict res­o­lu­tion. To over­see it, we’ll need com­pa­nies— and peo­ple—that un­der­stand data, A.I., and tra­di­tional hu­man re­sources.

Some­day, you’ll look back and re­al­ize that A.I. is our gen­er­a­tion’s elec­tric­ity. And that you were there, at the start, wit­ness­ing A.I.’s il­lu­mi­na­tion of the fu­ture of your busi­ness and our world.

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