The frightening, futurist portrayals of Artificial Intelligence that dominate films and novels, and shape the popular imagination, are fictional. In reality, AI is already changing our daily lives, almost entirely in ways that improve human health, safety, and productivity. Unlike in the movies, there is no race of superhuman robots on the horizon or probably even possible. And while the potential to abuse AI technologies must be acknowledged and addressed, their greater potential is, among other things, to make driving safer, help children learn, and extend and enhance people’s lives. In fact, beneficial AI applications in schools, homes, and hospitals are already growing at an accelerated pace. Major research universities devote departments to AI studies, and technology companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft spend heavily to explore AI applications they regard as critical to their futures. Even Hollywood uses AI technologies to bring its dystopian AI fantasies to the screen.
Innovations relying on computer-based vision, speech recognition, and Natural Language Processing have driven these changes, as have concurrent scientific and technological advances in related fields. AI is also changing how people interact with technology. Many people have already grown accustomed to touching and talking to their smart phones. People's future relationships with machines will become ever more nuanced, fluid, and personalized as AI systems learn to adapt to individual personalities and goals. These AI applications will help monitor people’s well-being, alert them to risks ahead, and deliver services when needed or wanted. For example, in a mere fifteen years in a typical North American city—the time frame and scope of this report—AI applications are likely to transform transportation toward self-driving vehicles with on-time pickup and delivery of people and packages. This alone will reconfigure the urban landscape, as traffic jams and parking challenges become obsolete.
This study's focus on a typical North American city is deliberate and meant to highlight specific changes affecting the everyday lives of the millions of people who inhabit them. The Study Panel further narrowed its inquiry to eight domains where AI is already having or is projected to have the greatest impact: transportation, healthcare, education, low-resource communities, public safety and security, employment and workplace, home/service robots, and entertainment.
Though drawing from a common source of research, AI technologies have influenced and will continue to influence these domains differently. Each domain faces varied AI-related challenges, including the difficulty of creating safe and reliable hardware for sensing and effecting (transportation and service robots), the difficulty of smoothly interacting with human experts (healthcare and education), the challenge of gaining public trust (low-resource communities and public safety and security), the challenge of overcoming fears of marginalizing humans (employment and workplace) and the risk of diminishing interpersonal interaction (entertainment). Some domains are primarily business sectors, such as transportation and healthcare, while others are more oriented to consumers, such as entertainment and home service robots. Some cut across sectors, such as employment/workplace and low-resource communities.
In each domain, even as AI continues to deliver important benefits, it also raises important ethical and social issues, including privacy concerns. Robots and other AI technologies have already begun to displace jobs in some sectors. As a society, we are now at a crucial juncture in determining how to deploy AI-based technologies in ways that promote, not hinder, democratic values such as freedom, equality, and transparency. For individuals, the quality of the lives we lead and how our contributions are valued are likely to shift gradually, but markedly.
An accurate and sophisticated picture of AI—one that competes with its popular portrayal—is hampered at the start by the difficulty of pinning down a precise definition of artificial intelligence. In the approaches the Study Panel considered, none suggest there is currently a “general purpose” AI. While drawing on common research and technologies, AI systems are specialized to accomplish particular tasks, and each application requires years of focused research and a careful, unique construction. As a result, progress is uneven within and among the eight domains.
A prime example is Transportation, where a few key technologies have catalyzed the widespread adoption of AI with astonishing speed. Autonomous transportation will soon be commonplace and, as most people's first experience with physically embodied AI systems, will strongly influence the public's perception of AI. As cars become better drivers than people, city-dwellers will own fewer cars, live further from work, and spend time differently, leading to an entirely new urban organization. In the typical North American city in 2030, physically embodied AI applications will not be limited to cars, but are likely to include trucks, flying vehicles, and personal robots. Improvements in safe and reliable hardware will spur innovation over the next fifteen years, as they will with Home/Service Robots, which have already entered people’s houses, primarily in the form of vacuum cleaners. Better chips, low-cost 3D sensors, cloud-based machine learning, and advances in speech understanding will enhance future robots' services and their interactions with people. Special purpose robots will deliver packages, clean offices, and enhance security. But technical constraints and the high costs of reliable mechanical devices will continue to limit commercial opportunities to narrowly defined applications for the foreseeable future.
In Healthcare, there has been an immense forward leap in collecting useful data from personal monitoring devices and mobile apps, from electronic health records (EHR) in clinical settings and, to a lesser extent, from surgical robots designed to assist with medical procedures and service robots supporting hospital operations. AI-based applications could improve health outcomes and the quality of life for millions of people in the coming years. Though clinical applications have been slow to move from the computer science lab to the real-world, there are hopeful signs that the pace of innovation will improve. Advances in healthcare can be promoted via the development of incentives and mechanisms for sharing data and for removing overbearing policy, regulatory, and commercial obstacles. For many applications, AI systems will have to work closely with care providers and patients to gain their trust. Advances in how intelligent machines interact naturally with caregivers, patients, and patients’ families are crucial.
Enabling more fluid interactions between people and promising AI technologies also remains a critical challenge in Education, which has seen considerable progress in the same period. Though quality education will always require active engagement by human teachers, AI promises to enhance education at all levels, especially by providing personalization at scale. Interactive machine tutors are now being matched to students for teaching science, math, language, and other disciplines. Natural Language Processing, machine learning, and crowdsourcing have boosted online learning and enabled teachers in higher education to multiply the size of their classrooms while addressing individual students’ learning needs and styles. Over the next fifteen years in a typical North American city, the use of these technologies in the classroom and in the home is likely to expand significantly, provided they can be meaningfully integrated with face-to-face learning.
Beyond education, many opportunities exist for AI methods to assist Low-resource Communities by providing mitigations and solutions to a variety of social problems. Traditionally, funders have underinvested in AI research lacking commercial application. With targeted incentives and funding priorities, AI technologies could help address the needs of low-resource communities, and budding efforts are promising. Using data mining and machine learning, for example, AI has been used to create predictive models to help government agencies address issues such as prevention of lead poisoning in at-risk children and distribution of food efficiently. These budding efforts suggest more could be done, particularly if agencies and organizations can engage and build trust with these communities. Gaining public trust is also a challenge for AI use by Public Safety and Security professionals. North American cities and federal agencies have already begun to deploy AI technologies in border administration and law enforcement. By 2030, they will rely heavily upon them, including improved cameras and drones for surveillance, algorithms to detect financial fraud, and predictive policing. The latter raises the specter of innocent people being unjustifiably monitored, and care must be taken to avoid systematizing human bias and to protect civil liberties. Well-deployed AI prediction tools have the potential to provide new kinds of transparency about data and inferences, and may be applied to detect, remove, or reduce human bias, rather than reinforcing it.
Social and political decisions are likewise at play in AI’s influences on Employment and Workplace trends, such as the safety nets needed to protect people from structural changes in the economy. AI is poised to replace people in certain kinds of jobs, such as in the driving of taxis and trucks. However, in many realms, AI will likely replace tasks rather than jobs in the near term, and will also create new kinds of jobs. But the new jobs that will emerge are harder to imagine in advance than the existing jobs that will likely be lost. AI will also lower the cost of many goods and services, effectively making everyone better off. Longer term, AI may be thought of as a radically different mechanism for wealth creation in which everyone should be entitled to a portion of the world’s AI-produced treasures. It is not too soon for social debate on how the economic fruits of AI technologies should be shared.
Entertainment has been transformed by social networks and other platforms for sharing and browsing blogs, videos, and photos, which rely on techniques actively developed in NLP, information retrieval, image processing, crowdsourcing, and machine learning. Some traditional sources of entertainment have also embraced AI to compose music, create stage performances, and even to generate 3D scenes from natural language text. The enthusiasm with which people have already responded to AI-driven entertainment has been surprising. As with many aspects of AI, there is ongoing debate about the extent to which the technology replaces or enhances sociability. AI will increasingly enable entertainment that is more interactive, personalized, and engaging. Research should be directed toward understanding how to leverage these attributes for individuals’ and society's benefit.