In episode 73 of podcast ‘Review The Future’, the hosts interview Calum Chace, author of the book ‘The Economic Singularity: Artificial Intelligence and the Death of Capitalism’. The three discuss the long-term implications of the improvement of artificial intelligence (AI) so that it can now effectively replace humans in more and more tasks; a discussion that covers consequences for areas as diverse as employment, income distribution, welfare systems, or capitalism.
It is a fascinating discussion, though slightly anxiety-inducing! After all, as Chace notes, it is not even necessary for AI to be good enough to replace humans in a certain area (say, driving) for its effects (on employment, income, etc…) to be felt. All we need is for perceptions about AI’s ability to replace humans to take hold.
Anxiety aside, the discussion is also extremely stimulating if we start considering the resulting opportunities in terms of new products and services. This post outlines my initial ideas about such opportunities.
Here we go.
The key premise of the podcast discussion is that AI will continue to improve to a point where it can replace humans, at an advantage, in most areas of economic life.
This premise is encapsulated in the book’s blurb, which reads:
“Artificial intelligence (AI) is overtaking our human ability to absorb and process information. Robots are becoming increasingly dextrous, flexible, and safe to be around (except the military ones).
(W)ithin a few decades, most humans will not be able to work for money. Self-driving cars will probably be the canary in the coal mine, providing a wake-up call for everyone who isn’t yet paying attention. All jobs will be affected, from fast food McJobs to lawyers and journalists. This is the single most important development facing humanity in the first half of the 21st century.”
The implication of this premise is that those whose skills can be replaced by AI, will lose. By contrast, those that control access to AI and those whose skills can not be replaced by AI will win.
The podcast discussion considers three areas in which humans have an advantage over AI: Artistic vision, Attention, and Status. And this is what I think they mean.
Artistic vision – the ability to conceive of a work of art (e.g., a painting or a story). Though, it is perfectly possible for AI to execute that work of art (such as producing a digital picture or 3D sculpture; or stringing sentences together to write a book).
Attention – the ability to share experiences, consciously (e.g., attending a concert together and sharing in the emotion; or reading a blog post and engaging with the ideas expressed in that post).
Status – the ability to perceive that someone is better than their peers in some significant dimension, and acting accordingly (e.g., by praising that person, trusting their judgment, or trying to gain their favour).
So, what do this premise and these three exceptions mean in terms of opportunities for new products and services?
Here are my initial ideas. I am very conscious, however, that these suggestions are rather narrow, because I am neither an entrepreneur nor a futurist. So, I am looking forward to hear what opportunities you can spot.
>> Ubiquitous use of AI
Much like those selling maps, buckets and spades benefited from the gold rush, or e-commerce consultants and website developers benefited from the internet bubble, those providing AI related advice and equipment are likely to benefit from the popularisation of AI.
Consulting services are likely to be in demand, particularly those around strategy and change management. There are also some opportunities around the manufacture, deployment and maintenance of AI equipment. And, also, some opportunities around the design and maintenance of software, though there are limitations here around machine learning applications.
>> Artistic vision
While AI may be able to string materials, colours and words together, it can not consciously create a piece of art that is meant to elicit a particular emotion or reaction.
Of course, the programme may learn that certain names or words are associated with a topic or a sentiment, and combine them in different ways in order to elicit a certain response – for instance, as measured by the sentiment analysis of customer feedback. However, I think that AI will always be lagging behind the human artist, here, in terms of sensing, responding to, or even moulding human sensitivity.
Some people crave attention, the others want to express it, and companies that facilitate the transfer of that attention can win. For instance, companies that offer platforms that make it easy for the two parties to get together – like the Airbnb or the Uber of attention.
Or companies that produce technology that bridge the gap between attention givers and attention seekers – like what Skype did for communication.
The issue with status is that it needs some sort of certification – e.g., you need a title (like a university degree), or a symbol (like a logo on your website) or a measure (like a Klout ranking). So, entities that confer or certify whatever form of status is valid in that AI-dominated world, could do very well.
The other issue with status is that it is dynamic. It can increase or decrease, because of what is happening to your source of status (i.e., whether you are getting more of whatever your status is based on), and to others (i.e., if more people acquire the source of status, the value of your ‘stock’ decreases). So, it seems to me that the providers of services that amplify status can do very well… much like investment bankers or wealth managers can increase your wealth, currently, by getting you return for your investment and/or making sure that you get more return than the market’s average.
Your turn: let your imagination run, and tell me who wins as AI becomes more and more popular. I can’t wait to read your ideas.