AI, or Artificial Intelligence, used to be the stuff of science fiction novels. But in 2018, it’s a very real part of our lives, already impacting our day-to-day experiences, and likely to do so much more in the future.
For the typical Australian, what does this look like? How does AI influence our daily activities? We’ve broken down some of the leading ways AI is transforming the ways we work, shop, and communicate, and the ways in which it might impact us going forward.
Saving You Valuable Time
Briefly, let’s define AI. Artificial intelligence, at its most basic, is “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behaviour.” The human behaviours mimicked by AI go beyond simple things like speaking or imitating human actions. Instead, AI goes deeper in trying to reflect the abilities of intelligent beings, working to develop intellectual processes including “the ability to reason, discover meaning, generalize, or learn from past experience.”
While AI can initially seem like a foreign, worrisome concept, when most of us learn of its ability to save us time or make our lives easier, we suddenly become much more comfortable with it.
It’s important to note that AI is already integrated into our lives in a major way: in the form of digital assistants. Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and friends, are familiar robotic personalities that give us a boost with little tasks. They can help us quickly find the answers to questions, provide us with directions to nearby businesses, and add items to our shopping lists. They can listen to us dictate a text, and then send it to the right person, with remarkable accuracy.
Because these machines use AI, they are essentially learning information about us. Your Amazon Echo (powered by Alexa) can distinguish between the voices of different members of your family, producing the right personalised calendars, traffic recommendations, and more. These bots get to know our patterns and preferences and then can automatically provide relevant information or suggestions. It’s somewhat alarming, but ultimately very useful.
AI can help us have not only a more efficient experience, but a better experience. Google Maps has a new update that uses AI to give you an amazing travel experience. The app will assist you in tracking progress against your bucket list. (Tried one of the leading sushi restaurants in your city? The app will let you know which other ones to go to finish up your list.) It also uses Google’s smart algorithms to find out what’s trending. You can try the hottest new spots in town this way. Yes, AI can help you be the hippest person you know.
Creating a More Productive Workplace
Digital assistants aren’t only useful in our personal lives. There’s a lot of movement right now to gear this technology towards the workplace, too. This application would likely involve a much larger system of speech recognition, but ideally, could be critical in improving employee productivity as well as streamlining and automating workflows.
Using digital assistants in the workplace might already be a part of your professional day. But as AI continues to develop, this could go beyond adding an appointment to your calendar or asking a basic question. Your digital assistant could truly serve as an indispensable resource, quickly bringing up a needed file or searching out statistics and figures in a mere moment. As various companies pair their technology with digital assistants like Alexa, this is already becoming possible.
Changing the World of Transportation
Another way in which AI is likely to impact our lives is in the world of transportation.
Self-driving cars have received special attention in the news lately. While it may still be a few years before we are sharing our Australian roads with fleets of driverless cars, the technology is making its way to us and across the globe.
There are still many kinks to work out in order to make autonomous vehicles fully safe and reliable. But if developers are successful, driverless cars could revolutionise the way we get around. Riding in a driverless car would have a time-saving benefit for us. Instead of focusing on your commute, you could prepare for a meeting, take a phone call, or simply relax with a novel. This would give you greater control over your time, and it might even remove the stress that driving (and traffic) can sometimes cause in our daily lives.
Experts believe that these autonomous autos would ultimately be a safer way to travel, too. Human error is said to cause or contribute to the vast majority of traffic fatalities (94% of traffic deaths in the USA), so removing that human element could have the potential to dramatically reduce accidents.
What about other forms of driverless transport? Last year, mining company Rio Tinto completed the first autonomous heavy haul rail journey in Australia. Their technology system, known as AutoHaul, was recently approved for use in Australia. While the company is currently operating driverless trains along a route in Western Australia, they have hopes to expand this technology, deriving expected benefits in aspects such as safety and efficiency. Trials have already shown that “the autonomous trains delivered the product to the port nearly 20% faster than a manned train.”
Making the Internet Safer (Especially for Our Kids)
One use for AI that you may not have considered is in improving human safety. This is particularly applicable on the Internet, where AI has its main presence.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stated that Facebook may use artificial intelligence to aid in determining which posts on the social media network are abusive or harmful. These posts could then be flagged and removed, often far more quickly than if assessed by human employees. AI has already shown itself to be an effective tool in recognising various types of online fraud and abuse, mainly because it is designed to spot patterns. This is exactly how the AI would potentially work on Facebook.
In a world where cyberbullying is a real problem (19% of Australian teens 14-17 report having experienced some form of cyberbullying and 30% report having witnessed it) AI could make a difference. AI, acting as an unseen and impartial party, could be key to identifying instances of cyberbullying and combating them. AI can be where parents---unfortunately---can’t always be. This post succinctly describes just how this could operate: Using machine learning in a variety of ways, all online posts could be evaluated across a number of layers, including words used in a post, how old an account is, and much more. These layers, “abusive and not abusive – would be accumulated, appropriately weighed, and collectively used to gain artificial intelligence in understanding what posts are most likely to be toxic. Then, an algorithm can perform sentiment analysis to make a determination of whether the next post is or is not toxic.” The result? Our kids staying safer in the online community.
AI could also create a safer world offline, too. Precise, AI-driven maps currently in development in the US are said to have the potential to warn against impending natural disasters. These maps, with their complex algorithms, could play a role in helping cities create better flood management schemes, for instance. In this way, AI could help citizens avoid catastrophic outcomes.
More Efficient Farming, Safer Mining
One benefit of AI that is undeniably beneficial to Australians is in the field of agriculture. With the growth of agricultural robots, farms can be equipped with incredible automation that is precise, efficient, and cost-effective. Learning to identify weeds in a plot of land is just one example of the skills these AI-driven “agbots” can handle. Other models include small rovers capable of mapping the location and condition of ripening fruit. As the technology develops, these bots can help to influence and even make intelligent farming decisions. Good for the land, good for Australian farmers.
In mining, AI has already begun to assist with some of the more dangerous tasks in the industry. In a field that is rife with risks to workers, automation could be a welcome addition to the day-to-day work, enabling a safer workplace for all.
While the impacts of AI in certain industries won’t apply to everyone, the subtle shifts in these areas could have larger effects, especially in terms of the larger job market. With automation taking hold in so many industries, too, it’s an important reminder to embrace new technology in our education system. AI just might hold the key to our children’s future career prospects.
Access to the Finest Medical Care
We’re fortunate in Australia to have excellent medical care. In the most remote regions of Australia, however, this can present more of a challenge, due to inaccessible locations and small populations (fewer medical professionals). There are numerous initiatives at work to improve and promote medical care in rural Australia, including the well-established Royal Flying Doctor Service, but AI could take things to the next level.
Artificial intelligence is grabbing ahold of the medical field and making some amazing advancements. Already, inventions like smart microscopes are coming into play and other tools capable of making impressively accurate diagnoses. In some cases, AI could prove to be even more accurate than human doctors. This could be beneficial across all areas of the globe. But what might be of special interest to rural Australians is the potential for AI-driven surgery.
In this scenario, expert surgeons could use advanced robotic appendages to assist them with surgery. This could enable a procedure to be completed remotely, perhaps from thousands of miles away. Going a step further, the day might arrive when truly autonomous surgeries could be performed. Tests have already shown that AI robot surgeons could even prove to be more accurate than their mortal counterparts. These kinds of advancements could mean that world-class medical care would not be limited by location.
Money in Our Pockets, Jobs That Fill Our Souls
There’s often worry about “robots stealing our jobs” but a great deal of evidence points primarily to benefits coming from the emergence of AI. In fact, Google itself has suggested that “the Australian economy would reap economic gains of up to $1.2 trillion by 2030 from automation,” and freeing up workers’ time to pursue other tasks. This is a significant outlook, and it could have excellent results for boosting our entire economy.
It's also quite possible that the rise of AI could allow Australian workers to be able to pursue jobs that prioritise our creativity or critical thinking skills. Ideally, AI and automation should serve to outsource repetitive and mundane tasks to robotic technology. This approach opens the door for people to focus more heavily on human-oriented skills. Instead of the fear that AI will take away Australian jobs, this way of viewing it illuminates a world in which AI is serving to add and create jobs.
Many Australian leaders and tech experts feel that the country should readily and wholeheartedly embrace AI technology. We may be perfectly situated to use AI to our distinct advantage. Not only are we a country with ample open space that could allow for robotics testing and implementation, we’re also highly respected worldwide. In order to maintain our top-notch standards of living and a competitive edge in the global marketplace, we can work to ensure AI is “used as a tool to unlock human potential, modernise the economy and build national health, wellbeing and sustainability.”
AI will have a positive impact not just on our day-to-day living, but perhaps on the achievement of Australia overall.