Our Robot-Filled Future: Not All Scary - InformationWeek

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Shane O'Neill
Shane O'Neill
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Our Robot-Filled Future: Not All Scary

Artificial intelligence is not the danger, says one futurist. Rather, it will save us from danger -- and a dreary existence.

When we think about major society-altering technologies of the future, we typically think about self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, robot assistants, and sensor-carrying wearable devices.

These technologies are all in their early stages, but they are top of mind at Google, Amazon, and other innovators, and among IT pros and tech enthusiasts fascinated by what the future holds. The reason these technologies are so much fun to discuss is because they're divisive: One person's utopian vision is another person's hell.

If AI and robotics evoke feelings of dread in you, there is much to back your claims. The movies Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey are two examples, but here are a few more:

[Take a look at the robots we will depend on for health, work, and entertainment. Read 10 Robots Changing The World.]

However, technology visionaries -- often referred to as "futurists" -- don't see it this way. They see the aforementioned scenarios as setbacks on the road to an ultra-efficient society where technology eliminates tedious human tasks and makes us safer and healthier.

Dr. Jennifer Healey is one of those people.

Healey -- a scientist at Intel Research Labs who helped develop the first wearable computer with physiological sensors and a video camera while in an MIT PhD program -- lays out her rather rosy 50-year forecast for the future of sensors, AI, and driverless cars in the video below, part of the "Conversations with Tomorrow" series sponsored by global asset manager Alger.

Healey's main prediction is that AI will gradually get closer to human intelligence. Robots and cars will learn to recognize human emotions. She believes this ability, instead of being scary, will allow them to interact with us better and help us. They'll be reinforced with intelligence based on what we tell them and the tone (positive or negative) we take when we tell them -- similar to how children and dogs learn.

Healey is also bullish on sensors and wearable tech to "take objective measures of our physiological state" while we get better at benchmarking that data against our own sleeping, eating, and driving patterns to make better health decisions. Healey sees sensor-packed driverless cars as a solution for urban clutter and transportation safety hazards.

Healey takes a long view (2064 is a long way away), and while her vision is somewhat idealistic about the ability of sensors and AI to remedy society's ills, it is worth thinking about. If all this tech being born now is managed correctly it can indeed make us safer, smarter, and healthier.

I just hope it doesn't make too many of us unemployed along the way.

Watch the video below, and share your thoughts on future tech in the comments section. Do you agree with Healey's positive vision?

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Shane O'Neill is Managing Editor for InformationWeek. Prior to joining InformationWeek, he served in various roles at CIO.com, most notably as assistant managing editor and senior writer covering Microsoft. He has also been an editor and writer at eWeek and TechTarget. ... View Full Bio
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D. Henschen
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
11/10/2014 | 4:18:48 PM
Drones another category that belongs here
Drones are another category drawing interest from the likes of Amazon and Google, but also causing much controversy. Thanks to sensors, the pilots can stay safely at home base, but they're making ID errors and killing innocent people (as well as villians) in remote corners of the world. As with all of these categories, it's up to humans to use these technologies for good, but it's very obvious that there's also a huge possibility for not-so-good outcomes.
Shane M. O'Neill
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
11/10/2014 | 3:05:12 PM
Re: Ever since Asimov
Good point Dave. As much as I love the idea of a super-efficient and safe society, I worry that automation will leave too many people out in the cold. And that could get ugly. What are the mobs (and I don't use that word lightly) of non-brilliant people supposed to do for a living? One assumes the cost of living will go down with all this automation, but, even so, will there be nearly enough jobs to go around?
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
11/10/2014 | 2:08:54 PM
Ever since Asimov
This argument has been around since Asimov was in his prime. The idea that automation will free us up for a life of leisure or higher mental pursuits is a pretty picture, but that's not how it has played out in the labor market so far. If everyone was as smart as Asimov, maybe it would.
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