When you think of AI, chances are excellent that you think of jobs that might be lost to automation. However, although AI is likely to change the global face of work, this may not be the biggest impact it has on our lives. AI is also going to be enhancing our personal lives. In fact, thanks to these AI applications of the near future which will relieve us of numerous mundane tasks, we are going to have more time to enjoy and focus on what makes us human: our interests, passions, and connections with others.
Digital assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant need you to talk out loud to them, and these conversational platforms are becoming more common. However, voice-controlled platforms may be moving—into your head. Instead of a device on your counter, your digital assistant might reside in wireless earbuds that are miked to pick up your instructions. In fact, AI assistants of the future like NASA’s “Silent Speech” system (which interprets nerve activity with sensors on the skin of the neck and throat) may not even need you to say a word.
AI agents are also moving into all of your services and appliances. In the next decade, your digital assistant might arrange to pay for your new purchases and have them delivered so you don’t have to; this will be possible because anything you buy will have the AI application that allows it to interact. Some futurists like Nova Spivack think wearable devices like Google Glass will eventually allow you to see and “talk” to anything—even food on the shelf at the market.
AI will be making us smarter and helping us enhance our existing creative potential. Computational creativity is the branch of AI that produces algorithms that can paint, compose, write, and otherwise imitate human creativity and imagination. Composer David Cope collaborates with Emily Howell, an AI program: “It is a conversationalist composer friend,” he told The Atlantic as he described how they exchange ideas and critiques. ClickHole comedy writer Jamie Brew works with a predictive text interface he developed to create send-ups of presidential debates, mock Craigslist ads, and a new X-Files script.
The next level is already here: emotion AI, or artificial emotional intelligence. The ability to read users’ emotions in their voices, body language, and context is being developed for AI systems, which is the heart of fostering real trust and affection. Co-founder and CEO of Affectiva, Rana el Kaliouby, describes the next step as an emotion chip in smart devices that reacts in real time.
The final frontier? Getting attached. It’s easy for humans to form emotional bonds, even with fairly simple robots. When our AI agents speak and react like humans, we will bond with them even more. Spivack predicts that people will partner with virtual companions for life, from smart toy to tutor to sophisticated digital assistant and companion.
Emotional AI, Ethical Questions
If we have AI agents that understand us and our motivations as lifelong companions, this raises a number of questions. Spivack asks: “Who owns our agents? Are they a property of Google?” What would happen if we lost them or they were taken or reprogrammed; would there be any recourse for us—or for them? If we confide our darkest secrets to our AI companions, can law enforcement force them to reveal those secrets in court?
El Kaliouby poses questions about autonomy: can an AI assistant act on a human’s behalf? If so, can they do that without our knowledge? If you ask your AI to commit a crime, should it be able to refuse? If it doesn’t, are you responsible? Should you and your AI have an agreement along the lines of doctor-patient or attorney-client privacy laws?
And while many people fear advanced AI on its own merits, Subbarao Kambhampati, the president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, sees malicious hacking is a much more serious risk. This raises yet another question: if your AI proxy takes actions you don’t condone or does something illegal after being hacked, are you still responsible? Will the burden of proving your innocence be on you? We as a society have many aspects to consider before forming deep bonds with AI assistants.