The advances we’ve seen in the past few years—cars that drive themselves, useful humanoid robots, speech recognition and synthesis systems, 3D printers,Jeopardy!-champion computers—are not the crowning achievements of the computer era. They’re the warm-up acts. As we move deeper into the second machine age we’ll see more and more such wonders, and they’ll become more and more impressive.
How can we be so sure? Because the exponential, digital, and recombinant powers of the second machine age have made it possible for humanity to create two of the most important one-time events in our history: the emergence of real, useful artificial intelligence (AI) and the connection of most of the people on the planet via a common digital network.
Either of these advances alone would fundamentally change our growth prospects. When combined, they’re more important than anything since the Industrial Revolution, which forever transformed how physical work was done.
Thinking Machines, Available now
Digital machines have escaped their narrow confines and started to demonstrate broad abilities in pattern recognition, complex communication, and other domains that used to be exclusively human. We’ve recently seen great progress in natural language processing, machine learning (the ability of a computer to automatically refine its methods and improve its results as it gets more data), computer vision, simultaneous localization and mapping, and many other areas.
We’re going to see artificial intelligence do more and more, and as this happens costs will go down, outcomes will improve, and our lives will get better. Soon countless pieces of AI will be working on our behalf, often in the background. They’ll help us in areas ranging from trivial to substantive to life changing. Trivial uses of AI include recognizing our friends’ faces in photos and recommending products. More substantive ones include automatically driving cars on the road, guiding robots in warehouses, and better matching jobs and job seekers. But these remarkable advances pale against the life-changing potential of artificial intelligence.