From the future of work we move onto our last “lecture”: The Digital Future in general.

AI for Digital Communities?

As science-fiction-like as it may sound, the biggest development debated right now is Artificial Intelligence.

One of the most fascinating thinkers, futurists, is Ray Kurzweil. He has coined the term singularity:

The Singularity is an era in which our intelligence will become increasingly nonbiological and trillions of times more powerful than it is today—the dawning of a new civilization that will enable us to transcend our biological limitations and amplify our creativity.

Here is a fascinating documentary about Kurzweil and his work, as well as other futurologists. Like many of his colleagues, Kurzweil believes we will reach immortality at some point. Some prominent thinkers predict that the human race may become extinct, or remain inferior, to AI. See for yourself:

There are differing views about timing, but many technologists expect AI to reach human capacity before 2060.  Kurzweil has made numerous predictions on the development of technology, and here’s what he predicted in 2005 for the 2010s:

  • The decade in which “Bridge Two”, the revolution in Genetics/Biotechnology, is to reach its peak. During the 2020s, humans will have the means of changing their genes; not just “designer babies” will be feasible, but designer baby boomers through the rejuvenation of all of one’s body’s tissues and organs by transforming one’s skin cells into youthful versions of every other cell type. People will be able to “reprogram” their own biochemistry away from disease and aging, radically extending life expectancy.

  • Computers become smaller and increasingly integrated into everyday life.

  • More and more computer devices will be used as miniature web servers, and more will have their resources pooled for computation.

  • High-quality broadband Internet access will become available almost everywhere.

  • Eyeglasses that beam images onto the users’ retinas to produce virtual reality will be developed. They will also come with speakers or headphone attachments that will complete the experience with sounds. These eyeglasses will become a new medium for advertising which will be wirelessly transmitted to them as one walks by various business establishments.

  • The VR glasses will also have built-in computers featuring “virtual assistant” programs that can help the user with various daily tasks.

  • Virtual assistants would be capable of multiple functions. One useful function would be real-time language translation in which words spoken in a foreign language would be translated into text that would appear as subtitles to a user wearing the glasses.

  • Cell phones will be built into clothing and will be able to project sounds directly into the ears of their users.

  • Advertisements will utilize a new technology whereby two ultrasonic beams can be targeted to intersect at a specific point, delivering a localized sound message that only a single person can hear.

Many of the above predictions are here already. Many companies are indeed investing on AI and the examples of the uses are already here. There are plenty of debates about the benefits and risks. Some claim that the people creating the technology are the problem, not AI themselves. Others predict that AI may take over the human race. It’s then no surprise that Cambridge University (UK) has just established a centre for AI Ethics.

Back to planet Earth. We have seen amazing digital communities helping the world; but we have seen destructive dissident communities and mentioned the Dark Web. We have often discussed digital divide, in terms of economies (developing and developed countries) as well as in terms of generations. Whatever the development of AI, there are still plenty of challenges and possible solutions for digital communities to tackle, from E-goverment to MHealth. And yet: A recent global research effort called the Hidden Digital Divide notes that even if the world is getting more connected, having access doesn’t guarantee equality. We need to include questions of speed, devices:

The rapid penetration of mobile phones with some internet capacity into even the poorest, off-grid regions helped reduce the gap. But the digital divide has evolved to mean much more than whether someone can or cannot get online. It now incorporates wider issues such as the speed and quality of access. In the world’s most advanced mobile markets — namely Japan, South Korea and the United States — those on high-speed fourth generation (4G) networks can consume twice as much data every month as non-4G users.

This means that, however fast developing countries race to catch up, those in front continue to accelerate away. All this raises ethical questions.

Maybe A.I. can somehow overcome the digital race for the ever more developed app and fancy gadget. But what does AI do to our humanness, including our need and desire to truly bond with others? Communities are very human constructs, bound by societal developments. Are we already witnessing a new breed in digital communities, where the physical characteristics is no longer necessary, sometimes not even meaningful?

ICM820: The Future?

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