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Communication with AI systems: A milestone in human history

Communication with AI systems: A milestone in human history

Will software be able to communicate as well as people do? This question and its consequences for the world of work are the subject of this guest commentary by one of the leading experts in future management: Dr. Pero Mićić.

It now seems certain: artificial intelligence will revolutionize the world of work. AI systems are taking on more and more responsibilities, including in the services and knowledge sector. The scale of this development is huge. This year, roughly 7,000 companies worldwide will implement AI technologies. Just five years from now, this number will climb to approximately 900,000, according to ABI Research. The touchpoints between companies and customers will largely be based on AI.

Communication will be better and more thorough

To get an idea of what’s in store for us, it might be helpful to consider Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa. The interesting part is not so much the hardware exterior and voice control, in other words the Echo speaker system, rather it is the software and the dominant role it could take up as an interface – after all, more and more devices will be “smart” in the future. The communication between us and Alexa, Siri and other such systems will improve and become more comprehensive. Not only are they being upgraded all the time, they are also increasingly learning from the questions, input and behavior of their users. Alexa already has over 15,000 “skills”: individual abilities such as providing advice on how to remove stains, or helping users clean their teeth. Just as we have seen in the case of apps, this number will grow exponentially at a rate almost inconceivably fast for you and me.

In the fields of data processing and pattern recognition, human beings can no longer come close to competing with AI systems. Algorithms know us – and the more data we give them access to, the more they know. They can continually “match” our preferences with products and services that are useful to us by carrying out a detailed comparison with what other people like. When the Internet becomes truly semantic, artificial intelligence will be able to answer practically any question with an Internet search.

Software is better at logical and morphological thinking. For example, IBM’s AI system “Watson” helps interpret X-rays and make diagnoses. When a decision must be made, Watson can also assemble arguments pro and contra. In other words, it can debate an issue and provide support for strategic decisions or even court judgments. In just a few years, systems of this kind will serve as virtual digital assistants and provide us with help and advice around the clock throughout our lives. There will be a price drop and job losses in occupational fields that were previously reserved for human beings, such as coaching, sales, service, and the communication of knowledge, advice or information. We will be able to coach ourselves through dialogue with AI systems without having to feel ashamed of any questions we have or any information we divulge.

The “human factor” in jeopardy?

In view of this outcome, people routinely bring up the issue of the “human factor,” the question of whether a machine will ever be able to communicate as well as a person. It is possible that a machine will soon be able to pass the Turing Test without any doubt. In this test, human subjects communicate with a person and a computer. They then have to decide which was the person and which was the computer. If at least 30 percent of the test subjects think the machine is a person, it is considered to have passed the Turing Test. If machines can one day trick us that well, it would be a milestone in human history. Maybe the most consequential to date. In fact, machines are becoming ever more like people, or even vastly outperforming them, whether in knowledge, intelligence, creativity, expressiveness, or their ability to interact and show empathy. One day, it may also be possible to perfectly simulate human beings visually too, with true-to-life robots or two- and three-dimensional avatars. Machines will become ever more realistic in their expressions, gestures, voice and possibly even touch. We will interact with intelligent systems that we can hardly distinguish from real people, if at all.

But the question whether software can communicate as well as a person actually misses the point. It will communicate differently, but better, in order to be beneficial to us. It will do so in a human-like way so that we understand it and aren’t afraid to use it. But it will not replace person-to-person communication. It doesn’t want to be human. Its concern is radically service-oriented. It gives us the freedom to turn our attention to other things.

Dr. Pero Mićić has an international reputation as a leading expert in future management. He is the chairman of FutureManagementGroup AG, whose mission is to help top decision-makers in business, politics and government to see more of the future than the competition. For more information, see: www.FutureManagementGroup.com

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