The Future Computed

“Artificial Intelligence and its Role in Society”

By looking back at the state of technology in 1998, we can readily appreciate how much change we’ve lived through already. Looking ahead to 2038, we can begin to anticipate the rapid changes that still lie ahead – changes that will create opportunities and challenges for communities and countries around the world.

Harry Shum and Brad Smith, authors of The Future Computed

For us, some key conclusions emerge.

First, the companies and countries that will fare best in the AI era will be those that embrace these changes rapidly and effectively. The reason is straightforward: AI will be useful wherever intelligence is useful, helping us to be more productive in nearly every field of human endeavor and leading to economic growth. Put simply, new jobs and economic growth will accrue to those who embrace the technology, not those who resist it.

Second, while we believe that AI will help improve daily life in many ways and help solve big societal problems, we can’t afford to look to this future with uncritical eyes. There will be challenges as well as opportunities. This is why we need to think beyond the technology itself to address the need for strong ethical principles, the evolution of laws, the importance of training for new skills, and even labor market reforms. This must all come together if we’re going to make the most of this new technology.

Third, we need to address these issues together with a sense of shared responsibility. In part this is because AI technology won’t be created by the tech sector alone. At Microsoft we’re working to “democratize AI” in a manner that’s similar to the way we “democratized the PC.” Just as our work that started in the 1970s enabled organizations across society to create their own custom applications for the PC, the same thing will happen with AI. Our approach to AI is making the fundamental AI building blocks like computer vision, speech, and knowledge recognition available to every individual and organization to build their own AI-based solutions. We believe this is far preferable to having only a few companies control the future of AI. But just as this will spread broadly the opportunity for others to create AI-based systems, it will spread broadly the shared responsibility needed to address AI issues and their implications.

As technology evolves so quickly, those of us who create AI, cloud, and other innovations will know more than anyone else how these technologies work. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we will know how best to address the role they should play in society. This requires that people in government, academia, business, civil society, and other interested stakeholders come together to help shape this future. And increasingly we need to do this not just in a single community or country, but on a global basis. Each of us has a responsibility to participate – and an important role to play.

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