Last updated: 13 March 2023

Published on: 29 June 2016

4 MINS READ

In 7 years, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be smarter than us, says Futurist Gerd Leonhard.

A human keys into his app: “I am going to jump off a bridge and die.”

And the ever-helpful Intelligent Assistant (IA) responds: “I found four bridges a little ways from you.”

Mr Gerd Leonhard, Futurist, Author and Chief Executive Officer of the Futures Agency, flashed this screen capture of a mobile app to illustrate his point:

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Mr Gerd Leonhard, Futurist, Author and Chief Executive Officer of the Futures Agency: Technology has no ethics.

“Technology has no ethics”.

But human societies depend on ethics, he said.

So this is the great puzzle of the digital age: “How can we build a society on technology? We have to use technology, but not become technology.” 

In his presentation on “The Next Five Years in Global Digital Transformation” at the recent Infocomm Media Business Exchange (imbX) 2016, Mr Leonhard noted that there has been an exponential increase in connectivity, data, intelligence and man-machine convergence.

“The mobile phone is your external brain… We are on the verge of changing how we interact with computers.”

“Voice control is becoming the new normal,” he said, citing examples like Apples’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. “Rather than typing, we will be speaking to our computers.” 

This is just two years away from being mass market, and it will be the biggest shift in human computer interface since the mobile phone.

“It will completely change the world for us,” he said.

More predictions: Technology will transform sectors such as healthcare, telecoms and the car industry. In healthcare, for example, the ability to continuously monitor blood pressure and to new normal of online check-ups could potentially reduce healthcare costs by over 50 per cent. 

For the car industry, the future will be populated by shared cars and autonomous cars. 

No longer will the business be about selling more cars; it will be selling mobility. In the telecom sector, the focus will no longer be on selling traditional telecom services. 

Instead, the industry will evolve from selling network and infrastructure to selling experiences and platforms. 

For businesses, the reality is that “if you don’t use technology, don’t use data, don’t use algorithms, don’t use AI (artificial intelligence), you will probably not be successful in the future”. 

Quixotic Quandry

But therein lies the ethics quandary. 

The technology that can be harnessed to help eliminate diabetes, end cancer and maybe end aging could potentially lead to the creation of super humans. 

Drawing parallels with nuclear technology, Mr Leonhard pointed out, “It could be used to create nuclear energy, or to make a bomb.”

Presently, the most advanced computer only has the capacity of “a cricket’s brain” — Machines may have beaten (Chess Grandmaster) Kasparov in chess, but they cannot as yet talk to a two-year-old. 

But within seven years, that will change, he said. 

That is when artificial intelligence will start to exceed the performance of the human brain. 

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Mr Gerd Leonhard: Within 7 years,artificial intelligence will start to exceed the performance of the human brain.

And if the exponential progress of technology and transformation is indeed inevitable, the next question he raised was: Who will control it and who will be in charge of enforcing the rules? 

As the power of technology eventually exceeds the combined capabilities of human brains, who or what should be “mission control” for humanity?

Commenting on the trepidation that often greets this prospect of the future, Mr Leonhard said, “We should not approach this moment based on fear, but neither should we proceed without caution.”

”The future of humanity is not to have technology as a purpose but as a tool.”  

Emphasising the need to embed human purpose in growing the connectivity, data and artificial intelligence, he pointed out that when it comes to technology, it is not a binary choice of "yes" or "no".

“It is about 'balance' and that the future of 'us' is not technology; the future of 'us' is better humanity.”