Amy Webb is an author and futurist
and the founder of the Future Today
Institute, a leading forecasting
and strategy firm that researches
technology for a global client base.
She is the author of The Signals
Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is
The New Electricity
Artificial intelligence is
coming soon to reshape your
business—and the world
growing quickly, and you have a chance to take
advantage of the biggest transformative technology since electricity: artificial intelligence.
You’ve experienced narrow forms of A.I.: anti-lock braking systems, email spam filters, weather
apps. All only hint at the coming new age of human-machine interaction, in which A.I. will perform
any intellectual task just as a human would.
Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, IBM,
Microsoft, and Baidu are all building the foundations of A.I., but hundreds of startups are focused
on ancillary tools ( just as, 125 years ago, many
companies made wooden poles, copper wire, and
lamp fixtures). Nvidia is building computer chips
that allow machines to react to their surroundings
in real time. Fanuc is working on an unsupervised
learning system, so A.I.-powered robots can learn
skills on their own. Tesla is developing A.I. infrastructure for autonomous vehicles, which includes
new kinds of maps and decision-making software.
And Clarifai is building software that will automatically tag, organize, and search content.
If you’re an insurer today, you’ll need to plan for
self-driving cars that don’t get into accidents. And
you’ll need to create policies for companies that
want protection against algorithms that run amok.
Like electricity, A.I. will usher in huge changes for
every single industry. Over the next two decades,
you’ll encounter key bosses who aren’t human.
Smart farming. A.I. will enable the production of significantly more food in much smaller
spaces. Collaborative robots will decide what to plant, harvest the fruits and vegetables,
and then transport them to autonomous vehicles that will drive the produce to factories for
processing. We’ll need fewer field laborers—but more horticulturists and managers who
are cross-trained in computer science.
Medical robotics. The medical center of the future will be remote. There—assisted by A.I.,
nanobots, and health data—doctors who know robotics will monitor and treat us before we get
really sick, and with far fewer in-person o;ce visits.
Human-machine resources. Businesses will eventually outsource key decisions and organizational management to algorithms. Many humans will find themselves managed by machines for
performance assessments, raises, and conflict resolution. To oversee it, we’ll need companies—
and people—that understand data, A.I., and traditional human resources.
Someday, you’ll look back and realize that A.I. is our generation’s electricity. And that you
were there, at the start, witnessing A.I.’s illumination of the future of your business and our world.
IT’S 1890. YOU OWN A SMALL insurance company that sells acci- dent protection and marine policies. Your business is growing quickly but faces one key challenge: There’s no electric light. Your productivity rises and sets with the sun. (Gas lamps are available, but they’re dangerous, messy, and not that bright.) Then you get word of a new set of interlocking technolo- gies that promises to transform daily life. It all begins with Thomas Edison’s light bulb and the electric current that urns it on, courtesy of a power utility’s centrally located generator in New York City. Electricity quickly changes everything. You can work longer hours and process more policies, which allows you to hire more people.
Electricity also flows into factories, soon powering machinery
along vast assembly lines and allowing for the mass production
of cars (which opens up a whole new insurance market for you).
It changes things at home, too: Electricity empowers women, who,
before long, come to rely on electric clothes washers and co;ee
percolators. In time, electricity will underpin countless once-unthinkable inventions: radio, refrigeration, television, computers.
It’s 2017. You own a small insurance company, your business is
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