What's the next great leap forward in business computing?

28 October

At the moment, every company seems to want their own chatbot [programs that can conduct conversations with clients]. I think this is essentially a mistake. I think our interaction with companies – to the extent it gets handed over to machines, which to a large extent it will – will be mediated by our own digital agents. So over the next five to 10 years, Siri [Apple’s digital personal assistant] is going to get serious. At the moment, it’s a bit of a joke but Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s Google Home and Google Now, and Amazon’s Echo are all improving very fast and those devices will be essential intermediaries between us and the business world. That’s where the intelligence is going to lie.

What businesses should be using AI for at the moment is analysis. They should be analysing their customer base to see where the value is and where they can better serve their customers, to work out where the glitches are in their operation and how they can iron them out. So downloading Big Data, much of it on an ad-hoc basis from the cloud from providers such as Microsoft and IBM, will probably the next big wave.

The biggest business application that’s coming, however, is self-driving vehicles. These will be quite common by 2020. You can already get an Uber self-driving taxi in Pittsburgh and Singapore, and Volvo says they’re going to launch a fully automated car by 2018. They’ll spread most quickly across commercial fleets because there’s a financial incentive for it. At the moment a driver represents about 25 per cent of the cost of driving a truck, and a machine is cheaper, doesn’t cause accidents, can drive 24 hours a day, doesn’t get drunk or cranky and doesn’t ask for a pay rise. I would be confident that by 2030, in the developed world, commercial vehicles will be self-driven.

That means drivers will be out of a job and that’s a lot of people – in most American states now, it’s the most common job. That’s going to wake everybody else up, and they’ll notice that computers are coming into their sphere, whether they’re doctors, lawyers or journalists. That’s automation, and it’s going to be increasingly a good plan to replace a person with a machine. It will mean the job will be done cheaper, better and faster – but a human will be out of a job.

Calum Chace is the author of The Economic Singularity: Artificial Intelligence And The death Of Capitalism

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