With the launch of Pixel, a phone by Google, and its personal assistant technology, Telstra’s Chief Scientist Hugh Bradlow reflects on the future of Artificial Intelligence and how it will change our lives.

“I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.” – Isaac Newton

Perhaps because of the unpredictability of human beings, for decades people have been pursuing the dream of Artificial Intelligence (AI). However, in reality it is not the predictability of machines that makes AI attractive but the scale that it promises.

Everyone would like a personal assistant, right? Well AI could make that possible. Not only might such a personal assistant know enough about you, but it could also watch over you 24×7 (with your consent) to make sure that everything in your life was running smoothly. So, for example, when you are travelling it would know about your meetings, traffic conditions, delayed flights, hotel bookings, car rentals, public events, safety risks etc and would advise you accordingly. If your plane is running late, even before you touch down, it could notify the car rental company and hotel about your late arrival, reschedule your meetings and book you on an alternative flight if you’ve missed your connection.

What about a personal physician caring for you 24×7? You are not likely to get a human physician who is able to do this, but you could have a wearable monitor that stays on you all the time, relays your heart wave in real-time via your phone to a cloud data centre where an AI program monitors it continuously for anomalies. So one day you could be sitting on your couch contentedly watching TV and an ambulance will arrive to take you to hospital to save your life before you even know anything is wrong.

These seemingly extraordinary promises of AI will only materialise at the culmination of a long journey which will bring together a number of technologies (machine learning, natural language understanding, robotics) with all the data sources about your (and everyone else’s) life. That journey has already begun and the Pixel represents a step on the journey.

We shall progressively see richer functionality over time, providing you are prepared to opt in to share the data from your life which gives the context for your queries – who you have booked your hotel with, what plane you are on, where you are, how fast you are moving, etc. I would argue that you already share most of this data with human beings who can be much less trustworthy than machines! Agreeing to share the data allows the personal assistant to watch over you and react to external changes (weather, delays, people, etc) in a way that facilitates your daily living. It’s essential for this to work that we are given control of the use of our own personal data, with the choice to opt-in (and out) to providing this information to our AI assistants.

There is also another possible benefit – optimising choice based on the decisions of hundreds of thousands of people who have had to make the same decisions you are faced with. For example, “Where is the best Mexican restaurant near me?” ‘Best’ implies that it is best for you which really only can be determined by you trying all the options, which of course you can only do if you have a lot of time (and capacity for food!). But the AI assistant could take the choice of a group of people who have overlapping interests with you and determine ‘best’.

All this requires a mobile device that can keep track of your context (location, speed, etc), as well as have access to the data that populates your life (appointments, friends, bookings, weather, traffic) and is able to anonymously aggregate the data of millions of people (with appropriate opt-in and opt-out mechanisms applied). This requires the mobile device to be able to easily connect to the cloud which of course requires a high speed network. The new Pixel™ phones have taken the important step of building the AI functionality into the operating system which means that application developers have a well understood and standardised way of sharing and using data. It also has high speed (Cat 11) network connectivity so that it can effectively access the cloud.

As long as we understand that AI is a journey which will grow with time and don’t expect to get all functionality on day zero, it will progressively improve our lives. So we can look forward to having our own personal assistants, physicians, personal trainers, dieticians, all immediately available 24 hours a day.

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