The future of AI

Seeing the forest for the trees, and the forests beyond

The “Age of With”—human work augmented and enhanced with AI—is upon us. How will rapidly evolving artificial intelligence technology shape the future of how we live and work? We explore AI’s progression, current capabilities, and future possibilities so you can see the forest for the trees—and the forests beyond.

The future of AI is here—and everywhere

There is a genuine, evidence-based phase shift from artificial intelligence as “cherry-on-top” curiosity to “key ingredient” at leading organizations. Sixty-one percent of respondents to a recent Deloitte Insights report say AI will substantially transform their industry in the next 3-5 years. Furthermore, adoption is significant on a per-organization basis, with 53% of those polled spending more than $20 million during the past year on AI tech and talent. AI’s increasing centrality to business processes, and even strategy, is no longer up for debate.

As with any exponentially accelerating emerging technology, the abundance of news has, however, given way to an even greater abundance of noise. How can you see the forest for the trees?

The key, it would seem, is to peer beneath AI-as-platitude and above the à la carte jargon. To shoot the curl toward the “Goldilocks zone,” where clusters of coherent, high-growth, impactful submovements are both easier and more useful to understand. In this way, we can not only better sense what’s happening, but also make sense of where these movements are likely headed.


The future of AI: Seeing the forest for the trees, and the forests beyond

Teaching Machines (Not Telling)

Engineers and computer scientists spent decades perfecting computers’ abilities to solve classical math and logic problems. But as it would turn out, a huge set of real-world decision-making isn’t readily framed as a tidy math problem.

Machine learning (ML) earns its paycheck in these kinds of situations: When we’re unable to logically or cost-effectively use math to tell a computer what to do, we can use ML to teach a computer what to do by showing it examples of how it’s been done.

This current AI/ML “Cambrian explosion” is resulting in a radical rethink of what computers can realistically learn. Startups and incumbents alike are teaching machines to emulate an ever-increasing share of capabilities once thought of as “uniquely human.”

Other frontiers of AI advancement include sensation and discernment (the five “senses”); creativity (reading, writing, and the arts); and congeniality (emotional intelligence).

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The Age of With (not against)

AI research suggests that as machine intelligence ascends exponentially, humans succumb to the tendency to think of machines as “the stranger” to be feared and even shunned.
A more useful rubric for thinking about our future with artificial intelligence might instead be to think about machines less as a stranger to compete against and more as a partner to be teamed with—less “other,” more “brother.” We have crossed the threshold to the Age of With, wherein humans can team with machines to deliver outcomes that marry mechanized speed and precision with human intuition and curiosity.

The future of AI gets inarguably more interesting, though, as these intelligent agents continue to proliferate, specialize, and proact.

What, specifically, has changed, and why are we talking so much about it right now?


This proliferation of smart assistants is taking place across at least two dimensions: platform and place. On the platform side, we’ve seen a 10-year explosion from just Siri to a thriving ecosystem that includes Siri, Echo, Google, Cortana, and a long tail of special-purpose entities like Bixby, Hound, Robin, and Lyra.

As to place, we’re seeing the move from “single device” to “devices everywhere.” Talking to one’s phone or speaker is giving way to talking aloud wherever we are and expecting the AI to be there. Researchers call this ambient computing.


Our research suggests that the likely path forward in the future of AI will be further specialization, with tomorrow’s startups more inclined to invest their energies developing domain-specific excellence and differentiation. It stands to reason that Alexa, Siri, and their ilk may further evolve to become a sort of digital butler in charge of a full staff of relatively junior, specialized digital servants.


AIs move further up the value chain as they elevate from reactive order-takers to proactive change-makers. The future of AI assistants will no doubt rest on their ability to predict and proact in a way that we, as humans, find helpful and not pesky. As ML techniques, and the data training them, mature, we can rightly look forward to machines that behave less like meddling naggers and more like trusted advisers and coaches.



But what of physical work? While robots have been around for some time, today’s robots are different in at least two material ways: They’re much more configurable and much more situationally aware.

As a result, the future of robots in the workplace is increasingly turning toward “cobots”: Collaborative robotic teammates that work with us, rather than instead of us. So while histrionic headlines have long fixated on robots coming for our jobs, research trends suggest that they are more likely to be our colleagues, as opposed to our replacements. The cobot market is expected to be worth $7.5B by 2027, or around 29% of the global industrial robot market. The market is further expected to grow at an annual rate of more than 60% for the next two years and more than 35% CAGR until 2027.

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Our shared AI future

While all science fiction explores our relationship with technology, a particularly vivid sci-fi trope speaks to the taboo of ourselves becoming technology-based beings. The research suggests that our shared AI future is, in part, about our becoming cyborgs. It’s a slow, symbiotic coevolution of our own choosing, and it’s already begun.

Is artificial intelligence the future? Yes, but so are we.

Our species has always been defined (or at the very least differentiated) by our ability to learn, create, and adapt. When seen through this long lens, AI is neither hero nor villain. Rather, it represents our species’ latest in a long series of hacks: This time, offloading discernment and decision-making.

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