AI Century Draft Introduction

Irena Cronin and I are writing a book called AI Century: When Machines Get Smarter Than US. As I have been doing since Naked Conversations in 2005, I am posting drafts of Content and looking for feedback, ideas and fact-checking from friends and followers.

Here’s the Intro so far. Please tell us how to make it better.


There was a video going around showing Michelle Obama performing a striptease, except that it wasn’t really her. It was produced in FakeApp, a face-swapping video software so good it might have fooled even her own husband. It is an example of a new genre called deepfake.

Welcome to the AI Century. There will be all sorts of amazing things, some of which will be truly miraculous, and others will not even be what they appear to be.

Consider this: There is a cute little drone that can sit on the palm of your hand. It contains advanced facial recognition capability to identify people as it buzzes past them. When it encounters a known perpetrator, it assumes the speed of a bullet and smashes through that person’s skull. This has not yet occurred, but proponents say it can be built today and used by the military, law enforcement or perhaps professional assassins. No human decisions will be involved in actual takedowns.

There is also a concept video of slaughterbots swarms that can annihilate protesters, senators or perhaps schoolchildren. Today, it’s just intended to warn people of chilling dangers, but it disturbs us, because the technology exists to actually build such things, and we can imagine organizations, governments and individuals who might really want to do such things.

Is this Sci-fi? No AI.

This world-changing software is pervading a great many things in a great many ways. Some are disturbing, but many more are life-enhancing. Some will take away jobs, but most will make the world more efficient, safer or cleaner.

For better or worse, AI will be the most dominant influence on how work, culture, life and the planet itself will change over the next 75 years at least, thus the title for our book.

Over in China, where despite best efforts to control population growth, the government seems unable to train enough teachers to keep up with the growing student population, they are experimenting with virtual teachers. Students can select the gender and soon the age of their personal teachers who instruct them in language, geography and history with software developed by a British hack-and-slash game publisher. Using AI, it watches the students watching the video. The virtual instructor goes at the ideal pace for each pupil. When one kid drifts off, then the software puts a pop quiz up to regain attention.

A few years from today, bots like Alexa will manage most homes in the developed world. People will expect to interact with digital machines by voice, trusting these personable devices to make most household management decisions on their behalf.

Let’s picture your home, five-or-ten years down the line. Alexa’s AI will be far better than it is today. Imagine, if you will, that it snowed last night. Alexa makes a few calculations and then sounds your wakeup alarm 26 minutes earlier than you had scheduled, autonomously deciding what extra time you’ll need to get to your destination safely by robo-car. Of course, Alexa also adjusts related details. She will brew your coffee and start your car earlier. It is unlikely that your car will still burn fossil fuel, but if it does, Alexa will lift your garage door to ensure you don’t inhale dangerous fumes.

Thanks to AI we have new and better ways to communicate with our machines, and we are getting closer to them than we ever imagined back when the closest we could get was the smartphone.

For example, brain-operated external skeletons are starting to help quadriplegics to get around on their own. These devices are cumbersome and expensive today, but they are getting more affordable and portable faster than was believed possible just two years ago.

The same goes for prosthetic limbs. People are being fitted with a new generation of brain-powered arms, hands and fingers that let them lift a coffee cup up to their lips without help. Haptic synthetic skin lets the amputee feel the warmth of the coffee in the mug.

AI is already in your life in ways far less dramatic than these examples, and you may not have even noticed. Software bots have replaced many humans in online support and while far from perfected, they are generally making it faster and easier for you to get your problem solved than the unfortunate human that was replaced.

It is entirely likely that something you are carrying, wearing or located nearby, was manufactured in a lights-out factory, named because illumination is unnecessary in a facility that operates around the clock without human participation.

Maybe you are one of the fortunate few whose life has already been saved by medical scanning technology that can detect cancer earlier than has ever been possible, or conceivably, it was just your calendar letting you know it is time for your next appointment.

All this and so much more is here and now or very soon will be. Some of it is disturbing, most of it is clearly beneficial and, in all cases, it is inevitable. This new AI Century may have started slowly, but the technology will be the defining factor in how Earth changes over the next 50-75 years.

How will it impact you, your work and the people you love?

That remains to be seen.

All we can tell you is that AI changes are coming, and they are coming faster than you may think. There are those who will tell you that AI will be the planet’s salvation and others who warn it is driving us toward Doomsday.

We have spent much of the last three years looking at the events and issues and we see the world being somewhere in between those two outcomes. We watch from the perspective of business decision makers and write mostly to help them decide on how, when and why to use AI strategies, but these days the line that separates work from life, in general, has been blurred: AI has a lot to do with that as well.

We find ourselves surprisingly optimistic about AI and the future of humankind. But we also see enough issues to believe that people should proceed with caution, anticipating that when the machines get smarter than us, they will very often surprise us—and we hope they are mostly pleasant.

What should you do about all the relentless and unavoidable changes? We have written the AI Century as a guidebook to help you navigate through the rising tide of turbulent changes in business operations and customer relationships.

We will tell you lots of stories about how AI is being used in the enterprise, in customer experiences, in marketing, healthcare and logistics. We tell you where we think it is going in order to adjust your course accordingly.

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