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The transformation that the evolution of AI and technology will bring about to humans and society

C&C User forum & iEXPO2016 Special Seminar

January 10, 2017

Singularity (technological singularity), wherein the intelligence of AI is going to exceed human capability, is an important keyword for the future of humanity. During the C&C User Forum & iEXPO2016, with Kumi Fujisawa of Think Tank SofiaBank as moderator, Theoretical Physics Professor Michio Kaku of City University of New York, author Hiroshi Aramata, and NEC's Katsumi Emura talked about how our society and life will evolve.

An age where we need to think of how humans should leverage the power of AI

Professor Michio Kaku, a third-generation Japanese-American is a well-known theoretical physicist who has talked about the future based on the latest advances in sciences through various forms of media. One is teleportation: he declared that the technology for teleporting humans would be established at the latest by the 22nd century. He also predicted that with the advances in medical technology, cancer would in the future become treatable like common cold. In reality, new forms of medicine have arisen, such as nanomedicine, where it is slowly becoming possible to pinpoint and specifically attack cancer cells.

City University of New York
Theoretical Physics Professor
Michio Kaku

The evolution of AI and other technologies has led to the realization of things that were previously considered as fantasy. In the special lecture by Professor Michio Kaku before this session, he presented various future scenarios, such as the manned exploration to Mars, the treatment of cancer based on genetic analysis, and the digitalization of human brain functions such as perception and memory.

In the beginning of the panel discussion, when asked about his thoughts, Japanese author Hiroshi Aramata honestly said, "It's astonishing to hear that the world depicted in science fiction novels would come to reality in the near future. It would be wonderful if we would be able to cure diseases such as cancer. At the same time, however, I feel some uncertainties as to whether humans would be able to properly adapt to an environment completely different from today's. Many famous science fiction literary works have depicted a dark future where humans are controlled by technology. As an author, I am deeply concerned whether I would be able to continue to write a bright story about the future."

Hiroshi Aramata

In response, Professor Michio Kaku said, "That's true, even Hollywood has produced many movies about robots taking over the world. But in reality, AI does not have the capability of self-awareness like humans do; wherein it merely executes commands given to it. Not having the capability of self-awareness means that AI cannot generate the motive to "take over the world" on its own. Singularity (technological singularity), however would endow AI capabilities beyond what humans can do. But there's no point in worrying about that. Computers have already overtaken us in computing speed, but it doesn't mean we have to worry about that. In the same way, I believe that humans will be able to gradually adapt to a new world."

Like medicine, which could become poison if used wrongly, how we use technology is the most important point. Ultimately, that would all depend on humans. Even when the era of singularity would come, "humans" would still play the lead role.

Ascertaining the maturity of technologies: Riding the "wave" is crucial

Social transformation brought about by singularity is foreseen to drastically affect businesses of companies. What kind of products and services would society require in the age where AI would be able to work in place of humans? We can say that we have come to the age where companies must start to think about this question.

"Particularly, from the business perspective, companies need to figure out "when" the changes to be brought about by singularity would come about, and start preparing for that. Even though we know that a major transformation would definitely come in the future, it wouldn't happen overnight: we won't suddenly wake up to a day that's completely different from yesterday. Unless we think ahead about how society would change and how we also need to change, it is possible that we make the wrong response to the changes," pointed out NEC's Katsumi Emura.

Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
Katsumi Emura

A major hint in preparing for the future comes from the maturity level of technologies. We have seen so many breakthrough ideas that have faded into obscurity without seeing the light of day. One of the reasons for this is the wrong assessment of the technology's advancement level.

"No matter how great an idea you can come up with, if the technology for it is not mature enough, then the idea could not be turned into something practical. In the world of computers, semiconductors double their capacity every 18 months according to the Moore's Law. Thus, it is important for us to ascertain what we can do now and in the near future, based on these technological trends. I would like to see companies that venture into new forms of business become like surfers. Surfers are able to ride the wave by getting ready for the next wave. If you can do that, I suggest that you ride not the first, but rather the second wave. Those who hurriedly try to ride the first wave would surely fall, although that would also teach you many lessons," said Mr. Kaku.

And another thing that we should not forget here is having a "human-centered" thinking. Although technology provides us with so many conveniences and comforts, it also comes with the danger of causing problems such as dependency and abuse. Even when a new technology comes about to make something new possible, unless it leads to the happiness of humans and society, then it's meaningless.

"Traditionally, Japanese companies think that only specialists in the field of science can be involved in technology innovation. However, with the advancement of AI and other technologies, it has become increasingly more important to pursue the innovation while taking humans and society into account. We at NEC also need to seriously think about this," said Mr. Emura.

The future is in everyone's hands: taking on new challenges bravely

The evolution of AI and technology will significantly change human work and the ways of doing it. In the same way that coaches and coachmen have become obsolete with the development of automobiles, there will be industries and companies that would be forced to make major shifts in business directions. There are, however, those that would remain the same. These are the jobs that require human knowhow, intellectual assets, and creativity.

"Although you can find house pictures and layout information on the Internet, why is it that people would still want to go to real estate agencies in Manhattan? It is because the agencies know unique information about the environment and safety of the area, and they give appropriate advice to customers. And in the U.K. for example, the revenue from the music industry is higher than that of the coal industry. This points to the fact that a human's creative work has greater value than what physical energy can provide. In addition, this kind of added value cannot be created by AI or robots. I believe that work that requires human capabilities and that only humans can do would become increasingly more important in the future," added Mr. Kaku.

Needless to say, there would also be many cases that would require abandoning accepted norms and taking on new challenges in order to adopt to changes in the environment. Japan already has the capacity to overcome these challenges; the only thing needed is the ability to get things done.

"During the turbulent time towards the late Edo period, private educational institutions teaching western studies were established and became the driving force of the modernization of Japan. Koan Ogata's Teki-juku, for example, despite being a school for medicine, also had students carry out experiments on telegraphy and artillery. They were of the philosophy that trying to do different things even though they may seem aimless at first could reveal something important. It seems that the energy for purposely trying to do reckless and daring things has faded in Japan nowadays. While in America we see, for example, a Las Vegas hotel king joining in space travel activities and three organizations already declaring their intention to carry out human mission to Mars. Prudence is considered a virtue of Japanese, but I think it's time for us to move forward in trying to do new things," said Mr. Aramata.

The session included discussions on a wide range of topics, including the effect of longer life expectancies to society and the educational systems for the future. Also, with the evolution of technology at speeds faster than we can imagine, there are now many revolutionary products and technologies that are close to becoming commercialized. This means that there are many opportunities lying right before our eyes.

In closing, Mr. Kaku called on to the audience saying, "Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and other heroes of the times, were not really special people. What they did was find a new wave and successfully ride it. The most important thing to remember is that the future is in everyone's hands. I urge you to go ahead and carve out a new age with your new ideas."

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