The Future & AI: what does it mean for the kids?

The Roadmap Team

AI became something of a household topic for me during the last 2 years. It’s almost absurd considering how little first-hand knowledge I have about the field. On one hand AI is de-mystified and normalized all the time. I regularly use Alexa/Echo and several software applications for work that I believe to be more advanced than thousands of ‘if-then-else” statements. On the other hand, AI constantly presents unknowns, trains of thought that end in complete mystery.

Our present becomes a more distant past every day. Change is the only constant. At scale, the rapid onset of AI means generations of people pioneer more unique experiences than ever before.

These realizations sunk in for the first time when I read “The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence” by Tim Urban at Wait But Why last year.

In his post, which I highly recommend, Tim makes the case that humans are on the edge of a technical revolution of such magnitude that we literally can’t even comprehend it. Confirmation of that reality happens all the time.

For example, my husband and I have been married for 3 years and we’ve been thinking more about what it would be like to start a family. I often wonder what the future will be like for our child. Is it responsible to bring a child into the world when my inability to comprehend their future means I can’t even articulate what I’d hope for them?

Despite my limited knowledge about AI, rocket science, or particle physics, I know enough to acknowledge it’s likely the personal and professional pursuits of our future children will be related to fields and endeavors I cannot imagine.

Even obvious hopes like health and happiness are likely to have very different meanings. What if health in the future means genetically modifying our DNA or happiness means a simulation so close to reality that few even understand the concept of sadness?

AI’s effects on children are far from understood because those engagements are just starting to happen. For example, my co-founder and long-time friend Allison Grayce and her husband have an Amazon Echo that their 2-year-old son Zayden regularly interacts with. The other day she mentioned Zayden asked Alexa, “Alexa, what’s it all about?” and she wondered if this was his way of asking someone he perceives to have superior answers about the meaning of life. Later on in the car when they were using Siri, Zayden asked, “Alexa?” only to quickly add, “No mom, she is at home.” At that point Allison and her husband decided it was important to establish Alexa as an ‘it’ instead of a ‘she’. We are the first people in human history to confront the implications of children personifying robots and talking with machines… and this is only a fraction of what’s to come.

Perhaps this profound inability to comprehend our near-term future is just one of many unique human experiences to pioneer in our lifetime. Is it only logical to feel alarmed?

For a long time people and organizations have created value based on their ability to draw logical conclusions from the world around them. From engineers, to chemists, to physicists, and doctors. A common underlying thread of these pursuits is identifying a problem, inputting data, and creating solutions based on logic.

We know a few things about artificial intelligence to be true (1) AI’s ability to compute data and draw logical conclusions is and will be far superior to human ability and (2) the degree to which machines are able to generate new ideas and understand emotional concepts remains questionable.

“Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” — Albert Einstein, 1929

The people and organizations who innovate to leverage machine learning alongside unique human abilities (creativity and empathy come to mind) will have an advantage for making meaningful progress.

It is with that sentiment that I sat down to write this letter to my future son or daughter. I hope that perspective gives me enough wisdom to be relevant and ignorance enough bliss to be honest.

To my child from the the future,

I’ve spent more time thinking of you before you existed than you will ever know. While I may not know what your future will be like I do know that I hope you find meaning and purpose through ideas.

I hope you think for yourself and are passionate about coming up with ideas of your own, that you embrace your imagination and push the world to be a better place. That as much as you love coming up with ideas that you’ll also enjoy understanding and supporting the ideas of others. I hope you inspire people to have ideas of their own, that people feel inclined to share their ideas with you, and that you never fail to find value in discussing ideas with others.

I hope you always feel empathy for people and more so for those less privileged than you. That you care about making things better, helping, and making people feel appreciated.

No matter where the future takes you or the path you pursue, I hope you know that the way you look or the work you do doesn’t define your value. The only things that truly matter are how good your ideas are and how passionately you see them through.

I will do my very best to help you in every possible way.

With love from a very distant past,