The future of artificial intelligence is now: How our choices today impact our reality of tomorrow

We’re living in fascinating times. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is coming to life, and we’re only seeing a fraction of its huge potential for businesses and our private lives. But with AI becoming increasingly entangled in our society, there’s an urgent need to make sure we develop it in a way that it enriches our lives, not threaten it. With the human interest at the center.

Some figures: by 2021 there are projected to be 36.13 billion devices connected by the Internet-of-things. By 2025, it is expected that 163 zettabytes of data will be produced annually. To compare, our accumulated digital universe of data today is 4.4 zettabytes. IDC predicts that by 2025, 95% of business-customer interactions will be powered by AI.

How is this relevant? Well, it’s all good news for business: marketers will be able to understand their customers like they never have before, so they can connect with them on a more personal level. Businesses that are truly insights-driven will “steal” over EUR 1 trillion per year from their less-informed peers by leveraging AI to create additional revenue opportunities. In short, companies that manage the massive and growing amount of data well, can turn it into their biggest asset.

Working at Microsoft, I’m confronted on a daily basis with the realizations of how pervasive AI actually is. Through AI, we help doctors and biochemists better understand, prevent and treat some of the world’s deadliest diseases. We use AI to help people break down cultural barriers and understand each other better, by providing real-time translation and speech recognition. And we call on AI to assist in making people’s busy days easier and more productive .

The trouble is that in large-scale, disruptive change, the most overlooked aspect is people. As a human being, it is easy to feel threatened by the lightning speed at which AI-fueled automation is changing everything we know, no matter what the benefits are. As AI becomes more pervasive, it’s therefore imperative that the interests of human beings remain at the center.

This starts with the right input. In that sense, the future of AI is now. How we design AI, machine learning and automation and what we optimize it for is crucial. Learning for a machine is like educating a child – a child learns from his or her parents, a machine learns from the data sets provided by or based on humans. And we design AI together: technology companies like Microsoft but also, for example, citizen developers.

As technology gets more democratized, we will all have the ability to build and deploy solutions closer to the problem and in an agile way. That comes with great responsibility. It is up to all of us us, in this time period, to ensure that the biases inherent in humans is not transmitted automatically, but that we take the opportunity as leaders and adults of today to shape an AI future that provides for an inclusive, equal and fair world.

(This is the English version of my article in FokusIT magazine. Original (in Dutch) is available here.)