The Current

Robo-doctors? How AI could do jobs we once thought couldn't be automated

Machines have been doing physical work for years, and edging out human workers in the process. But as artificial intelligence advances, it's finding a foothold in professional fields that require human judgment and creative thinking. What does the future of automation really look like?

Research has shifted to focus on 'prediction problems,' says professor

Nao, a robot developed by French company Aldebaran Robotics and Belgian company Zora Robotics. The machine is programmed to interact with and entertain elderly people, but some experts say a future robot could one day provide more advanced care. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Read Story Transcript

A renaissance in artificial intelligence research has been driven by reimagining obstacles as "prediction problems," according to a professor and author.

"We never thought of driving as a prediction problem," said Ajay Agrawal, co-author of Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence.

"But we've now developed autonomous vehicles using prediction — effectively predicting how a human would react under a certain set of driving conditions," he told The Current's guest host Geoff Turner.

Elderly residents copy Nao the robot — and his human helper — during an exercise class at a retirement home in Issy-les-Moulineaux, south of Paris, on April 23, 2015. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images)

That shift has allowed artificial intelligence to gain a foothold in professional fields such as medicine and law, he added, which were previously "viewed as white-collar professionals who were doing things that couldn't be automated."

"We are starting to automate them because we can reformulate the thing they're doing as a production problem."

To discuss how artificial intelligence is being deployed in new areas of human work, Turner spoke to:

  • Benjamin Alarie, the Osler chair in business law at the University of Toronto, and the co-founder of tech start-up Blue J Legal, which develops software to help lawyers analyze case history.
  • Ajay Agrawal, professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, and founder of the Creative Destruction Lab, an incubator for science-based companies. 

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Julie Crysler.


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