the current

'We are moving into uncharted territory': Futurists shed light on the robotic revolution

"It is inevitable. The train left the station, the boat has left the slip — and I don't think there's preparation."
2017 was already significant for self-driving advancements — with the first on-street test of an autonomous vehicle in Canada, and Tesla showcasing its fully-electric truck equipped with semiautonomous technology. What can we expect next year, and beyond? (Alexandria Sage/Reuters)
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"We're in the bridge from the past to the future," says Faith Popcorn, futurist and consultant.

"It's going to be even faster than we think."

With self-driving cars, the first robot citizenship, and self-learning technology — 2017 looked a lot like science-fiction to many, but futurists say we're only in the nascent stages of a robotic revolution.

"Between 2017 and 2037 there be more change, more transformation, than any time in human history. So what that means is that the old is crumbling and the new has yet to be fully engaged," says author and futurist David Houle.

Houle points to anticipated changes in the current economic landscape, citing by example a 2013 Oxford study which predicts 47 per cent of all existing jobs in the U.S. will be rendered obsolete by machine learning, automation, or artificial intelligence.

We are moving into the age ... where our interface is the superior intelligence.- David Houle

"A lot of educators are very proud that their having fifth graders and 10-year-old girls learning to code. And the reality is that that's going to be an obsolete profession by the time they get out of high school," says Houle. 

Advances in technology have crept into the medical sciences. This wireless neuroheadset, called "Emotiv", is meant to help optimize brain fitness performance and measure cognitive health and well-being. The age of the cyborg may be upon us. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)

But perhaps even more frightening (and/or exciting), are the changes we can't anticipate. The rapid speed of evolution in the burgeoning field of AI suggests most of its disruptive applications haven't yet entered the realm of imagination.

Futurists offered The Current's guest host Catherine Cullen some predictions as to the technology we can look forward to, like brainwave direct communication with computers, increasing robotization in healthcare, and robot babysitters.

But both Houle and Popcorn maintain a major shift in our attitudes toward machines, and in turn what defines "the human," must take place first.

Superior Intelligence

"I looked up the definition of the word 'intelligence' and nowhere in the definition is the word 'human'," says Houle.

"The phrase 'artificial intelligence' is being used because we are the first iteration of humanity to have to psychologically adapt to an equal or superior intelligence co-habiting the planet with us. We're calling it 'artificial' at this moment because it's de minimis — it lessens it."

"These robots are intelligent, the driverless cars are intelligent — we are moving into the age of intelligence where our interface is the superior intelligence."

"And we're becoming more and more robotic ourselves, with implants and learning chips — all kinds of things," adds Popcorn.

Faith Popcorn says we should just "relax and enjoy" the robotic revolution. "To fight it is kind of useless and energy depleting." (Victor Jeffreys III)

Preparing for the Future

​Houle says humans shouldn't fear the dawn of integrated roboticization, but we must recognize the severity of this change, and proceed responsibly.

"I believe that we have the opportunity to evolve to a higher level of consciousness in the next 20 or 25 years, or it can go down to Armageddon."

"I always say that technology is not good or bad — it just is. It's what humans use it for. A plane can get you to a place much more quickly, but it can drop bombs. So it is the application of the intelligence and how it shapes humanity that is the issue to take."

"It is such a transformative time. We can't just let it happen to us."


Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post. 

This segment was produced by Lara O'Brien, Willow Smith, and Pacinthe Mattar.