Ten Predictions for 2018, AI Breakthrough, and a Glimpse of Dystopia

Since 2011, UK innovation charity Nesta has set out its technology predictions for the coming year – and last week the foundation gathered an eclectic mix of scientists, bankers, artists and government workers to hear the annual forecast.

A recurring theme of the 10 predictions offered was the impact of artificial intelligence on everything from healthcare to emotional surveillance and artistic practice, all of which resonate with the BVEx community.

Using AI to push the boundaries of creativity will break one of society’s last taboos, as creativity is widely perceived as an innately human capability. Nesta information experience designer Georgia Ward Dyer predicted the winner of the 2018 Turner Prize could be an AI and artist duo. That’s an important progression from programs mimicking existing art forms to genuinely pushing the boundaries of creativity itself.

But AI is beginning to enhance creativity and in so doing is taking us to places we’ve never been, including generative design. This AI-aided process can be used to design a suspension bridge, where the designer inputs goals and parameters such as size, materials, and load-bearing capacity into software. The AI explores all possible design solutions, generating thousands of alternatives in seconds.

Interestingly, Dyer predicted artists would use AI as a tool to explore new artistic realms, and would not be supplanted by it. This sentiment will resonate with the BVEx community and the larger business world, which expects to significantly augment its workforce this year. Manufacturers anticipate a mixed workforce where skilled technicians work alongside collaborative robots – or ‘cobots’ – that do heavy lifting and quality assurance.

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One of the darker visions presented during the evening was of emotional surveillance going mainstream. We know an AI capability that can diagnose mental illness by analysing video or voice inflections is already here and being piloted in California.  Improved AI technology makes the prospect of exploitation by financial, medical and media sectors very real, argued former Nesta researcher Lydia Nicholas.

“Those building and deploying these systems hope to uncover our thoughts, feelings and levels of stress, to tell whether we are lying, or daydreaming, and to predict our mental health outcomes,” said Nicholas. “People developing adverts and movie trailers have been using galvanic skin response, eye-tracking and other biometric approaches to monitor the emotional reaction of test audiences for years.”

To date, these techniques have been unwieldy and expensive. But recently companies have started to use AI to monitor and test audiences’ emotions in much more detail through a simple webcam. The efficacy of this was proved when an AI-enabled webcam accurately anticipated the audience’s vote for Nesta’s most likely prediction: in 2018, a data giant will buy a health provider. (You read it here first!)

The prospect of petabytes of individuals’ health data being owned, corralled and mined for narrow profit ambitions by a Google lookalike was one aspect of a dystopian future previewed at the event. But the dominant mood was refreshingly upbeat, and I liked Nesta CEO Geoff Mulgan’s exhortation for all attendees to unpick and challenge everything presented: as he well knows, a spirit of challenge and collaboration is prerequisite for innovation.

Read the Nesta ten predictions here


Helen Beckett

Author: Helen Beckett

Helen Beckett is the Community Manager of the Business Value Exchange. She has been a writer and editor for over 20 years and takes a particular interest in the challenges facing the CIO in today’s business climate.