Shaping the AI Future

Three crucial truths about artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence seems to be everywhere—and the advantages it promises are tremendous, from better strategies against disease to more efficient transportation. To make sense of all the news coverage, however, it helps to be aware of a few underlying truths.

For instance, we hear all the time that AI is the future. But the foundations of the AI being used right now are relatively old. Even with their world-class research teams, with few exceptions the major tech firms are heavily engaged in trying to squeeze brilliant new applications out of these existing approaches. True AI breakthroughs will require aggressive investment in fundamental science.

A second basic truth: AI will, over time, come to change the way people work, in almost every field. But very few people are equipped to take full advantage of it. (You may be seeing this issue in your workplace already.)

That’s even true at MIT: from biology and astronomy to chemical engineering, field after field is poised for great progress if faculty researchers can apply AI in their work—and many are already doing so. But AI is not what they study; to be as effective as possible, they need to partner with AI experts, who can build them specialized tools.

Training more of those AI experts is a huge and growing challenge, but there are tremendous opportunities if we can connect them with researchers in every field, as well as educate the latter in how to use and benefit from AI tools.

And a final, hidden truth: in the not-too-distant future, AI will be a dominant source of new wealth—for those nations equipped to make the right commitments now. There are not many of those countries! China and the United States are currently in the lead. So we should not be surprised if this new source of wealth also becomes a new source of inequality, both between nations and within them.

This last point deserves our closest attention. AI holds a world of promise. But as we seek to develop and shape that promise, we need to be vigilant in making sure that we are also making a better world.