For design, I think it will be a total game changer — creating new kinds of jobs while totally destroying others. This has always been the history of the industry we’re associated with, though. How many film strippers or paste-up artists are currently employed?
From a bigger-picture standpoint that goes far beyond design, I’m increasingly becoming wary of AI as a technology that could end life as we know it. That might seem like an overstatement, but maybe not. This certainly won’t happen within the next few years, but given the continual increase in processor speeds, we’re easily within sight of computers with general capabilities that far exceed those of the human brain. Where that crosses into consciousness might be a philosophical question, but what matters is that within the next few decades we will have computers making decisions they were never programmed to do and writing their own software based on their own decisions. With quantum-level computing right around the corner (not to mention unforeseen innovations), processing capabilities will easily be trillions of times greater than they are today.
Combine AI with that kind of processing ability and the stage is set for an exponential explosion in computing that could make the Terminator movies seem like Hollywood prophecies that came true.
There’s an increasingly debated line of thought with its basis in the Fermi paradox. Given the enormity and age of the universe, it seems inevitable that life has already evolved elsewhere in one of the 100 million other solar systems estimated to exist in our galaxy (or in the trillion, or so, other galaxies in the universe) innumerable times. Since the Big Bang, there has been several billion years for this to have happened. If so, at least some of that life should have evolved to intelligent levels with advanced technologies. Those advanced civilizations could be hundreds of millions of years further along than ourselves. The Fermi paradox states that, if this is the case and that intelligent life with advanced technologies exist elsewhere, where are these more advanced civilizations? Shouldn’t civilizations millions of years more advanced than our own have left obvious indications of their existence across the galaxy?
There are lots of possible answers to this paradox, but the one I’m specifically mentioning is the notion that there’s a great filter that advanced civilizations inevitably fail to pass through. This filter is the consequence of the technology they develop exceeding their ability to control it — with the inevitable consequence being self-destruction.
In our own history, we’ve not be able to completely destroy ourselves (yet). No technology has existed that would make it possible to kill everyone or abruptly end civilization. In the 1940s and 50s nuclear and thermonuclear weapons were developed. By the end of the cold war, there were tens of thousand of thermonuclear weapons poised for launch on a moment’s notice. Had an all-out war occurred, most of the people on the planet would have died, the environment would have suffered irreparable damage and civilization would have collapsed.
Luckily this did not happen, but it still might. Also fortunate is the fact that building nuclear weapons is very difficult and largely beyond the means of anything but nation states. What if that weren’t the case? What if the technology was within reach of skilled physicists or engineers working in private labs? If that had been the case, there would almost certainly have been someone crazy enough to have done so for all kinds of reasons.
DNA re-sequencing is another example. Within the next several years, it will be possible to create artificial viruses that are highly transmissible and 100 percent lethal. This will not be a technology so difficult that it requires the resources of nation states to create; it will be something totally within reach of private labs. There’s no reason to believe that someone, somewhere will not do this for crazy political, personal, religious or pathological reasons.
So heading back to AI, what possible uses for it will exist? In the near-term, self-creating graphic design, maybe? In the long-term, anything within the physical laws of nature is pretty much the answer. So given the billions of people in this world who will have access to this broad technology, what are the odds of some group somewhere using it to develop something so awful that it results in the destruction of the world as we know it? I’d say the odds worth considering.
So even if we make it though the next hundred years, what new technologies will come along for self-destruction? How about the next thousand or ten-thousand years? Will we make it through this great filter I mentioned. Has any civilization (if they exist) anywhere in the universe ever made it through? I don’t know. If so, where are they?