AI 2041: Ten visions for our future by Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan
Published in September 2021.
This weekend, as I was finishing AI 2041: Ten visions for our future, what follows tweets of my friend James DeVaney floated across my screens:
You may know James as associate vice-president for academic innovation and founding executive director of the Center for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan. Or maybe as a writer and thinker who appears with some regularity on IHE. I know James as a reliable source of book recommendations.
I keep wondering why recommendations from friends are so much more accurate and compelling than those generated by AI? I’m much more likely to sue a book endorsed by you than the one from Amazon. If Amazon’s algorithms want me to spend my money on e-books sold (eBooks and audiobooks) on their platform, then the system should point me to reviews from people in my WAN.
Reading has always been a social learning experience. How could platforms facilitate this more effectively in the digital age? Perhaps Amazon would see this advantage as a trade-off at odds with the direction of optimal purchasing models. I would say facilitating trusted network connections and an improved reading journey would create tremendous value
Maybe 20 years from now we’ll see better book recommendation AI. Unfortunately, the books we choose to invest our time in reading are not among the topics covered in IA 2041. Despite this oversight, IA 2041 seems almost perfectly designed to tempt a certain subset of readers with professional interests in tech and a passion for all things science fiction.
The format of IA 2041 is one that should be followed by more writing teams, and maybe even academics thinking about curriculum innovation. James DeVaney and I logged in to compare our notes on our respective reading experiences with IA 2041.
James was motivated by the simple formula (science fiction story plus emerging technological explanation) and suggested that “this approach could and should inspire effective educational choices and storytelling techniques in MOOCs on emerging technological topics. It’s an elegant method of looking back to the future and quickly juxtaposing with a look ahead to the present.“
IA 2041 combines a literature review on the future of artificial intelligence (provided by Kai-Fu Lee) with 10 short stories about building the world of life in 2041 (written by Chen Qiufan). The different scenarios covered in the short stories include how two decades of technological change can impact education, entertainment, healthcare, employment, transportation, terrorism, wealth and poverty.
If you read Kai-Fu Lee’s 2018 book AI superpowers (see my review), you will know that he is more of a champion than a skeptic of artificial intelligence. Lee has a long history as a technology executive and investor. It is therefore not surprising that IA 2041 paints a rather positive picture of the impact of artificial intelligence.
While the futures that Lee and Qiufan evoke are by no means a utopia. In one story, the COVID pandemic never ends. None of the stories, however, describe a world of AI-enabled total state surveillance. The potential of artificial intelligence to be a tool of autocratic governments and monopoly corporations is virtually absent from AI 2041, an omission that many readers may find troubling.
The flip side of this criticism (not skeptical enough about AI) is that IA 2041 offers an engaging and even hopeful reading experience. Lee is convinced, and Qiufan brings stories to life, that AI will be a catalyst for future material abundance.
In this vision of the future, the combination of smart manufacturing (AI-driven robots), autonomous supply chains (autonomous vehicles) and renewable energy will significantly reduce the cost of most physical goods. Stories and analysis in IA 204I do not hesitate to consider the impact of technology on employment. Lee and Qiufan are mostly optimistic that new technologies will create more jobs than they destroy, but they allow governments to develop new programs to deal with displaced workers.
More books should combine the talents of non-fiction and fiction writers. Should there be more college courses too?
While reading IA 2041, I imagined a course built around the integration of readings of fiction and non-fiction. How often do computer classes include reading and maybe even writing sci-fi stories? In how many English lessons do students get hands-on coding and robotics experience?
Returning to James’ idea that this formula could be exploited in MOOCs on emerging technology topics, he said that “a well-thought-out course design would incorporate a more balanced approach to possible, probable and preferred futures that would take into account greater ethical dilemmas and possible adverse outcomes. “
I would be taking a course on the future of higher education in a hot second, provided it is built around science fiction and taught by Bryan Alexander.
Can you recommend any other books that incorporate non-fiction analysis and engaging fictional stories?
How do you choose the books you plan to read next?
What are you reading?