There’s a lot of discussion regarding the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the consequences for human society. Such concerns hit the media in waves, generally around some new success by AI in the latest human competition. I’ve covered a few of these recently, including games, biochemical research, and writing. Most of the discussion centres around the negative implications because, let’s face it, humans don’t like change, as a general rule. Change means uncertainty, and uncertainty means things could get worse.

But what about the chance that AI makes the world better?

Here are seven areas where AI could greatly aid humans.

1. Personal Assistant

The artificial home personal assistant is already a huge growth area as devices like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and the many competitors surge into the marketplace to be devoured by consumers. It seems we’ve finally found the market for voice-activated devices. However, as amazing as these devices are, they are still very primitive in regards to their potential.

The AI Jarvis, from Marvel’s Age of Ultron.

Advanced artificial intelligence could soon be incorporated in personal assistants in such a way as to make them very much like Jarvis from the Iron Man movies. Not only would they be able to store and retrieve the information we want, but they would learn the nuances of our individual speech patterns, and our daily schedules, to anticipate our needs. Everything from better understanding our accents to reminders to buy groceries and prepare for meetings. Eventually, they could be good enough to prepare presentations and documents based on our person style from a few seeded keywords.

If this sounds creepy, consider that the wealthy and powerful already have human versions of just this type of assistant. The only difference now would be that everyone could have one.

2. Personal Educator

I’ve been saying for almost a decade now that universities are on the losing side of history. Not only are many departments (and entire universities) failing in the mandate to properly educate their students, but they’re actually introducing and even enforcing socially harmful, and factually incorrect, ideologies. Add to this the rise of online education and it seems reasonable to expect that the university as we know it, with the possible exception of STEM fields, is already obsolete as a place of education (research remains another matter). Filling this void in higher education to an increasing degree are online courses.

Currently, online classes are created by one of three types of people. Either professors from prestigious universities who have put their class online, entrepreneurs who cover niche topics in enough detail for their students to become proficient enough they can also make money in that area, or online child education for home-schooled children or those needing/wanting extra tutelage.

But all of these area require the individual to discover the course, assess the best one, and then sit through all the material to get the bits relevant to them. In addition, it requires the courses be created, often at significant expense. But imagine what an AI tutor could do!

Using a regular series of assessments that could range from tests to simple questionnaires, a personal AI tutor could identify the areas a student is weak in, or an individual wishes to learn about and, determining their level of competence, an AI could pull together relevant information from the net and compile it into a training course personalized to that individual.

My thoughts are that, maybe twenty to thirty years in the future, AI will be the dominant teaching method in advanced countries. Teaching by humans will then fall into two categories: research and management of social development. If the majority of families still have both parents working by that time, schools will be sites that have a combination of self-directed AI learning centres combined with team-building and social development activities moderated by human instructors.

3. Financial Management

Ask people in the West what their greatest fear is and, after climate change, they will most likely say financial collapse. Our well-being relies on the smooth functioning of a complex global financial system that not only appears fundamentally unstable but seems ripe with manipulation leading to regular periods of boom and bust (approximately every 18 years). So it’s no surprise that the majority of the public don’t have a lot of confidence in the continued functioning of such a system.

But what if there is a better way? What if there is a technology that could actually determine and act on all the variables to create a stable financial system? Ignoring the fact that there would be significant resistance to this from the financial sector itself, artificial intelligence would seem to be the perfect solution. Ideally designed to determine patterns and connections between immensely complex data sets, it would seem that, once properly trained, an AI would be the ideal tool for such an endeavour. Furthermore, it should have the added bonuses of being immune to human manipulation while being able to respond to potentially disastrous trends or changes very quickly.

4. Disease Management

Disease management is one area of scientific research that almost no one will worry about an invasion of AI in. The potential benefits to human health and welfare are so great that most objections are quickly swept away and with good reason. Computers have been incredibly important aids in everything from drug development to data analysis and patient management for decades now. However the standard ways of using computers are not meeting the needs of the next level of advancements we need to make in understanding complex diseases and disorders.

Disorders like Alzheimer’s or Parkinsons, even cancer, can be managed to some small degree with modern treatments. However, the complexity of these, and many other disorders, which can result from the failure in any of dozens of biochemical pathways and often in the interaction between those pathways, necessitates a level of analysis that is difficult if not impossible for the human mind to manage. A modern, heuristic AI, however, is designed to be able to make sense out of such complexity. So, once the technology matures, we could be seeing huge advances in medical sciences due to AI, potentially even leading to an extension of the human life-span.

Interestingly, just recently, DeepMind has announced being close to releasing, commercially, a device using their software that can diagnose eye-related illnesses, from a 30 second scan, to a degree of accuracy rivaling the top specialists in the world.

5. Climate Change

Much like the complexity of the human body, concern over climate change is an example of humans trying to make sense of an incredibly complex system with only limited awareness of its full scale. We have numerous models being created and updated each year, which is evidence of just how little we actually know — if we understood the climate we wouldn’t have a need for more models!

Once again, if trained properly (no small challenge given the limited data), the complexity of climate is just the type of challenge that an AI could excel at understanding. Of course, an even bigger challenge would be to convince humans to act, or not, on the results (especially if the results go against the prevailing ideology).

One potential positive secondary consequence of using AI to study climate change could be in regards to developing models and technologies for the eventual terraforming of planets we are looking to colonize.

6. Government Management

I’m certain I’m not alone in my poor view of political options both in my own country and around the world. Perhaps it’s just tunnel vision and the world has always been this way, or perhaps it’s the end of an era, but these days regardless of where one looks, there seems to be no good options for national leaders. Perhaps this is a sign we’ve let the wrong people dominate power for so long, or maybe it’s a sign of the increasing complexity of the world. When I think of the type of lifestyle, and the vast number of decisions and considerations a national leader encounters in a given day I’m amazed anyone would want the job – let alone that anyone might be remotely capable of actually doing it.

Scene from the game Civilization 6

This, then, seems to me another field ripe for experimentation with AI, and I’m not alone on this thought. Numerous groups have sprung up over the last few decades that have AI at the centre of their social restructuring policies. Furthermore, given the DeepMind AI training strategy, which is to begin with human input, and then train the AI against each other in numerous rapid simulations, I could even see an AI United Nations existing. If Google ever encounters this article, I’d like to put forth a request. I’d love to see such an AI united nations publicized as a reality show using a system like the game Civilization as a backdrop to their decisions.

7. Interplanetary Exploration

Advanced Engineering is a field that stands to gain tremendously from the application of artificial intelligence. Everything from driverless cars and hypersonic aircraft design to the guidance of nanite construction swarms and fully functioning robots can see the benefits of an infusion of AI. One area I’m particularly excited to see AI applied to is in the development and construction of advanced propulsion systems and ship structures for interplanetary travel.

Artistic representation of Interplanetary Superhighways as calculated by NASA scientist

The complexity of physics on both large and small scales, and the application of principles marrying the phenomenon to real-world space travel would seem to be an excellent direction to turn AI lose on and the potential benefits could literally determine the future of our species.


There are a great many fields that artificial intelligence could by applied to for the benefit of humanity. An interesting idea to ponder is whether any of these applications are already being attempted behind closed doors. After all, our governments hardly tell us everything and, even more importantly, we’re not the only ones in the game.

Next –> AI: What If It’s Not Ours?

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