Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Five things to expect in the near future

Tom Cruise rides a driverless car in sci-fi film Minority Report. Photo / File
Tom Cruise rides a driverless car in sci-fi film Minority Report. Photo / File

Over three days this week, some of the world's brightest minds in the space will descend on Christchurch for Australasia's first Exponential Technology summit, hosted by Silicon Valley's Singularity University. Event organiser Kaila Colbin shares with science reporter Jamie Morton five things she expects to see in the not-too-distant future.

1. Self-driving cars that you can sleep in

Tesla's Model 3. Photo / File
Tesla's Model 3. Photo / File

Our future of driverless cars is already here.

Christchurch International Airport is trialing a self-driving shuttle at the end of the year and every tesla model 3 vehicle hitting the market from next year will include full "level 5" autonomy.

"That means you can get in the car, you can go to sleep, and the car takes you where you want to go - you don't need to pay any attention to it at all," colbin says.

"This is different from current autopilot systems, which are not considered fully autonomous systems as you still need to have an alert driver at the wheel."

This technology would take off much faster than we'd think - mainly because of the many benefits and cost advantages they offer over today's vehicles.

"One of the things we've already seen in the markets in the us, where there is high usage and market penetration, is Uber, which is seeing new car sales go down.

"So people are already being trained to push a button on their phone, the car pulls up, they get in and it goes where they want to go.

"That behaviour doesn't have to change at all; the only thing that does is that there's no human behind the wheel."

It would make those often long and mundane commutes to work more tolerable - and would save lives.

"We kind of ignore the fact that 1.2 million people die every year in motor vehicle crashes, so it'll be a great thing."

2. Robots taking our jobs

Few jobs in the future will be safe from automation. Photo / RF123
Few jobs in the future will be safe from automation. Photo / RF123

There's been much debate about whether the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the workplace has been over-hyped.

But one only has to look to Kunshan, China, where 60,000 factory workers at major apple supplier Foxconn have just been replaced with robots.

"It's basically saying that, even in low-paying jobs like that, it's still more economical to have it done by a robot," she says.

"But, on the actual performance side of things rather than just the price side, robots are getting so sophisticated that they're starting to replace jobs that we don't typically think of as being at risk of automation."

The world recently saw the first AI lawyer hired by a law firm, along with an AI teaching assistant helping students with their studies.

"We even had a 19-year-old kid who wrote a free snapchat bot that successfully contested over 160,000 parking tickets in New York and London.

"We're going to start to see machine learning and artificial intelligence coming into roles that have been historically safe."

Repetitive, volume-based tasks - like that of a law firm intern trawling through 600,000 pages of legal documents - were areas ripe for disruption.

New methods of transaction verification could kill off centuries-old professions like conveyency.

At the same time, jobs will be created that we never imagined could have existed.

"For those young people going to university, one of the big things they should ask themselves is - would I find this degree useful, even if the job it's intended for no longer exists?"

The current rule of thumb is that the more integrated and creative a role is, the less likely it will be replaced in the near future by ai.

But doesn't mean AI can't be creative - machines have already produced paintings, books and symphonies.

3. Personalised healthcare with our own DNA

"DNA sequencing is absolutely something that is following an exponential curve, in terms of its price performance," colbin said.

It wasn't that long that the cost of sequencing a human genome - unravelling all of the genetic puzzle pieces that form our dna make-up - cost tens of millions of dollars.

With new sequencing technology, that's now edging toward less than $1000.

"We are anticipating that eventually, it'll cost less to sequence your dna than it does to pay for the water to flush your toilet," she said.

"So when you get to that kind of abundance, we might ask, why not sequence your dna every time you flush the toilet?"

The increasing accessibility has already given rise to companies like 23andme, the world's first direct-to-consumer genetic testing service.

In New Zealand, Victoria University researcher Dr Geoff Chambers has proposed that, perhaps just a decade away, we'll all receive personalised medicine based on our own distinct DNA make-up.

With their complete profile, people will know much more about what's important in their genes and what isn't.

When combined with game-changing innovations like the gene-editing technology like CRISPR - being able to target disease and disorder by splicing bad bits from your DNA - all kinds of remarkable healthcare advances are possible.

"Sequencing has opened up dramatic new worlds, in terms of understanding genetics and our health from that particular perspective."

4. The next era of mobile technology

Mobile wallets have already been used in Auckland Transport's integrated ticketing fare system. Photo / File
Mobile wallets have already been used in Auckland Transport's integrated ticketing fare system. Photo / File

Our smartphones have proven how technology can converge into single components with big developments.

"When you had a camera that took film, for example, it had to contain a body that could take film - but since it shifted digitally to ones and zeroes, you can embed it in your phone," she says.

"Today phones now have a 41-megapixel camera - that's an insane amount of technology, and now just a normal retail product."

She expects to see wallets disappear next.

"We are already starting to use pay-pass technology where you just wave your phone like you do when you go to board an Air New Zealand plane.

"Because your phone is always with you, eventually you should be able to walk up to your car, it recognises it, you get in and the car just starts."

But that's not to say our phones would look like they do now.

It could be small device on your keyring that projects information, or technology embedded in your body.

"There are now interesting patents out for flexible material, so maybe it's a bracelet, where you just snap it on to your wrist and it wraps around, then you pull it off, it becomes stiff and you can use it as a phone."

5. Policing with artificial intelligence

Tom Cruise in "Minority Report". Photo / File
Tom Cruise in "Minority Report". Photo / File

It won't quite be the stuff of Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, where cops catch murderers before they kill, but colbin nevertheless expects ai to play a large and potentially concerning part in future justice.

"Countries around the world will start to rely on artificially intelligent predictive technologies, trying to do anticipatory policing," she said.

"The real risk there is that we have a tendency to think of Artificial Intelligence of being totally neutral because it's a computer and not based on emotion.

"But we forget that, firstly, computers base their information on data they receive, and secondly, all of our data is biased because of systemic prejudices or historic injustices.

"That'll be perpetuated by AI, that becomes much more insidious because it has the appearance of being totally neutral and just reporting the facts."

It could mean, for instance, police are targeted at neighbourhoods where ai finds crime is more likely to happen - only their constant presence compounds the environmental impacts that lead to more crime.

Colbin also expects ai will lead to huge developments in offshore cyber-crime, and new jurisdictions might need to be created to combat it.

- NZ Herald

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