Artificial intelligence has evolved so much that it has now become intelligence augmentation (IA), says Dr Catherine Ball, a technology author and serial entrepreneur.

Ball believes AI and machine learning will give people more flexibility, and a better work-life balance.

"AI will allow us to be more human and allow us to spend more time thinking about the big problems in the world, and what matters," she says.

AI has existed over the past 40 to 50 years as a principle discipline. It started in 1956 at Dartmouth University in the UK. Since then this technology has been on the rise and is having a significant impact of many industries.

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"The basic thesis back then was computers are complicated, humans are complicated, so why can't we get computers to behave like humans."

Ball says computers - and robots - are only as good as people make them, and there's plenty of room for development.

Rod Drury, founder and chief executive of accounting software maker Xero, says his firm has taken its first steps towards the use of artificial intelligence.

"The first thing was the fundamental architecture change of taking data out of individual PCs and getting them into a centrally managed store. We processed $1.4 trillion of transactions last year, so its super exciting because accounting is such a structured taxonomy and we're getting pretty good results from pretty basic," Drury said.

"[Our use of AI] is simplifying accounting and addressing the problem that most people don't know how to do."

Drury said Xero is working on using more AI in its operations.

"Over the next year or two we'll be able to do more and more.

"The really big move will be moving from accounting where you think 'oh, I must go and do something and walk up to a computer or mobile phone to do it, to the machine telling you what to do next - that's the next generation we'll be showing a whole lot more of next year."

Drury says its hard to fathom what AI could look like in the long run.

"I don't know how good it will be in five years, I can't even imagine that far out, but what I do know is that in the next two or three years it will radically transform," he says. "What will be quite interesting, and what I think we'll see, is a very human kind of thing where the machine starts thinking for you. Once you've gone through a period of a few months and it's hitting all of your internal boxes then people can become quite reliant on it.

"The big thing for us is we know the technology will take us to a very interesting place. What we need to do is not passively accept the role of humans, we need to actively design that in. It's humans that have purpose, empathy and we have an opportunity as an industry and community to design the human interactions in as we do all the cool technology stuff."

Brazilian academic Tiberio Caetano started working on machine learning 17 years ago.

"Machine learning has existed as a discipline for at least 40 or 50 years, mostly in laboratories and universities all over the world, it's just now we are at the awakening of machine learning and all the science research that has been developed is having an opportunity to have a significant impact if society," Caetano says.

Expert panel on machine learning and AI. Photo / Aimee Shaw
Expert panel on machine learning and AI. Photo / Aimee Shaw

"Data is really the thing that is fuelling predominantly the success of AI now."

He said we're at a new dawn for AI and what's coming.

What will jobs of the future look like?

Ball says society has never had job losses through the role of automation, but there has one exception.

"If someone sits there and says 'oh a robot is going to take my job', then I really have to wonder what they are doing for work because quite frankly there has only ever been one job that's ever been automated," she says.

"The only job that's actually gone completely is the elevator operator."

Ball says she believes AI and machine learning will allow people to be more human.

"It is going to allow us to spend more time thinking about the big problems in the world; an ageing population, how we find cures for cancer, how we eradicate famine, how we cope with climate change."

The future of AI and artificial intelligence is bright.

Caetano says the world economy will be transformed dramatically when AI takes full rein.

"The jobs that will exist in 10 years' time will likely be different, and in some areas very different."

He has no doubts that technology will disrupt the traditional workforce.

In Australia, it is predicted that in five to 10 years, 40 to 60 per cent of all workers will be self-employed.

"The idea of jobs for life is gone," Ball says. "People spend an average of two years at each corporate they work out but now people have side shows that they're turning into start-ups or small businesses."

Transport, legal, medical, technology, mining and agriculture industries are some of the sectors tipped to see the most disruption by AI and automation in coming years.

Creative sectors are likely to boom as automation and AI becomes more prominent, he says.

Ball says she isn't fazed by the thought of robots and machines taking jobs.

"Computers at the moment are only as good as we train them," she says.

"Robots are good at playing simple games and simple moves with simple rules and that's why I don't lose sleep over it."

Ball says society is going to see incredible changes with AI and automation.

"There are different levels of autonomy and there are different levels of automation, and I actually see there being a bit of a Goldilocks zone in the next five years," she says.

Nick Houldsworth, Xero general manager of ecosystem partners, says AI has significant benefits for small business owners.

"For the most part it will be benefits. It is effectively like you're going to have intelligent people in your business taking care of things and helping you make decisions, but ultimately you are the one who designs the strategy for the business.

"At a super macro level humans seem to go through revolutions of some forms of technology in industries every few hundred years, but the pace of these revolutions seems to be getting faster, and inevitably you find that certain industries become less relevant," he says.

"I don't think at any point ever in all of human history there has been less for people to do. People are more productive and we've found ways to innovate and create new opportunities."

AI presents further opportunity for businesses, Houldsworth says.

Xero data shows 35 per cent of small businesses want to grow and more than 60 per cent want to be more efficient and get their life back, Houldsworth says.

Getting into the cloud and becoming digital is a way to do that, he says.

"Take steps to digitalise and find advice, and once you've got your time back, then you can think of what that next stage if growth looks like.

"There's probably a legacy of who people think it's going to be very expensive [to go digital], and that was the case," he says. "If you needed a website 10 years ago, it was $50,000, and on page 90 of Google whereas now you don't even need a website, you can list on Amazon and reach customers."

He says it is vital for businesses to adopt new technologies for a prosperous future.

"Often your fear of change is out of proportion to the actual effort to do it and the benefits.

"It may not be critical for survival but to unlock the full potential of the business, to enjoy what you do and to have the time to think about what you will do next, it is critical."

Aimee Shaw travelled to Melbourne courtesy of Xero.