AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future by Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan – Here are my five lessons and takeaways

AI 2041 {In a July 2020 review in The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo said that GPT-3’s ability to generate computer code, poetry, and prose is not just “amazing”, “spooky”, and “humbling”, but also “more than a little terrifying.”}


• This book is based on realistic AI, or technologies that either already exist or can be reasonably expected to mature within the next twenty years. …based on technologies with a greater than 80-percent likelihood of coming to pass in that timeframe.  
• While most technologies were job creators and job destroyers at the same time—think about how the assembly line changed the automotive industry from artisans hand-assembling expensive cars to routine workers building many cars at much lower prices—the explicit goal of AI is to take over human tasks, thereby decimating jobs.  
• Further, as an adviser to governments on AI strategy, I can make predictions based on my knowledge of policy and regulation frameworks, and the reasoning behind them.
• Most of all, we hope you will agree that the tales in AI 2041 reinforce our belief in human agency—that we are the masters of our fate, and no technological revolution will ever change that.  
• Kai-Fu and I endeavored to portray a future where AI technology could influence individuals and societies positively. We wished to imagine a future that we would like to live in—and to shape.
• AI is now at a tipping point. …The days of slow progress are over.  
• Kai-Fu delineates the ways in which AI could change human society in twenty years in areas ranging from medicine and education to entertainment, employment, and finance.
• AI is an omni-use technology that will penetrate virtually all industries.  …Its effects are being felt in four waves, beginning with Internet applications, followed by applications in business (e.g. financial services), perception (think smart cities), and autonomous applications, like vehicles.
• By the time you read this new book in late 2021 or beyond, the predictions I made in AI Superpowers will have largely become reality. We must now look ahead to new frontiers. 
• According to Amara’s law, “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

Kai-Fu Lee, Chen Qiufan, AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future


Artificial Intelligence.  AI, for short.

AI is having something of a moment.

Martin Ford, whose book Rise of the Robots won the Business Book of the Year award in 2015 (McKinsey, and the Financial Times.  Here’s the complete list of finalists and winners).  Mr. Ford has a new book, Rule of the Robots: How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything.

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, has a new book coming out soon called The Age of AI: And Our Human Future. This book is co-authored by Daniel Huttenlocher and Henry Kissinger; yes, that Henry Kissinger.

And, Kai-Fu Lee, the author of AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, has a new book named AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future, co-authored by science fiction writer Chen Qiufan.  This is one of the two books I presented at the October First Friday Book Synopsis.  (Yes, I plan to present Martin Ford’s new book in either December or January, with the Schmidt, Huttenlocher, and Kissinger book shortly after that).

So, as I said, AI is having a moment.

And, from everything I am reading, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

As with all of my synopses, I ask “What is the point. Here it is for this book:  The ever-increasing advance of the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing our world; and will continue to do so, at an accelerating pace.  This is mostly good; even wonderful. Except for a key danger, or two, or three…

And I ask Why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons for this book:

#1 – This book provides a crash course in the technological advances that fall under the overall umbrella of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
#2 – This book is worth reading for its unique approach:  science fiction short stories, plus expert analysis.
#3 – This book will make you more literate about AI – and this is a needed literacy for today and many tomorrows.

This is an unusual, inventive book.  I felt the need to explain just what it was.  Here is my description/explanation (Portions in italics are directly from the book)

What is this book?

  • This book contains 10 imaginings of the world in 2041, with all the capabilities of AI in use by that time. These 10 imaginings are each short stories, science fiction stories, written by science fiction writer Chen Qiufan.
  • This book contains analyses of the uses of AI, and issues raised by this use of AI, of each of these 10 imaginings.  These are written by Kai Fu-Lee, the author of the book AI Superpowers.
  • Qiufan and I worked out a unique arrangement. I first created a “technology map” that projected when certain technologies would mature, how long it would take to gather data and iterate AI, and how easy it would be to build a product in various industries.
  • Think of AI 2041 not as “science fiction” but as “scientific fiction.”
  • The first seven stories were designed to cover technology applications for different industries in increasing technological complexity, along with their ethical and societal implications. …such as the loss of traditional jobs, an unprecedented abundance of goods, exacerbated inequality, an autonomous weapons arms race, trade-offs between privacy and happiness, and the human pursuit of a higher purpose.

I always include around 80-100 key Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages.  Here are a few of the best from this book:

• AI is outperforming judges in fair and consistent sentencing, and radiologists in diagnosing lung cancer, as well as powering drones that will change the future of delivery, agriculture, and warfare. 
• …Relying on “thought leaders” ought to be the best option, but unfortunately most who claim the title are experts in business, physics, or politics, not AI technology. Their predictions often lack scientific rigor.
• Science fiction has the capacity to serve as a warning, but speculative storytelling also has a unique ability to transcend time-space limitations, connect technology and humanities, blur the boundary between fiction and reality, and spark empathy and deep thinking within its reader.  …Historian and bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari has called science fiction “the most important artistic genre” of our time. 
• From the modern submarine to the laser gun, and from mobile phones to CRISPR, scientists will readily admit they got direct inspirations from fiction. Imagination indeed shapes the world. 
• The greatest value of science fiction is not providing answers, but rather raising questions.
• For instance, can AI help humans prevent the next global pandemic by eliminating it at the very root? How can we deal with future job challenges?   
• Today, your smartphone holds millions of times more processing power than the NASA computers that sent Neil Armstrong to the moon in 1969. …Similarly, the Internet of 2020 is almost one trillion times larger than the Internet of 1995. 
• One company’s recruiting department may find that its AI algorithms are biased against women because the training data didn’t include enough women. 
• Recently, research has shown that AI is able to infer sexual orientation with high accuracy based on facial micro-expressions. Such abilities could lead to discrimination.   
• History suggests that, with time, many of the early errors of a new technology will be fixed and improved upon. 
• There will also need to be laws that make the penalty for making malicious deepfakes very high, in order to deter potential perpetrators.
• Perhaps in twenty years, GPT-23 will read every word ever written and watch every video ever produced and build its own model of the world. This all-knowing sequence transducer would contain all the accumulated knowledge of human history.   
• When we look back in 2041, we will likely see healthcare as the industry most transformed by AI. 
…human life expectancy increased from thirty-one years in 1900 to seventy-two years in 2017. Today, • I believe we are at the cusp of another revolution for healthcare, in which digitization will enable the application of all data technologies from computing, communications, mobile, robotics, data science, and, most important, AI.
• But over time, when trained on more data, AI will become so good that most doctors will be routinely rubber-stamping AI diagnoses, while the human doctors themselves are transformed into something akin to compassionate caregivers and medical communicators. 
• Robot-assisted surgeries have increased from 1.8 percent of all surgeries in 2012 to 15.1 percent in 2018.  
• Extrapolating from this trend, we can expect all surgeries will have some robotic participation in twenty years, with fully autonomous robotic surgeries increasingly accounting for the majority of procedures.   
• Rejuvenation biotechnology will no longer be limited to the ultrarich but made available for all.
• More data leads to better AI, more automation leads to greater efficiency, more usage leads to reduced cost, and more free time leads to greater productivity.
• By that time, people who love driving will do what equestrians do today—go to private areas designated for entertainment or sports. 
• Taxi, truck, bus, and delivery drivers will be largely out of luck in a self-driving world. …There are over 3.8 million Americans who directly operate trucks or taxis for a living, and many more who drive part-time for Uber/ Lyft, the post office, delivery services, warehouses, and so on.   
• I believe there is an 80-percent chance that by 2041 there will be a functional 4,000 logical qubit (and over a million physical qubits) quantum computer that can do what was described in “Quantum Genocide,” at least as it relates to cracking the encryption used for today’s bitcoins.

Here are a number of key observations I made about the book, and key points from the book:

  • Definition:
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) is smart software and hardware capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. AI is the elucidation of the human learning process, the quantification of the human thinking process, the explication of human behavior, and the understanding of what makes intelligence possible.
  • Terms:
  • Among the many subfields of AI, machine learning is the field that has produced the most successful applications, and within machine learning, the biggest advance is “deep learning”—so much so that the terms “AI,” “machine learning,” and “deep learning” are sometimes used interchangeably (if imprecisely).
  • Deep Learning: — The first academic paper describing deep learning dates all the way back to 1967. It took almost fifty years for this technology to blossom. …deep learning requires large amounts of data and computing power for training the artificial neural network.
  • Deep learning requires much more data than humans, but once trained on big data, it will outperform humans by far for a given task, especially in dealing with quantitative optimization (like picking an ad to maximize likelihood of purchase, or recognizing a face out of a million possible faces).
  • While humans are limited in the number of things they can pay attention to at once, a deep-learning algorithm trained on an ocean of information will discover correlations between obscure features of the data that are too subtle or complex for we humans to comprehend, and which may not even be noticed.
  • In order for deep learning to function well, the following are required: massive amounts of relevant data, a narrow domain, and a concrete objective function to optimize.
  • Machine Learning; think Deep Learning. Computers learning “on their own…”
  • the Singularity – that moment when computing power will surpass human capability.
  • What’s coming?
  • true autonomous vehicles (driverless cars) – (Note:75% of the cost of moving things in vehicles is the cost of the driver)
  • incredible medical breakthroughs — what has become clear now is that AI will reshape healthcare. – (Already) – For determining protein folding (step 2), in 2020, DeepMind developed AlphaFold 2, which is AI’s greatest achievement for science to date.
  • Alternative/Extended Realities, first in games, then in ways we have not yet conceived (Note: Microsoft just sold $ 22 billion of HoloLens to the U.S. Army over the next ten years for training to deliver situational awareness, information sharing, and decision-making).
  • XR is a term encompassing three types of technologies: VR, AR, and MR {Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR)}. 
  • incredible teaching/learning tools – (e.g., students will be able to “watch” Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address)
  • basically, the end of physical work; and the end of routine work. Thus, a problem – what will people do?
  • the end of much suffering, and the end of scarcity… …maybe, ultimately, the end of “money” as we now know it; thus, the end of inequality.
  • possibly – and this is very bad, indeed — dangerous, autonomous weapons…
  • Autonomous weaponry is the third revolution in warfare, following gunpowder and nuclear arms. …AI-enabled true autonomy—the full engagement of killing: searching for, deciding to engage, and obliterating another human life, completely without human involvement.
  • Imagine, a $1,000 political assassin! And this is not a far-fetched danger for the future, but a clear and present danger.
  • This seems especially important:
  • AI learns best from massive amounts of data.  – Consider this fact in its use in medicine.  Early versions were built on the idea of, and the input of, human writings, by humans, for other humans on medicine.  The big breakthroughs have come – (and much bigger ones are coming) – from AI’s use of raw data; lots and lots of data.
  • The big, big breakthrough will come when Quantum Computing arrives.
  • (from) forty years ago, we now have about one trillion times more computing power available for AI experimentation, and storing the necessary data is fifteen million times cheaper. – Note:  this is not yet enough.
  • quantum computing has the potential to revolutionize machine learning and solve problems that were once viewed as impossible.
  • What is AI mostly doing now? – Generating money for its owners.
  • Today’s AI usually optimizes this singular goal—most commonly to make money (more clicks, ads, revenues).

And here are my five lessons and takeaways:

#1 – AI is here, and is getting stronger, better, faster, at an accelerated pace. It will not go away.
#2 – AI will be a threat to many, many jobs.  Every job that follows a routine is threatened. And many more.
#3 – AI has the chance to free us from mundane work. Maybe, to free us from all work. What then?
#4 – AI may solve our biggest problems: scarcity of resources; disease and illness.
#5 — AI may change the entire economic system of the planet. And that will require quite an adjustment.

Martin Ford says that AI will have as big an impact as the arrival of electricity.  We don’t yet know all the changes that AI will bring into our lives and to our planet.  But…it will be big; no, bigger than that!  As I said, we ain’t seen nothin yet.


You might want to read my blog post on the earlier book:  AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee – Here are my six lessons and takeaways.


You can purchase our synopses presentations from the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  On that page, you can search by book title. And click here for our newest additions. My synopses for AI 2041 will be available soon.  (My synopses of AI Superpowers, and Rise of the Robots are also available).

Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation delivered at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.

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