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Volvo's futurologist Aric Dromi: The best AI should be a mirror of ourselves

In his humorous but interesting presentation at the FT Future of the Car Summit in London, Volvo’s Chief Futurologist Aric Dromi reveals he does not like cars.

“That’s why I am in the car industry. Can I actually build something that I love and can relate to? You’re looking at the road and the dashboard is looking at you. What kind of relationship is that?” Dromi poses to the amused audience.

You might think of a ‘futurologist’ as someone whose job it is to predict the future. But Dromi analyses changes in society and then studies how to navigate those changes. Self-identified as a "professional troublemaker", Dromi is in the process of setting up his own side company which he will run alongide his position at Volvo in the hopes it will give him more freedom to voice his unconventional thoughts.

“Ten years from now you will be able to swallow a pill to become connected. We gave technology the power to see, think and use us as a sensory within its own perception of reality. How many of you remember phone numbers? You just outsourced some of your cognitive memory to Google and Apple,” Dromi continues.

Much of the discussions earlier on in the day were on the future of electrical cars, the rise of ‘Uber’ and navigating data and security challenges in the age of autonomous cars. So Dromi’s talk takes a more philosophical approach to how computers will change the way think about cars and society in general.  

After his presentation, Dromi has only about ten minutes before he has to catch his cab so we grab a table. At the moment Virtual Reality (VR) is exploding so I am keen to ask Dromi where he sees its full potential in the coming years.

“I think during 2017 people will wake up to how VR can be used as a productivity tool. We will start seeing more engineering solutions around VR/AR. In five years from now we will see the birth of digital landscapes that will have a completely different set of rules in how we immerse ourselves into a different place.

“I think the biggest breakthrough for VR will be when we can get rid of the headset itself. Either we can have a bot that can take over our optic nerve or enough sensors around that can augment [our lives],” Dromi says.

During our talk, Dromi talks a lot about humans being excellent at ‘re-purposing technology’. He thinks this is where the full potential lies for VR. But he says the tech industry needs ‘strong’ leadership for VR to fulfil its full potential - which it doesn’t at the moment.

“I think Steve Jobs was a strong leader. Arrogant but a strong leader. All across history it’s the assertive leaders that make a change. Martin Luther King, Hitler, Mussolini and Gandhi.”

So does Dromi think Apple has gone downhill since Tim Cook took over?

“Much. Tim Cook needs to rethink his strategy. We don’t really know what innovation means anymore. Everyone is running things out of stress and fear, not out of curiosity. We need an industry leader that is curious, not because he is afraid of the competitors.”

Earlier on Dromi mentioned how he loves AI and talked about merging biotech and nanotech together to see what “being human” will be like in a few years. But there has been a lot of fear mongering around AI, especially around the fact that AI will destroy humanity – but not before taking all our jobs.

What does Dromi make of all this?

“I don’t like fear mongering. I hate it. So when people say ‘AI will destroy humanity’ I want you to tell me what will be the positive value of AI and I want to put you on a scale that says it’s worse than its good,” Dromi says.

“I think AI is absolutely necessary for the survival of our species,” Dromi concludes. “That’s the only thing that can take our perceptions on to the next level. Even if it destroys humanity – I will go with that. The best AI should be a mirror of ourselves. Mirror and plug yourself into it. How are you going to colonise Mars without an AI? And we need to colonise Mars.”


Also read:

Technologist sees car as one big computer empowering our lives

AI “existential threat”: Is humanity doomed?

IBM Watson’s next act: The fashion designer

VR at the virtual crossroads: which way next?


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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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