“It’s tempting to consider the future of AI as vertical, but technologies do not develop in vacuums. They enable, accelerate and even frustrate each other.

“For instance, further developments in large language models (LLMs) and machine learning will power the synthetic individuals, content creation, administration and enforcement that may make metaverses more compelling and better populated. Machine learning will also be integral to the (semi-)autonomy of smart-city infrastructure and the massive Internet of Things and 5G/6G may accelerate the transition of AI to on-device and edge processing. Quantum computing is expected to greatly expand available processing power, which in turn could accelerate AI’s iterative evolution.

It’s tempting to consider the future of AI as vertical, but technologies do not develop in vacuums. They enable, accelerate and even frustrate each other.

“Envisaging a converged world is what I do in my cybersecurity futures exercises. The most recent of these, co-written by Rik Ferguson, is ‘Project 2030: Scenarios for the Future of Cybersecurity.’ A very brief excerpt follows from one of those 2030 scenarios. It describes the life of a fictitious woman named Resilia:

“‘Instant access to the world’s knowledge has obviated the need to learn anything. Education is now focused on processing rather than acquiring knowledge. As a result, people increasingly know less objectively. … Algorithmic optimisation has become a key technology in the battle literally for hearts and minds. Search results are now the subjective truth; manipulating these is a target for those looking to spread disinformation and propaganda.

“‘As more people have opted for [internet-connected] implants, it has raised the possibility of changing people’s belief systems more efficiently and more directly, for good or ill. Hyper-personalised headlines are delivered directly into Resilia’s field of vision. Constrained by the lenses’ character limits, mainstream news is now essentially clickbait, with added emotional engagement and the psychological impact of not being able to look away. Scammers and influence operators have been able to capitalise on the opportunities of a more captive audience. …

“‘Increased teleworking has led to companies giving up expensive office space. Faced with downtown desertion and potential deprivation, so-called bright-flight, the city innovated at the expense of the out-of-town shopping malls. Rents were slashed for residential, recreational, social and creative uses, and there is now a vibrant leisure hub. They’re calling it recentrification. And, as the city centres are repopulated, the suburban sprawl is shrinking, leaving behind ghost districts and ghost suburbs. …

“‘People’s digital versions of themselves have become so extensive as to require dedicated management. Resila uses a tool that broadcasts her privacy preferences to every service that requires her data. The tool grants permissions that are contextually sensitive, the data is homomorphically encrypted and only Resila has access to it. … Humans have now volunteered so much of their lives through self-generated content that archives for individuals have not only become necessary, they have resulted in digital selves that outlive the physical death of a person. What was once a collection of memories on social media is now a seemingly living thing. … Increasingly, these digital humans have agency, particularly as the physical and digital worlds combine. They engage in inappropriate behaviour and sometimes commit crimes like engaging in hate speech. Government authorities are now considering whether they are culpable and what appropriate enforcement measures might be for their illegal activities.

“‘Grieving families, meanwhile, have sought the help of human rights lawyers to prevent their loved ones being switched off, or, in some cases, to enforce that they are.‘”

This essay was submitted in November 2023 in reply to the question: Considering likely changes due to the proliferation of AI in individuals’ lives and in social, economic and political systems, how will life have changed by 2040? This and more than 150 additional essay responses are included in the report “The Impact of Artificial Intelligence by 2040”