Sorry, but 2017 isn't going to be the year of AI Everything and 10 minute Domino's Pizza drone deliveries.

by Sponsor 16 Feb, 2017
Maybe it was only a matter of time. Maybe it's because of popular TV shows like Black Mirror and Westworld. AI thinkpieces seem to be popping up out of the woodwork these days. The internet is full of opinions like " this is the year of machine learning" or " artificial intelligence will take your job" (they both might be right). But 2017 isn't going to be the year computers do everything for us, nor is it time to panic if you're afraid of losing your job to a robot or a software program. 

We've still got quite a few roadblocks ahead of us before our society -- and economy -- are at the point where the future looks like some strange combination of Blade Runner or Her. Until we can't tell the difference between a human or cyborg, let's take a step back and examine how 2017 will be analog, despite what pop culture hype tells us.

We're decades away from roads with nothing but driverless cars on them

Here's where driverless cars are at: MIT researchers are trying to decide how the autopilot technology should react in a scenario where casualties are unavoidable. The debate centered around this kind of technology is a critical step in the march towards progress, but just because people are discussing the ethics in fatal situations (such as the trolley dilemma) doesn't mean we're any closer to seeing a major rollout of the technology. Last year, 2,578 failures were reported by the nine companies testing driverless cars in California; that speaks volumes for how much testing  still needs to be done. A recent study by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute found that because of car longevity, enacting smart regulations, and pricing, new technologies take upwards of 20 years to be fully implemented.  


Sure, you might see a video of a package dropped off at someone's door by a driverless truck (to much fanfare), but the future of distribution everyone keeps talking about isn't happening in 2017--it's happening in 2047.

All the skilled developers, designers, and content creators worried about losing their jobs to AI software need not worry

It only takes a few Google searches to see that it isn't just McDonald's workers who are being replaced by automated machines. Everything from AI website builders to digital marketing crafted by computer to hedge fund robots to AI pop music suggests that artificial intelligence will take over the jobs that were formerly done by college-educated, highly skilled workers. 

In another 20 years, it's possible that the same class of professionals who currently command high salaries and virtually zero unemployment could be replaced by enterprise-level SaaS programs for every imaginable white collar task. But to expect an almost dinosaur-like mass extinction of high-level jobs in the year 2017 is about as likely as expecting this to be year that the sun swallows the earth (wait seven billion years for that to happen).

The reasons why this won't be happening anytime soon are many, but here are two big ones:  frankly, AI systems have too many bugs in the system in this relatively early stage. The Grid, an AI website building platform that made a big splash back in 2015 with the promise that you would never need to hire a web designer again, basically gives users a glorified Tumblr template to work off. Similarly, apps and software that can handle specialized content creation tasks such as writing email subject lines can only do so much without human input -- it's another thing entirely to write a blog post or an ebook. Relax, white collar tech people: your jobs are still safe. For now...

doritosSame-day delivery will be more popular, but it's still going to be a dude driving a car, not a drone, making the delivery

This is a big one. After spending millions of dollars to briefly feature a delivery drone in a Super Bowl ad, Amazon is 99% certain to introduce drone delivery this year. Fast, reliable ecommerce fulfillment is a dream for everyone. The question is where, and how limited of a rollout will it be? 

Considering they released footage just a couple months back of the first ever successful Prime Air delivery in Cambridgeshire, England, we have a few clues as to what the launch will look like. Due to current FAA regulations banning the flight of unmanned aerial vehicles beyond the line of sight in the USA (so basically, delivery drones), Amazon pivoted their operations to England, where this isn't a problem. As you'll notice by either glancing at a map or watching the video, Cambridge might be close to London, but a crowded metropolis teeming with overhead power lines, yapping dogs, and towering buildings it is not. The logistical challenges of drone delivery in a dense urban center are a thousand times more complex than doing it in a rural or even suburban zone. Domino's took a similar approach to Amazon when it launched it's first ever drone delivered pizza to a family living in the 'burbs of Auckland, the capital of New Zealand. 

Chances are wherever you reside -- especially if you live in the heart of a big city -- will not debut same-hour drone delivery service from Amazon or Domino's pizza. But you'll probably watch jealously, like everyone else, when Amazon rolls out their first full drone delivery fleet somewhere like Cambridge or Bognor Regis. 

The biggest impact of AI will happen in places you can't see

Before you think this is some wet blanket meant to rain on the AI parade, let's talk about where all this new technology will be making an impact.

The hype about drone delivery mistakes the tip for the whole iceberg. When people envision drones in the sky, they're only thinking of the so-called "last mile" stage of logistics. Before a drone or self-driving truck drops off a package, there is an abundance of work that goes on behind the scenes. First the product is manufactured on an augmented-intelligence assembly line, with robots or software assisting human workers. Then the shipment is loaded and offloaded port facilities using software to calibrate container weight balance. Finally, when the shipment arrives at a fulfillment warehouse and is then purchased online, a worker picks the product from its corresponding sector and sends it down a fully-automated conveyor belt to a delivery truck. At every point, the supply chain will rely more than ever on AI. You won't see it happening, but it'll be there. 

Expect 2017 to be one small step for AI, not a giant leap. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be excited for the innovation coming this year; just keep your expectations tempered.