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speed of change

Medicine is among the white-collar professions in which artificial intelligence has taken hold, helping clinicians make diagnoses.Ron Chapple/Getty Images

The way artificial intelligence (AI) is moving forward, will there be anything left for people to do in 10 years?

Think about it – while you're still able to think for yourself without asking your phone for instructions. AI, sometimes also called augmented intelligence, is developing at breakneck speed.

In 10 years, "The majority of people will be dipping into AI to go about most of their daily tasks, whether it's at home or at work," says Krista Jones, head of work and learning at Toronto's MaRS Discovery District.

A lot of the AI assistance we will utilize is already available and being used by more and more people now, she says. For example, AI is deployed in "identity management" on many smartphones, tablets and at security gates, allowing users to log in using their fingerprints or eyes instead of passwords.

AI will do much in the next 10 years, Ms. Jones says.

"It will help you get to work, and when you get there you will be using big data analytics to make decisions. It will decide, based on what kind of day you had just before, what you could be doing today. It will present these as choices – perhaps it will already reschedule your appointments," she explains.

The scenario is already quite imaginable. For example, AI might program your driverless car to take you to work or to an appointment, drive home and park for free and then return later to pick you up.

The implications are vast and not always completely understood. For example, it's commonly believed that AI will ease traffic congestion and pollution; now some experts wonder if it will actually lead to less public transit use and make people fatter and out of shape because they don't walk to the bus any more.

AI is already making inroads into work that requires assessment and judgment, such as certain types of law and medical diagnosis. Computers used to be only as smart as the information programmed into their circuits; now they learn to recognize objects and activities through deep learning, and in some cases can perform what experts call "experience-driven sequential decision making" – what most of us would know as thinking.

"When it's used most effectively, you won't even know it's being used. It will be running in the background," says Liam Cheung, chief executive officer at Tactex Asset Management, a Montreal-based company that has developed a financial app called Mylo.

The app goes a step beyond the automatic investing functions of robo-advisors, which absorb huge amounts of financial analysis to buy and sell securities automatically. Mylo founder Philip Barrar explains that the app takes the spare change from any purchase you make – if you allow it – and invests it automatically.

"Then Mylo uses AI to provide personalized insights and recommendations so you can make financial decisions," Mr. Barrar says. For example, it can tell you how much insurance coverage you should have, look for better interest rates on your loans or optimize your travel points, based on the AI embedded in the app and its understanding of the personal information you provide.

While it's still up to individuals to allow AI to know our preferences, AI learns quickly what we like and want – if we let it.

"It automates the actual human process of creating and executing sales campaigns," says Kerry Liu, founder and CEO of Rubikloud, a Toronto company that applies AI to the retail sector.

"Whether it's something as simple as buying three to get the fourth free, or what should I offer a particular customer, AI can already do what now involves the work of half a dozen people. Frankly these tasks are bad things for people to have to do," he says.

"So if I keep offering you shampoo and you never buy it, AI will change that and figure out what to offer you that you will buy – either something more in line with other purchases you make or based on what kinds of shampoo you have bought before."

This will free up actual storekeepers to be able to help customers personally – AI will tell them what the customer really wants.

"Ten years from now it will be crazy to think of a retailer who isn't using AI," Mr. Liu says.

Peoples' personal experiences with their devices will be a lot different in 2027, Mr. Liu also predicts. In 10 years, if we look back to today, "It will be like a decade ago when you'd go to something like Friendster [an early Facebook competitor] and see the same eight or nine people on your screen all the time."

Will what people do change entirely? Both Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Eric Schmidt have predicted that in the next decade, AI will do some things better than humans – but not everything.