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Microsoft: Get ready for the digital alter ego that knows everything about you

Within 20 years, everyone will have a digital assistant that helps them with everyday tasks according to Microsoft executives. Microsoft envisions a world in which daily tasks are handled “automatically” by AI. (kentoh/Getty Images)

Within 20 years, each of us will have a digital assistant — an "alter ego" that knows everything about us and micromanages every facet of our lives, two top Microsoft executives say.

Our alter egos will come in the form of a “digital assistant that really understands you, and with your permission knows everything about you,” Harry Shum, executive vice president of artificial intelligence (AI) and research for Microsoft, told Business Insider.

“"Internally we use the words 'alter ego' — really a second self,” Shum told Business Insider. “I think that a lot of AI capabilities will be developed in 20 years. There's already so much progress with reading and writing, and things like guiding people through solving math equations, and AI will be able to help us do a lot more.”

Microsoft’s voice-controlled digital assistant, Cortana, is built into Windows products and Android, for example. Cortana is also being incorporated into Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa.

What role will Microsoft play?

Shum and Microsoft President Brad Smith want to position Microsoft as the leader in the AI field, according to an interview published by Business Insider.

The two Microsoft executives explain their goals in a new digital book, “The Future Computed.” Among other things, they say they want to "democratize" AI and share what they learn with competitors and the public.

Microsoft envisions a world in which daily tasks are handled “automatically” by AI. This world is billed as a way to free people from repetitive, boring tasks.

“Twenty years from now, what will your morning look like? At Microsoft, we imagine a world where your personal digital assistant Cortana talks with your calendar while you sleep. She works with your other smart devices at home to rouse you at the end of a sleep cycle when it’s easiest to wake and ensures that you have plenty of time to shower, dress, commute and prepare for your first meeting. As you get ready, Cortana reads the latest news, research reports and social media activity based on your current work, interests and tasks, all of which she gleaned from your calendar, meetings, communications, projects and writings. She updates you on the weather, upcoming meetings, the people you will see, and when you should leave home based on traffic projections.”

Shum and Smith say that ethical, legal and privacy ramifications need to be sorted out now, before the technology becomes widely available. Some experts believe the rise of the robots is also a safety concern.

What are the risks?

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said artificial intelligence poses a greater risk to humanity than a nuclear war with North Korea. Musk has also called AI “summoning the demon.”

What about jobs?

Another key concern about AI is whether it will create jobs or destroy them. Shum and Smith admit that no one really knows for sure what will happen as AI takes hold.

“Will AI create more jobs than it will eliminate?" they ask in their book. "Or will it be the other way around? Economic historians have pointed out that each prior industrial revolution created jobs on a net basis. There are many reasons to think this will also be the case with AI, but the truth is that no one has a crystal ball. It’s difficult to predict detailed employment trends with certainty because the impact of new technology on jobs is often indirect and subject to a wide range of interconnected innovations and events.”

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