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Artificial intelligence, automated cars and the “Internet of Things” expected to drastically change lives

Stouffville Sun-Tribune
March 10, 2017
By Ali Raza

Imagine it’s the year 2030. You just got off the train at the Richmond Hill GO station, it’s raining and you need to get home.

As you exit the station, an automated car waits for you – having already detected your arrival through the GPS on your smartphone.

You take a seat in the car and off it goes – controlled by artificial intelligence (AI) – to drop you off home. The car reads body temperature data from your smartphone and automatically adjusts temperature.

“We’re building a planet-sized machine and we’ll be connected to it,” said Stephen Chen, a professor in the School of Information Technology at York University.

“We’re building a planet-sized machine and we’ll be connected to it,” said Stephen Chen.

This is a small preview of the big changes in technology experts believe will change the lives of Canadians in the coming decades.

“I have a daughter close to two years old,” Chen said. “I don’t think she’ll ever learn to drive, I think autonomous vehicles will take over in five to 10 years.”

AI, Chen says, is becoming increasingly reliable. Human intelligence and machine intelligence is quickly becoming the same thing.

“If we banned human drivers today the world would instantly be a safer place,” he said. “That’s with today’s technology, let alone the technology we’ll have in the future.

He gives as an example Google’s AI, which beat a human in the strategy board game Go.

“It learned on its own,” Chen said. After playing Go against itself repeatedly, Google’s AI effectively taught itself out to play the game.

Rapid advancement in AI will only make automated vehicles safer and more efficient, Chen says.

IBM Canada senior executive Michael J. Martin says automated vehicles and the “Internet of Things” can help York Region face its transportation and population challenges. In 2015, York Region’s population was 1.5 million, by 2041 it’s expected to 2.13 million.

The “Internet of Things” describes how everyday objects will be connected and constantly sharing data with each other. It’s how your future smartphone will “speak” to your future automated vehicle, but the possibilities are limitless.

Martin explained that sensors on power lines – for example – would share data to the cloud, informing the power company of a sagged or damaged line immediately and electricity could be deferred to another line to prevent an outage.

“We could see even millions of these sensors spread throughout York Region,” Martin said.

Sensors and other “Internet of Things” tech can also be used to create “smarter” cities. Martin thinks instead of having several stand-alone systems – one for electricity, one for roads, etc. – that a smarter city would have all its city resources on one shared network that shares data dynamically in real-time.

Chen offered another instance using renewable energy.

For example, a washing machine runs on a duty cycle, with most power being available during evenings. With solar or wind power, washing machines, refrigerators and other appliances would automatically detect periods of high sunshine or high winds and collect power dynamically instead of on a fixed cycle.

All these advancements will cause “job destruction”, Chen says. Indeed, automation – not globalization – is why Chen believes we’ve already seen job losses. A challenge, he says, for which Canada must prepare.

Ali Raza is the reporter for the Stouffville Sun-Tribune. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter and the Stouffville Sun-Tribune on Facebook.