Artificial intelligence is one of the hottest fields in modern technology. Computing power has finally reached a point where AI can be taken out of sci-fi movies and into real life.

In fact, you’re probably interacting with some form of artificial intelligence nearly every day. It powers those amazingly accurate Netflix recommendations, as well as personalized search results when you type something into Google. While still in its infancy, AI is slowly seeping into our daily lives.

But AI has the power to do more — much more — than recommend which TV show to binge next. In the coming years and decades, AI applications promise to transform the lives of citizens across the globe.
Here are some of the key ways AI technology will shape the future, and how it will not only provide super-cool gadgets, but improve the quality of life for all of us:

Autonomous cars

According to BI Intelligence, there will be 10 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020. Many cars already on the road today have self-driving features, such as self-parking or automatically breaking when sensing an obstacle nearby.

AI technology will be critical to the success of autonomous vehicles (AVs). Cars will need to react to new situations as they arise on the road, not only similar to a human, but better than a human. And unlike humans, autonomous cars can immediately share their learnings with other connected cars.

With powerful AI taking the proverbial (and literal) wheel, researchers believe that eventually AVs will be 90 percent safer than human drivers. With around 40,000 deaths involving motor vehicle accidents per year in the U.S., this life-saving tech can’t come soon enough.

Beyond increasing general public safety, AVs will improve the quality of life for people who otherwise might not be able to drive, such as the elderly or those with certain disabilities. For a blind person to take a solo trip via public transportation today requires a tremendous amount of planning. With AVs on the road, someone who is visually impaired could simply speak into their phone or other device, hail a ride and get to their destination.

Ending poverty

The same technology serving up personalized ads on your Facebook page may also hold the key to ending widespread poverty. One of the biggest problems in fighting poverty is simply knowing where it occurs. In countries like the U.S., there are surveys and census data that help to spot poor areas, but gathering that type of data is prohibitively slow and difficult in underdeveloped countries.

Cue AI.

An economist at Stanford, Marshal Burke, began experimenting with letting AI figure out where the highest levels of poverty exist. His team had already been using nighttime satellite imagery to look for areas with high levels of poverty, with the notion that areas with lots of light activity at night correlate to economic activity. Areas where they knew people live but were dark at night were potentially poverty-stricken. But there were still many gaps in their data collection.

The answer? They fed a computer program satellite images from underdeveloped nations in Africa and instructed it to look for signs of economic activity during both daytime and nighttime. The program began picking up on clues that the researchers would never have even noticed, like agricultural regions, bodies of water and other patterns that the human eye never would have caught. The model proved to be 81-99 percent more effective at predicting areas of poverty than their previous data collection method.

AI not only holds the power to collect data better and faster than humans, but to organize and analyze it and spot trends. Humans still have to take the next step of creating policies and processes based on what the data says, but with AI doing the dirty work, humans have much more time and resources to spend on actually solving the problems behind poverty.

Even in the U.S., collecting census data can be costly and time consuming. With AI performing more tasks and sorting through the data, municipalities can create recommended actions much faster and get help to people who need it.

In the U.S., there is a growing gap between high-school graduation and college enrollment rates among rural and urban students. As of early 2018, teachers have gone on strike in at least three states due to textbook shortages, dilapidated facilities and stagnant wages.

Artificial intelligence could hold the key to relieving the burden on teachers today, while increasing access to a meaningful education for students. Rural students who are underserved could utilize AI programs to complete certain learning courses. Imagine a young child who lives on an isolated farm with their parents who must help with the daily demands of the family farm. Simply getting to school is a challenge for a child in this situation, and access to high-speed internet may also be a problem. What if the state could deliver a device with AI education software already installed? This immediately eliminates many of the obstacles for the child and ensures they will receive an education on-par with other children their age in urban areas.

Personalized learning also becomes much more possible.  As points out, “custom tailored education could be a machine-assisted solution to helping students at different levels work together in one classroom, with teachers facilitating the learning and offering help and support when needed.” Adaptive learning is already showing signs of improved outcomes for students, and AI would be able to learn students’ unique learning processes and tailor curricula for them on a granular level that a teacher would never have the time for.

Some tasks might be able to be automated, like grading a spelling test, with AI in the classroom. This would free up teachers and resources to focus on other important tasks. And with AI-powered energy monitoring, school districts could see enormous savings, meaning they can put that money towards teacher salaries and better school supplies.

The biggest bang for your buck

While some of these applications for artificial intelligence might seem far off, many of them are actually already being implemented. But it’s still early, and now is the time to ensure investments are made in areas where this technology can have the biggest impact.

As Joseph Bennington-Castro puts it, writing for NBC News, “whatever AI tools governments, policy makers, and humanitarian organizations use, it’s important to implement the technologies where they’ll do the most good.”