AI has got a pulse. What took so long, and why should you care ?

Tim Montgomery, President, TIMIT SOLUTIONSWith the entire craze for organic it’s ironic how exciting ‘artificial’ is when it comes to IT. You know it by AI; or Artificial Intelligence. I recall vividly my first exposure to AI. It was a lecture given by a brilliant young woman from GE who had just completed a six-month AI program at DEC (for the younger crowd, that was Digital Equipment Corporation.) That was 1991. First let's take a retrospective look at AI. With technology moving so fast today, we can hardly keep up. Why did it take so long for AI to become something everyone understands and is excited about? Let me suggest a few reasons.

One reason AI has evolved over decades is tied to the processing power of CPUs. Circa 1990 the only ‘massive computing power’ that comes to mind was that of Cray. Today, we have the luxury of having this type of computing power in our back pocket on our mobile device. Another factor is the evolution of our data networks. In a few short decades, we’ve gone from 300-baud modems to unlimited bandwidth - Tom Peters forecasted this at least a decade ago. Coding maturity was another factor. By today’s standards, the migration was slow from the early, effort-intensive Machine Code (yes, true 0s and 1s) and Assembler to structured languages like COBOL and 4GLs, and eventually to open source and a plethora of development languages and methods. The advent of open source software, REST APIs and extremely easy to use Content Management Systems(CMS)and admin panels have enabled even the novice to develop websites, and with a bit of coding knowledge even apps.

The correlation between the lack of understanding of AI and trust, and a slow adoption rate of commercial AI applications also played a factor. The manufacturing industry took time to couple the architecture and design of AI applications with manufacturing operations and the equipment necessary to make it all work. But these factors only slowed the inevitable value realization of AI. Leaping forward to today, AI is a key ingredient driving innovation of
process automation, robotics and convergence across IoT. We can think of AI’s vertebrae to include essentials of unlimited bandwidth, on-demand computing and storage, big data, advanced data science, and sensors and edge technology. Example influences of AI include driverless vehicles, automated machine response, machine learning, and things like Augmented and Virtual Reality, and Blockchain. All of these in some way are enabled by, accelerated by, or enhanced by AI. Just look at how Airbnb is betting big on AI to accelerate turning ideas into products. Benjamin Wilkins, Airbnb’s design technology lead, was quoted by author Dimitar 'Mix'Mihov in Artificial Intelligence, as stating ‘The time required to test an idea should be zero’. This aligns with the mantra to 'fail fast' and the renewed quest for speed with no limits.

The internet and now IoT have forced integration across cultures and diverse thought and reason. Sometimes resulting in a positive outcome and other times not so much

So what’s next? What will it mean for you, our culture and our world? For you/us, more and more of what can be performed by a machine will be done for us. We will become more dependent on, and benefited by AI applications that take care of the mundane, and that ‘take care’ of us. For tech developers, AI will continue to increase demand for you to leverage AI, and accelerate the application of AI in business and in our personal lives. One example of how AI may ‘take care’ of us was given in a talk I attended by GE’s Michael Leckie where AI - coupled with automation - takes over after a vehicle accident so everything from emergency services to auto repair are triggered automatically for the driver (and maybe passengers as well). Regarding what effect AI could have on culture, I like to think cultural norms have evolved since about the time the earth cooled. The internet and now IoT have forced integration across cultures and diverse thought & reason, sometimes resulting in a positive outcome and other times not so much. AI introduces a new dimension to how this all plays out going forward. Where AI ‘takes over’ decision-making could this set a baseline understanding of acceptable societal norms? Over time, it is curious how this may influence diverse mores and folkways as it relates to how humans interact with intelligent ‘non-humans’. Take a read of Eric Ries’s ‘The Startup Way’ to see how company cultures change based on what is seen to be successful. When people see AI in a positive light, this can change the way people think and act in response. At what point does artificial intelligence trump your own, or human intelligence? How do we control the outcomes to keep a balance between positive, valued outcomes and any down sides?

As any major advance in technology, AI will also affect our world at large. Our world can be a better place if the application of AI, and related innovations, work to promote good and sustenance of our earth and our humanity. Innovation often comes in the form of a double-edged sword. The integrity of which we collectively cultivate AI and its application will determine how much of a positive aspect AI will have. It is no doubt each one of us has a role to play. The question is how will you help to drive positive outcomes?