Ponderings on the Future

We hear more and more about AI these days as neural networks and cognitive learning systems go mainstream. Massive emerging market tailwinds are pushing product and systems development and driving revolutionary technological breakthroughs at an increasing frequency.    The race is on.   Google, Tesla, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Baidu, IBM, Intel, NVidia, AMD, Samsung, MIT and DARPA to name just a few, are investing billions into hardware and software development efforts.   Smarter commercial and military applications are fielded on a regular basis.   We do indeed live in interesting and fascinating times.

There are plenty of technical journals, papers, and articles on AI’s current and projected progress so no need to spend a great deal of time here on the specifics of AI’s development status and projected trends.  If you would like a crash course written in laymen’s language I would highly recommend Thomas Friedman’s recent book “Thank-you for Being Late”.

A recent significant AI milestone worthy of note was made by Google’s development team where their latest AI system has been able to generate (write) its own neural network algorithm layers to increase its learning capability about its surrounding environment.    This self-generating code achievement is not new. The milestone was that after review, the development team concluded the resulting self-generated code is as good, if not better, than what human counterparts could create.   AI improved itself.  This new process is called AutoML.

The AI system is creating its own self-improvement and future optimization path without the need for human intervention.  This is fascinating when you think it through. Especially if you have a basic understanding of how software has worked and was written in the recent past.   It might be time for AI to attend an Anthony Robbins retreat to ensure it fully understands its purpose. There are, of course, engineering issues relating to process efficiency and computational power required, but these will be overcome.     There are interesting and compelling outcomes from this recent milestone, but for the sake of this article we won’t go into those now, maybe in future posts.

With all these leap frogging breakthroughs now and to come, what next?   The train has now left the proverbial station and its ultimate destination unknown.  This has always been true with technological innovation and breakthroughs. How products are used and how they impact societal behavior is never completely known until it happens.   Who knew in February 2004 that in 2017 a large portion of global society would check Facebook first thing in the morning before they even deal with baser bodily functions.

No one could have predicted the enormity of its implementation.  This tremendous outcome, and numerous others, are what fuels todays AI development tailwinds.   The pace and scope of social and economic impact will be faster and broader this time around.  If you’re more conspiratorial in nature, the genie is out of the bottle and it’s just stretching it arms.  I’m still on the fence whether it’s a Terminator or Utopian future.

The key words in this evolutionary step are speed and scope.   It has been 13 years since Facebook’s launch and 17 years since the first Ericsson R380 smartphone was released.  We have adapted and changed our behaviors to utilize emerging technologies and in most cases, improve our capabilities.    Up to this point, we have generally had the time to learn and adapt as individuals and as a society.   Some would argue we are more efficient, others would say more distracted.

The emergence of AI and its flow down breakthroughs will move faster and impact more societal activities quicker than we can imagine. Of that there is no discourse. This is not a run for the hills and KYAG (acronym incorporated for those more sensitive) social commentary. It’s merely saying that things are going to change, and they will change rapidly and enough that this evolutionary step may be quite traumatic to a very large swath of humanity.  It will be awesome, of that there is no doubt.   Awesome like utopia or awesome like the Matrix is a matter of opinion.

Societal plans and communications should start to be explored and defined as portions of the near future (5 to 10 years) clarify.   Like past revolutions, the speed and scope will most likely have the general population restless and anxiety filled, but more amplified than the past.  Humanity is quite exceptional at adapting, if given some guidelines and direction.  Without those, humanity can react in quite unpredictable and volatile ways.   The current political divisions we observe here in the US are an example of how some people can become quite unhinged when feeling slighted or left behind.

The industrial revolution transformed the way society lived, worked, and played, took years to develop and decades to evolve.   The digital revolution transformed life in exceptional and optimizing ways.  We can tackle more complex problems and produce goods more efficiently. We have greater information and resources at our fingertips.  We have more powerful tools to help solve more complex problems.

The AI revolution may be one of replacement.  Our new systems will not just help us solve problems, but completely solve them for us.  Our required knowledge will become insignificant when compared with the massively shared neural network systems able to incorporate and process cumulative global knowledge, and develop solutions based on this knowledge in seconds.  Continuing to learn and grow at increasing scales along the way.  Automation in manufacturing will allow whatever humans or AI can dream up to be produced almost instantaneously without long lead tooling or factory development.  Compelling to say the least. It will be exciting, challenging, awe inspiring, and a bit scary all at the same time.  I personally am incredibly curious about what will unfold in the years ahead, and more than a bit anxious as well.

It may be awhile before significant socioeconomic changes occur.  But that “awhile” is shortening.  Recent articles keep pushing the “significant impact” time frames forward. Once again, this is not a run for the hills social commentary, but it would be unwise not to start to plan for this new future we all will get to experience.  Like always, we will adapt, but as humans we need time, direction, and vision to motivate us to make these changes.   What are organizations or agencies doing to plan for these eventual shifts? At this point, it seems the primary voices we hear are those of leaders involved with the new revolution who are providing siren calls of not so slightly vailed warnings about the system capabilities they are creating and what the social impacts may be.    Is it time to start listening more thoughtfully and take their inputs more to heart? The answer is obviously yes.  These brilliant men and woman are leading the cutting edge of this next revolution.   Their exceptional intellect and foresight allows them to do just that.  Their humanity also allows them to understand that the tailwinds are strong, and we would be wise to plan for the social headwinds of change in the future.

Upcoming thought experiments.

·     Who are the big players in the AI revolution?

·     Places to invest and possibly make some money from this new trend?

·     What are some of the key things we should start thinking about for the next 5, 10, 15 years.

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