Two years ago, I felt the need to update my own understanding regarding digital technology and the IT industry. I keep offering my 25-years point of view to businesspeople in a masterclass and it was maybe lacking some key points regarding “AI” (by “AI” I mean Artificial Intelligence).
I guess this sense of vacuum was watered by the reading of Yuval Noah Harari’s trilogy and his obsessive signaling of AI as the number one threat that we humanity face. At that time, the seeds of curiosity where already planted by two important movies that I enjoyed in 2014: Her and Transcendence.
Of course, my curiosity is not an easy one. I started in the digital industry in 1993 and I do not have much time neither patience for vaporware neither technology flashes, that orchestra of people overselling technology and its thousand naïve, isolated pitches. This maybe because I fully recognize that Amara’s Law is one of the particularly important rules of the industry: “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”. Last times that I made some similar efforts were with the arrival of smartphones and social networks in 2008, which I fully understood as a big inflection point; and with the irruption of sales pitches around blockchain and bitcoin in 2016, which I felt annoying and confusing.
So, this 2019, somehow, two opposite industry forces got my attention. On one hand, YouTube released a series of documentaries by the name of The Age of AI which fully opened my eyes and helped separating the wheat from the chaff. On the other hand, I found about Tristan Harris and his Center for Humane Technology, which I felt as nicely embodying my own journey and my own worries. One year later, the documentary The Social Dilemma was released. Both happenings feed up my curiosity and kicked off my will to better understand the state of the art of the industry as a whole and that of AI in specific. By the way, I strongly recommend these documentaries to you.
Following my rule of three, I chose three books. Finally, they resulted in three plus one. I felt to start by reading again a novel that would help to reframe the situation with some sweetness and magic. So, these were my choices. In total, four books, more than 1.500 pages with hundreds of margin notes and underlines, and lots of side reading and watching to deepen in those concepts, people and companies that were flowing in front of me:
- Origin, by Dan Brown (545 pages)
- The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, by Shoshana Zuboff (535 pages)
- AI Superpowers, by Kai-Fu Lee (232 pages)
- Life 3.0, by Max Tegmark (335 pages)
Although the reading happened sequentially, the learnings aligned up in my mind with its own life. Let me invite them to come.
About Artifitial Intelligence (AI)
AI is arriving in waves. I like this approach as it fits nicely with the digital tsunami concept and the convenience of understanding entrepreneurs and startups as surfers on their boards. I also like to think them as streams feeding a river. They are not meant to be sequential neither watertight but just an easy way to understand the unfolding of breadth and depth in AI. The first four come from Kai-Fu Lee and the last two come from Max Tegmark. Here they are:
- Internet AI
- Business AI
- Perception AI
- Autonomous AI
- Artificial General Intelligence
It helps to understand that they are nested so 6 includes all other five; then, 5 includes all other four; and so on.
It also helps to recognize that it is mainly about innovation in digital technology. I mean innovation in software which happens also because there is big innovation in hardware and peripherals. The software part is the code, the programming from simple apps to complex algorithms with all the big data and the machine learning around. The hardware keeps focusing on processing power, storage and communications bandwidth and speed from your pocket smartphone up to datacenters with hundreds-of-thousands of servers. The peripherals’ part is the interaction with the real world, both input and output, with all kinds of devices, from gadgets up to robotics and autonomous machines (like cars and drones).
Additionally, it helps to remind that AI is digital, so it keeps building on the digital strategy and infrastructure that we use to articulate as “any time, any place, any device, any person, and any happening”. However, at this point it is important that AI broad intention is full autonomy and automation which means to operate without any person at all, which you can easily imagine already how big and deep the impact will be.
Lastly, it helps to notice that AI is the very sophisticated, complex frontline of digital innovation. This is important because AI is very demanding of top-level talent and financing, which is provoking that AI is currently concentrated around the two leading global technology hubs, that of the West and that of the East:
- West means USA means Silicon Valley (also East Coast) means the big five corporate ecosystems: Google/Alphabet, facebook, amazon, Microsoft, and Apple.
- East means China means Shenzhen but also Beijing and other top cities means big groups like Tencent, Alibaba, TSMC and some other regional players.
At this point, as a step into real life, I invite you to tour around the headquarters of «the five big» in the West so you can embody «that» which we are talking about. These are the links for the tour at Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon. Additionally, it maybe help to check the current ranking of the most valuable companies in the world. With this tour and this checking, my hope is that you could feel the «push forward» that comes from the current strength of these corporations and the commitment coming from all their executives, managers, and employees.
If you are not in the high-tech industry, and 99.9% of we humans are not, you should consider all those companies as the new big, multi-head dragon that you must know and with whom you must learn to live with in order to survive and thrive in the world to come.
Just in case, I would like to clarify that technology (as we know it nowadays) has plenty of «theoretical» space and room for improvement. From a physics perspective, there are not known limits for it so it will keep growing and improving at high (exponential) speed. Moore’s Law will work for years to come so we expect power and capacity to double and price to divide by two on a continuous basis.
The second part of this post will explore the different AI waves deeper while addtion a reflection about AI impact in the economy and in the military.