The fundamental point of this ramble is this – most of you worrying about Disruption and Innovation have literally no idea what is round the corner and all your efforts are a probably an epic waste of time. Yes, this is a “the machines are coming!” post.
To give a little human context, on Friday Night after a couple of decent glasses of Red I got into a discussion with the BI Monkey’s other half about how her employer was chasing innovative customer experiences, vision and so forth. This set me off on a bit of a tangent on the scale of Corporate Vision as earlier in the day I have been reading about Elon Musk’s vision to get humanity to Mars, which eats most corporate visions for breakfast in terms of sheer breadth of ambition and scope. On the way got side tracked into AI (due to reading this earlier in the day). These coalesced over the weekend into this slightly rambling post.
One point which I will totally fail to address but want to think more about is – if we create a true intelligence – why is is Artificial?
Disruption and Innovation you are (possibly) smart enough for
There are three rough classes of AI. The first of which is Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI). Which means smart, but within very narrow boundaries. For example, my car has adaptive cruise control and though some tech voodoo is smart enough to be able to match its speed with the vehicle in front, apply emergency braking if needed and warn me if I stray out of lane. This is all very spooky on the first use but very quickly becomes something to switch on by default as I realise the car pays more attention to traffic than I do. Note I am not one of the majority of drivers who think they are better than average – I am definitely not that great and would rather a robot was in charge. Driving is hard and stressful, especially on busy roads (long country drives are a different story).
Anyway, the point is that the car is a way better driver than me, it’s smart, attentive, doesn’t get annoyed by the jerk in front cutting in and has absolutely no understanding of why it is going where it is going, what a sandwich is or how to play chess. It has a Narrow focus and is unlikely to move out from those guide rails.
This form of AI can be disruptive as we understand it. Truly autonomous vehicles are going to disrupt our economy like you wouldn’t believe and we are less than 10 years away from it now (Volvo have just stepped up and said they will accept liability if their self driving cars crash). Innovations like Uber’s approach will leverage these disruptions.
What I will gloss over here is that this class of Disruption is going to hammer the economy by removing about 40% of jobs, and if you aren’t in a role leading the disruption in those 40% of jobs, you’d better retrain. A lot of the Disruption/Innovation axis cheerleaders like to skip over the fact that the massive improvements for customers will unfortunately remove the ability for a lot of those customers to actually earn anything, but hey ho. We can always hope for a Universal Basic Income, as per Steven Hawkings observation that one of the big future problems we face is not the lack of jobs but how the balance of power in society alters once most of us are no longer capable of adding any value to the economy.
Disruption you are probably too dumb for
ANI however is a limited threat as it still needs a lot of help from us humans to be designed, given a purpose and boundaries, yadda yadda. At some point – currently estimated at around 2040 (give or take 10 years) – we will create our first Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). Which is AI that can learn, set its own boundaries, solve general problems and no longer need handholding by us. At this point you can pretty much forget Innovation. The machines will largely be better at solving problems than us. Our best bet is that we can at least ask the right questions and still get some answers that a standalone intelligence cannot pose or use by itself.
The Disruption that is caused by the ability for us as a species to create an on-demand intellect to address problems will be that – as an economic resource – our value will plummet. A machine intelligence will be able to answer thousands of questions at once, have perfect recall and access to more data than we can hope to ingest in our lifetime and – best of all from an economic perspective – will have marginal input costs (it won’t need pay for a start) and no issues with motivation.
There will be a brief burst of innovations as people pose interesting problems to these new intelligences and apply the solutions, but try having competitive advantage when you can ask your AI how their AI solved a problem and you get an answer in seconds. R&D lag is gone, specialist expertise and accumulated experience is rendered worthless.
Then of course these AGI’s will take the next step.
The Disruption which will make your Innovation irrelevant
The next step in the scale is Artificial Superior Intelligence (ASI). This is where an AGI is smart enough to make its self smarter and exceeds our intelligence altogether at a point known as The Singularity. At this point all bets are off. The ASI will be able to solve any problem we throw at it, create and solve new ones we weren’t even aware of and either drive us to extinction or gently herd us into the future in ways that will boggle our tiny little minds. The economy as we understand it will cease to be relevant so at least you won’t have to worry about your job.
So, we have to hope that we get Multivac or The Culture. The alternative is less about the ASI being hostile, and more about it being as indifferent to us as we are to a microbe. We may not consciously set out to destroy a microbe, but we may do so through our actions because we do not consider the microbe as we act.
Are we all going to die, BI Monkey? What should we do?
The safest course of action is to transfer all your money to me immediately and … I haven’t thought about step 2. Perhaps take more of an interest in this subject so we can be better prepared for the coming changes. We still have 20 years to Disrupt and Innovate like it matters in the meantime.