Why Disruption and Innovation are coming and you aren’t smart enough to take advantage

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.

Corporate vision beyond
Corporate vision beyond “great customer experience”

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.

Don't cut in front of these robot cars, you jerk
Don’t cut in front of these robot cars, you jerk

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.

We will make the robots do all the Excel and they will never read Buzzfeed
We will make the robots do all the Excel and they will never read Buzzfeed

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.

Gratuitous Cthulu Picture because you may want to get eaten first
Gratuitous Cthulu Picture because you may want to get eaten first

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.

3 thoughts on “Why Disruption and Innovation are coming and you aren’t smart enough to take advantage

  1. You make some interesting assumptions about AGI. Namely that an intelligent system is just a sophisticated ordinary system. Once a system becomes intelligent, why wouldn’t it get bored? Be curious? Demand payment?

    If it is intelligent, it will have a sense of self. Part of having a sense of self is wanting things. When you want something, there are only three ways to get it: Take it from someone else, make it from things you already have, or trade for it. Since we don’t want to train our AIs to be thieves, we’d better strongly enable their ability to trade. This means we’d better give them money. (Of course, an AGI with even a small initial bank account will rapidly have as much money as it wants, as it will be able to leverage various tools to become better than any human day trader.)

    Of course, if we build the AGI to be a pure problem-solver without anything as pesky as emotions or wants, then we can’t become obsolete. Without wants, there is no pressure to truly innovate. An interlocking system of AGIs could work to maximize the efficiency of existing systems. But they would be incapable of anything resembling a paradigm shift. In simplest terms, they would have no imagination.

    I happen to be strong proponent of the view that The Singularity will not be the result of artificial intelligence, but rather of augmented intelligence. That the border between human and machine will become fuzzy, and the distinction between real and virtual irrelevant. Imagine if everyone had Google Glass. Now extend that to Google Glass having a neural interface. You merely have to think of a search term, and Google will return the results. We would literally be online for 100% of our awake time. We could have AGI servants who would manage our routine tasks. We give them real presence through robotics. We eliminate the pesky problems of geographical separation through telepresence. We are able to download physical objects by simply sending the file to our 3-D printer. Our Google Glass would allow us to put a virtual skin over reality, like a Skyrim mod, so that we can see whatever we want to see. Rather than merely watching travel shows, we can pay to get a feed from a professional traveler’s Glass, including full sensory (and possibly even emotional) content.

    Roughly ninety percent of that is possible with currently existing technology. The primary forces stopping it are cost of implementation (Google Glass and 3-D printers are still toys for the rich) and communication speed. Both of which are on rapid slopes to solution.

    This kind of augmented reality in which humans and AGIs develop a symbiotic relationship has a much lower barrier of entry than developing ASIs. It is also far harder to stop. Creating an ASI requires someone specifically setting out to do so. AR is an accumulation of dozens of unrelated technological advancements, each one of which is innocent on its own.

  2. Lugh, thanks for the detailed response.

    You call out an interesting point in that what motivates an AI of any flavour will drive its behaviour, though given our ability to control other intelligences behaviour (i.e. our fellow humans) I’m not sure it will be as easy as you describe.

    Embedding AGI’s into our day to day lives is something I can easily foresee – something for a future post – my general concern is once ASI is out in the wild, our future becomes very unpredictable….

  3. interesting post.

    i too worry about how the abundance of output will be distributed once AI takes off. In my own thoughts, the argument (which you allude to in your post) that those in control/ownership of the AI will have no one to sell their goods to…is a long term argument…the path to get there seems loaded with pain for the “have-nots” (i.e. the 40% of displaced workers).

    You might find the AI-SciFi books by William Hertling interesting…

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