For years we have witnessed the elevation of computing and technology. From boxy television-sized computer screens to sleek vivid colored flat screens, we have seen technology improve in more ways than one. At the top of the trend is what economists call general-purpose technologies — this is categorized as electricity, steam engines and the internal combustion engine. Each of which complements innovation and opportunity. The internal combustion engine, for example, gave rise to cars, trucks, airplanes, chainsaws, and lawnmowers, along with big-box retailers, shopping centers, cross-docking warehouses, new supply chains, and, when you think about it, suburbs. Diversified companies including Walmart, UPS, and Uber are constantly finding ways to leverage the technology to create profit.
The latest to hit the wave of general-purpose technology is artificial intelligence (AI). Remember the movies iRobot, Ex Machina and the slew of other movies fantasizing human-like machines walking the earth? This idea isn’t as far-fetched as we believed years ago. Specifically, technologists are focused on machine learning (ML), this is the brain of the robot. ML is the machine’s ability to keep improving its performance without humans having to explain exactly how to accomplish all the tasks it’s given. Within the past few years the effectiveness of machine learning has become so high-tech we can now build systems that have the ability to learn how to perform tasks on their own.
The most fascinating thing about this is the “how”. As humans, we can’t always tell how we are able to do something. Some things are just second nature, from recognizing a familiar face to making a move in a game. So how can a machine take the place of good old common sense? That’s easy, innovation. In the beginning, ML didn’t have the ability to automate tasks. Now, instead of learning from machines, the machines have become the learners. They can achieve superhuman performance in a wide range of activities, including detecting fraud and diagnosing disease. Excellent digital learners are being deployed across the world and their impact will be profound.
So where does that leave us? Many believe with fewer jobs and less human to human contact. Let’s use our devices for example. Although the voice recognition is still a little rusty Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant can still help you in a flash. “Hey Siri, what is the score of the game?” We don’t have to look everything up on our own, we can just ask our AI. This microwavable generation now has the ability to dictate to a computer the words to use instead of actually typing. We can check ourselves out at the grocery store, let the car drive us around (think of Tesla) and order food in a drive through without actually speaking to a human.
Above all, the most shocking thing to me is that AI or ML has made it possible for even the loneliest individual to find, or I should say purchase, companionship. Who would have thought in a million years? Well hey, it’s technology and it is always advancing.