We are on the cusp of the AI revo­lu­tion

China Daily (Canada) - - VIEW -

Over the last 30 years, consumers have reaped the ben­e­fits of dra­matic tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances. In many coun­tries, most peo­ple now have in their pock­ets a per­sonal com­puter more pow­er­ful than the main­frames of the 1980s. The Atari 800XL com­puter that I de­vel­oped games on when I was in high school was pow­ered by a mi­cro­pro­ces­sor with 3,500 tran­sis­tors; the com­puter run­ning on my iPhone to­day has 2 billion tran­sis­tors.

Even with these mas­sive gains, we can ex­pect still faster progress, as the en­tire planet – peo­ple and things – be­comes con­nected. Al­ready, 5 billion peo­ple have ac­cess to a mo­bile de­vice, and more than 3 billion peo­ple can ac­cess the in­ter­net. In the com­ing years, 50 billion things – from light bulbs to re­frig­er­a­tors, roads, cloth­ing, and more – will be con­nected to the in­ter­net as well.

Ev­ery gen­er­a­tion or so, emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies con­verge, and some­thing revo­lu­tion­ary oc­curs.

Nowwe are on the cusp of another ma­jor con­ver­gence: big data, ma­chine learn­ing, and in­creased com­put­ing power will soon make ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence ubiq­ui­tous.

AI fol­lows Al­bert Ein­stein’s dic­tum that ge­nius ren­ders sim­plic­ity from com­plex­ity. So, as the world it­self be­comes more com­plex, AI will be­come the defin­ing tech­nol­ogy of the 21st cen­tury, just as the mi­cro­pro­ces­sor was of the 20th cen­tury.

Consumers al­ready en­counter AI on a daily ba­sis. Google uses ma­chine learn­ing to au­to­com­plete search queries and of­ten ac­cu­rately pre­dict what some­one is look­ing for. Facebook and Ama­zon use pre­dic­tive al­go­rithms to make rec­om­men­da­tions based on a user’s read­ing or pur­chas­ing his­tory.

AI is also the cen­tral com­po­nent in self-driv­ing cars and in game-play­ing sys­tems such as Google Deep­Mind’s Al­phaGo.

Given the wide ap­pli­ca­tions of AI, all com­pa­nies to­day face an im­per­a­tive to in­te­grate it into their prod­ucts and ser­vices; oth­er­wise, they will not be able to com­pete with com­pa­nies that are us­ing data-col­lec­tion net­works to im­prove cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ences and in­form busi­ness de­ci­sions. The next gen­er­a­tion of consumers will have grown up with dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies and will ex­pect com­pa­nies to an­tic­i­pate their needs and pro­vide in­stant, per­son­al­ized re­sponses to any query.

So far, AI has been too costly or com­plex for many busi­nesses to make op­ti­mal use of it. It can be dif­fi­cult to in­te­grate into a busi­ness’s ex­ist­ing op­er­a­tions, and his­tor­i­cally it has re­quired highly skilled data sci­en­tists. As a re­sult, many busi­nesses still make im­por­tant de­ci­sions based on in­stinct in­stead of in­for­ma­tion.

This will change in the next few years, as AI be­comes more per­va­sive.

But to de­ploy AI ef­fec­tively, com­pa­nies will need to keep pri­vacy and se­cu­rity in mind. Be­cause AI is fu­eled by data, the more data the ma­chine gains about an in­di­vid­ual, the bet­ter it can pre­dict their needs and act on their be­half. But, of course, that mas­sive flow of per­sonal data could be ap­pro­pri­ated in ways that breach trust. Com­pa­nies will have to be trans­par­ent about how they use peo­ple’s per­sonal data. AI can also be used to de­tect and de­fend against dig­i­tal se­cu­rity breaches, and will play a crit­i­cal role in pro­tect­ing user pri­vacy and build­ing trust.

As in past pe­ri­ods of eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion, AI will un­leash newlevels of pro­duc­tiv­ity, aug­ment our per­sonal and pro­fes­sional lives, and pose ex­is­ten­tial ques­tions about the age-old re­la­tion­ship be­tween man and ma­chine. It will dis­rupt in­dus­tries and dis­lo­cate work­ers as it au­to­mates more tasks. But just as the in­ter­net did 20 years ago, AI will also im­prove ex­ist­ing jobs and spawn newones. We should ex­pect this and adapt ac­cord­ingly by pro­vid­ing train­ing for the jobs of to­mor­row, as well as safety nets for those who fall be­hind.

AI is still a long way from sur­pass­ing hu­man in­tel­li­gence. But we can count on AI be­com­ing like elec­tric­ity – in­vis­i­ble and aug­ment­ing al­most ev­ery part of our lives.

The author is CEO of Sales­force, a cloud com­put­ing com­pany. Pro­ject Syn­di­cate


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