AI — Are humans going to Subdue or Surrender to this new phenomenon?
After abusing the term ‘Innovation’, the world has now found the next big term to start abusing for the next 3–5 years. It is none other than Artificial Intelligence, simply AI. But is AI that new? But before we jump into that question, let us examine what is intelligence and then examine the question above.
Intelligence is about processing the world around us and making decisions. Every living being has intelligence. Be it the tortoise that decides to go inside its shell or the lion that decides to attack a deer or a child crying to inform the parents about her hunger or an adult deciding to go under a shelter when it is raining, intelligence is all about making decisions to survive effectively. Artificial Intelligence is not new. It has been there for a long time and its revolution has been rapid.
Before we talk about Robots and advanced Sci-fi, let’s go back to a simple calculator. Let’s say, I want to calculate what is 118 x 236. I can manually calculate on paper and it will take 3 minutes. If I am running a shop, where I have to calculate such numbers every 5 mins, then there is a serious waste of time. What did human beings do? They created a form called calculator with buttons and programmed simple ‘mathematics’ algorithms into it. So, this form factor called ‘Calculator’ is a machine with intelligence artificially built into it. It cannot input the numbers. It doesn’t know what problems to solve. But it is intelligent enough to solve any addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. So a human can use this artificial intelligence to amplify their intelligence. This artificial intelligence helps humans in their bigger decisions.
So AI is not new. A human can use a machine to enhance the speed of their decisions. A human can give the inputs. The machine will process the inputs and give an output which then can be used by humans. I put clothes inside a washing machine. The machine washes it. I will then use the washed clothes. Similarly, have created numerous machines as simple as calculator to slightly complex machines like TV, Washing Machine, Fridge, Air Conditioning, Telephone, Microwave etc that are loaded with artificial intelligence to solve specific problems around cooling, washing, heating, calculating etc.
None of these machines had ‘insights’ or the ability to process data to form meaningful conclusions which could then drive their decisions. After the advent of the internet, things started to change little bit. Machines and other devices could be made to look intelligent. If you have an outlook, you can create a signature that will send an automatic reply when you are out of office or when you are on holidays. If you are busy at work, I can leave a voice message on your phone. The human computer interaction (HCI) was getting better and better. It was applied in Aeroplanes where the pilot doesnt have to drive the plane but rather the machine programmed its path and humans intervened where it is required. The HCI was getting seamless. We could see that in ATM machines where an interface will greet you or an Amazon website which will make recommendations based on your previous purchase history. But even at this stage, the machine had no insights. It doesn’t have a theory or in simple words, it cannot explain ‘why’ to itself or others.
But a recent NYTimes article ‘One Giant Step for a Chess-Playing Machine’ highlights a huge breakthrough where a machine seems to demonstrate insights. In early December, researchers at DeepMind, the artificial-intelligence company owned by Google’s parent corporation, Alphabet Inc., filed a dispatch from the frontiers of chess.A year earlier, on Dec. 5, 2017, the team had stunned the chess world with its announcement of AlphaZero, a machine-learning algorithm that had mastered not only chess but shogi, or Japanese chess, and Go. The algorithm started with no knowledge of the games beyond their basic rules. It then played against itself millions of times and learned from its mistakes. In a matter of hours, the algorithm became the best player, human or computer, the world has ever seen.
The world of invention and science is all about discovering patterns that have universal appeal or universal truth to put it in extreme words. We all know that deep patterns exist. Humans discovered these patterns to harness electricity, telecommunication signals so on and so forth. Humans have a certain kind of intelligence to help their survival and similarly, every species has developed intelligence that helps their survival. The real possibility is that these machines could harness patterns either riding on the intelligence of different species like how humans did or transcend all these intelligence and generate deep patterns that are available through the permutation and combinations of billions and zillions of particles at the sub atomic level.
Computers were ONLY available to scientists at IBM or at Xerox just a few decades ago. Today, computers have almost reached their saturation point in the human usage and may become extinct in the face of mobile and touch screens. Today’s laptop computer is equivalent or more powerful than many supercomputers of the 70s and 80s. What was PhD level data analysis could be available to a teenager to solve some of his simple day to day problems — restaurant listings or dating girls. What was a historian’s work in a lifetime could be a matter of a day or a month. What a Phd student did in 5–7 years, could be solved in 7 hours. Cancer and other complex diseases could be cured if the algorithms can detect deep patterns and change those growth patterns of the malignant cells.
The next era is like using a rocket to go from Zurich to Geneva or from Chennai to Bangalore. Hyperspeed will be the name of the game. While data will be the new currency that will enrich your material life, time is the currency that will enrich your spiritual life. There will be two skills that will ensure that a human can lead a peaceful and cheerful life that on average will be the longest in the history of humans.
- A human’s ability to slow down and create time for himself will be the most precious skill. When everything is going so fast and so deep, you need to take deep restful breaks on a daily basis. Humans may have to sleep and rest longer.
- A human’s ability to control the ego. Machines may overtake our intelligence. A strategy consultant of tomorrow may be the equivalent of a call center executive of today.
How we slow us down and how we become self aware to control our ego will become the cornerstone of a healthy, progressive and cheerful life in this new world of Artificial Intelligence.