The AI Platform – will it be the last?

I have been in the tech industry for over 25 years and have witnessed a lot of change in that time. I was early on as the PC era took off. Was on a plane and travelling across the US as the internet era began. Saw mobility revolutionize the way we interact with technology. Social Media become an outlet for finding friends and releasing political angst. Watched everything go digital. Seen the Cloud computing era begin.  All these changes that have transformed society and changed lives and livelihoods.  Changes that have created new market opportunities while generating enormous wealth.  During all this change one thing has been consistent.  We need a platform and we need developers to write applications for the platform.  No developer excitement, no platform excitement equals death.  It has been a constant throughout my journey.

Platforms may best be exemplified by Microsoft Windows.  During the PC era it was Bill Gates who identified the problem and said developers need a common platform to write to.   Prior to Windows we had something developers hate…fragmentation. We had Commodore 64, Tandy, Atari..each with it sown development platform, its own development tool kits, each with fragmented market share. Microsoft bought a simple OS for $50k, called DOS, and the rest history.  Things would change again when we witnessed the birth of the internet and suddenly everything needed to be web enabled.  If it was not enough, Steve Jobs had his grand moment when the iPhone launched and then riding his coattails Google launched Android.  Within a period of a few years every developer was targeting one of two mobile platforms: iOS and Android.  Since that summer of 2007 we have witnessed the birth of Social Networks, like Facebook and Twitter.  The rise of the Cloud has created enormous new opportunities as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google battle it out for dominance.  However the journey maybe coming to is final resolution, to a place that used to be fantasy now approaching reality. As we have built and grown and created enormous amounts of data the Artificial Intelligence platform has emerged as the next great opportunity, the holy grail.

The concept of AI is not new, it was first created at a conference at Dartmouth College in 1956, though we should give a nod to Alan Turing, perhaps the real father of AI.  the sixties and seventies there was a lot of great work done on AI, but something was missing: data.  Sure we had data at the time but not in the terms of gigabytes, terabytes. petabytes, or exabytes.  That would take time and technology.  In today’s world data is no longer an issue, we have lots of data,  The amount of IP traffic per month on the internet is measured in zettabytes (spell check does not even recognize this word).  After the AI winter of the early eighties AI has come back and no longer in fantasy, but in reality.  At some levels it is hard to grasp, after a childhood where AI was limited to science fiction novels and film and never depicted kindly.  I think of films like “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Blade Runner”.  Of a supreme artificial being deciding the fate of mankind.  That dream or nightmare is coming ever closer to reality

Today all the major tech players are investing and investing heavily in AI.  Google CEO Sundar Pichai stated at Google I/O that “we are a AI first company”.  We have Amazon Echo, Google Home and the soon to be released Apple HomePod offering devices that will answer our questions, make musical suggestions.  How long before we start talking of these devices as if they were friends?  The autonomous vehicle is moving along faster than anticipated.  Local municipalities are starting to think of what changes they will need as our roads become transformed into advanced digital networks, taking driving decisions out of our human hands.  When we go online and go to web sites with support questions we will likely begin our journey with a bot,  We have robotic devices getting better each day in cleaning our homes as they gather information about every nook and cranny in a room.  AI is not a trend, but a technology here to stay.

In addition all the big tech players now provide a AI platform that developers will be able to write to and extend.  As the developer community grows the innovations will follow.  What makes AI incredible is it is built on data so as an example you could have a AI device collect information about a specific task and then feed that data back into a larger database, where an algorithm is running and thus improve the performance and results of the initial device.  In a very simple way it has become self learning.  Developer will create new scenarios to address and solve new problems.  We can see this in the Legal field with eDiscovery.  In Product Support services we have seen chat bots become the first line of support.  Though still a bit clunky and frustrating, overtime they will continue to improve and handle deeper and more complicated support issues

There will be other breakthroughs that will speed up the development of a “universal” AI platform.  My big bet will be on Quantum computing.  I will not get into a physics discussion, as I am the last person you want to do this, but the promise of quantum computing will be the death of the traditional silicon-based chip design, while exponentially improving on computational capabilities.  The best example is Shor’s algorithm.  On existing computes would take decades, but if the dream of Quantum Computing is realized could take minutes.  This will create risks as solving Shor’s would result in the breaking of RSA encryption, thus creating a whole new and potentially more lethal form of security risks.

The fear, and there always is a fear with technology disruption, is will we see the death of labor?  As AI improves the field of robotics will I need a maid service?  No more cab drivers.  No long haul truckers to move goods.  The question will become what will humans do?  Time will be freed up in a way it never has been before.  We are on the verge of experiencing a change in human capital that has never occurred before.  You may think than is not happening now but as things move changes will begin to happen much quicker than before.  We will move from years to months to weeks to days and quicker as time never stands still.  It will raise the question can the general population keep up? Could we have a situation like HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, most say it is unlikely but the fact that it is a possibility makes it a bit unnerving.

All along these breakthroughs in AI will continue to improve the platform..on its own. At some point needing no human intervention.  No coders.  No Architects.  No Project or Product Managers.  It is self learning, self-correcting.  With each passing second it improves and becomes more efficient, more stable.  It will need no assistance.  It will move towards perfection in a way humans could never attempt.  There will be no more upgrades let alone someone trying to come up with a new OS.  When quantum computing emerges this self learning will accelerate even faster. In the future will AI need a corporate sponsor like Amazon, Google, or Microsoft or will it move beyond traditional financial structures and corporate domain to be its own entity?  At that moment there will be no AI 2.0 or 3.0.  It will be its own self-fulfilling cycle of improvement serving all or maybe just one: itself.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans  Henrik Hoffmann July 5, 2017


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