In a recent interview of Andrew Ng and Neil Jacobstein on AI, Wall Street Journal reporter Scott Austin claimed that, “artificial intelligence is shaping up as the next industrial revolution, poised to rapidly reinvent business, the global economy and how people work and interact with each other.” Andrew Ng is chief scientist at Chinese internet giant Baidu Inc. and co-founder of the education startup Coursera. Neil Jacobstein is chair of the artificial intelligence and robotics department at Silicon Valley think tank Singularity University.
The pair share several intriguing predictions and insights. Namely, Ng says that “in a few years everyone will be using speech recognition. It will feel natural. You’ll soon forget what it was like before you could talk to computers.”
Speaking to an even larger looming trend of the impact of AI on jobs, Ng claims that, “things may change in the future, but one rule of thumb today is that almost anything that a typical person can do with less than one second of mental thought we can either do now or in the very near future automate with AI.”
If artificial intelligence and machine learning are truly the technologies that will transform business — and society itself — similar to the overwhelming impact the industrial revolution had on the way we work, live and interact with others, what are the most salient trends entrepreneurs should be aware of as they build the coming AI economy?
But, before we dive into a comparison of the industrial revolution and the AI revolution, let’s look at why AI is important.
As David Kelnar, Investment Director and Head of Research at MMC Ventures, explains, AI is important because it tackles profoundly difficult problems, and the solutions to those problems can be applied to sectors important to human well-being — ranging from health, education and commerce to transport, utilities and entertainment. Since the 1950s, AI research has focused on five fields of enquiry:
- Reasoning: the ability to solve problems through logical deduction.
- Knowledge: the ability to represent knowledge about the world (the understanding that there are certain entities, events and situations in the world, those elements have properties; and that those elements can be categorised.)
- Planning: the ability to set and achieve goals (there is a specific future state of the world that is desirable, and sequences of actions can be undertaken that will affect progress towards it.)
- Communication: the ability to understand written and spoken language.
- Perception: the ability to deduce things about the world from visual images, sounds and other sensory inputs.
There are, of course, some critical differences in how the industrial revolution changed the world and how AI will change our society. First, the driver of change is the processing of information, which has been enabled by the rapid incorporation of information technology into our social, work and personal lives. Second, the speed of change will be much faster than the industrial revolution. Whereas before we were speaking about several decades, AI may change some fundamental aspects of our society — such as the division of labour — in as a little as a decade.
So, how exactly will the coming AI revolution change society? And what opportunities do these coming changes present to entrepreneurs?
1. AI Will Help Us Make Smarter Decisions — Faster
One of AI’s primary sources of value creation is the intelligent processing of information. Kelnar claims that AI enables us to do things more intelligently and will yield “humble and historic” benefits. More specifically, AI drives smarter business decisions. MIT’s technology review explains that, “such sophisticated AI systems move beyond the current prescriptive models into augmented intelligence that enhances complex human decision making. Human decisions from the real world, in turn, inform these AI systems and teach them to perform more effectively in the future.”
A technology that can augment, quicken and simplify human decision-making has clear opportunities. Take the finance sector, where the need to make smarter and more accurate decisions is vital. When so much of investment practices and strategies are dependent on more accurate knowledge of the markets, AI’s ability to objectively assess opportunities and demonstrate quantitative prowess can deliver a serious edge to investors.
No doubt that the big players have caught on to AI’s promise of superhuman decision making with Goldman Sachs revealing that it employs more engineers than Facebook.
Practically speaking, using AI and big data is often the equivalent of drawing from a personal team of data scientists who can crunch millions of data points in seconds—at a fraction of the cost.
For many businesses, even if sophisticated forms of AI are not yet an option, there are clear benefits to leveraging existing and readily available machine learning, computer version and natural language processing (NLP) technology to process data smarter and faster. Whether it’s to gain an edge over competitors or to simply provide even better service to existing customers, AI’s support in helping us to make smarter decisions faster is limitless.