Artificial Intelligence — it’s in the enterprise, your car, your phone … your bloodstream

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has not arrived in the form of a robotic super race or the disembodied monotone voice of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey — instead, it’s in our smartphones, Google’s robots, driverless cars, and the decision engines that drive ad servers. It’s also in enterprise, although to most of us it looks a lot more like automation and analytics than AI.

While AI is proving pretty useful, and business leaders are beginning to grasp the immense potential of “smart” machines and other innovations as catalysts for greater efficiency and competitiveness, we are not yet very far advanced on the AI front. That is set to change, though. And quite rapidly if futurists like Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology are to be believed.

What, exactly, is AI?

Think of it this way: First, technology helped us gather management information to improve decision-making. Next, analytics helped us cut and dice information, giving us greater insight and new perspectives to help us think differently and identify new opportunities. AI takes a leap forward, automating decision-making and continuously improving its decisions through its capacity to learn, identify patterns, and more.

There is money to be made and advantage to be gained. The dollars tell a compelling story. By 2019, the global market for content analytics, discovery and cognitive systems software is projected to reach $9.2 billion, according to IDC, more than double that of 2014. But that is tame compared to what potentially awaits us.

Companies like cell phone providers and banks are using decision engines driven by smart algorithms to aggregate customer information (e.g., history, behaviour, spend) and personalise offers. Retailers use fancy algorithms to restock their shelves — better than any merchandiser could. And companies like TransUnion are helping clients leverage data from multiple databases to identify credit risk and fraud. This is smart technology at work and its transforming how businesses operate.

But every single example of AI mentioned so far, even the self-driving car, is a product of artificial narrow intelligence (ANI), intelligence focussed in a single area — the lowest rung of AI.

From ANI to ASI

Each bit of ANI leads us to the next step (and we are not there yet), namely artificial general intelligence (AGI), an intelligence that can reason, plan, grasp complex ideas and learn as easily and well as you can — without tiring. Last comes artificial super intelligence (ASI), an intelligence so advanced it’s hard for humans to comprehend.

As Tim Urban of waitbutwhy.com puts it, speeding up a chimps brain by 1000 times won’t bring him to our level… there are worlds of human cognitive function a chimp will simply never be capable of. Similarly, humans may never comprehend what ASI machines can.

Our survival, and our success — in an ANI or ASI world — depends on how, and if we can harness AI to serve our needs. In an ANI world, AI can be used to make us smarter, to create a more efficient world. In an ASI world, will nanotechnology supplement our thinking?

There are those that believe ASI will, when it arrives (sometime between 2040 and 2060), ultimately lead to our immortality or extinction. It’s that mind bending.

There’s a massive jump in AI on the horizon. I think it’s time for business to take notice.