Price of Success, Paradox of Choice, and the Promise of AI

Funnily enough, it’s what makes us successful that quite often creates problems ahead. And one of the most interesting problems we are facing is the direct result of that very success. It’s the outcome of the fantastic amount of material wealth we’ve managed to create for ourselves in the past few decades, and indeed the past century. It comes from the fact that with the explosion in choices and products, we have been forced to make far more cognitive choices than ever before. This brings a crazy workload of having to decide between seemingly indistinguishable choices with imperceptible differences, and we’re not great at doing this. This is the paradox of choice.

The IT and Internet revolution has supercharged this. That’s, in fact, been the revolution. Suddenly we can get information and products and things we never even knew existed. Supply chains shrank, borders disappeared and information was readily available. We started seeing Japanese products in German shelves that would never have reached there a few decades ago. We automatically stop being able to rely on traditional heuristics to solve the problem of optimising what to buy, to read, to listen to or to eat.

This is the problem that AI might finally be able to help us start solving. Rather than solving the biggest problems of the world through general intelligence, the solution is to start small by helping people figure out which detergent they might want to buy. Or which four cars might be suited to their particular style. Or which books are likely to be of interest. We do this somewhat by looking at what similar people might have purchased in the past etc, but that’s a long way away from the requirements of an easy purchase experience. It’s also a long way away from us letting an AI give us those suggestions which we take for granted.

This might not be intelligence as we classically understand it, but it’s definitely the way forward for the entrepreneur who is trying to crack this problem. Same as always, entrepreneurs will bring about companies that take established, sometimes esoteric, research and make them viable. That’s the next horizon I expect to see start blossoming in 2016.