The Undeclared Value of Artificial Intelligence

Mike Bruening
buZZrobot
Published in
5 min readDec 16, 2017

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The emergent promise of Artificial Intelligence is its ability to gain mastery over huge flows of constant data, distill findings, identify opportunities, and make recommendations. In applications such as autonomous cars, AI will go beyond recommendations and take immediate and on-going actions based on continuous streams of information. With the exponential growth in computer processing power and advanced algorithms, affordable AI will initially take hold in business, science, medicine. Eventually, the impact of AI on all aspects of society will be limitless. As promising as the future of Artificial Intelligence may seem, the true power of AI may not be the ability to crunch enormous data at whirlwind speeds, but rather its ability to incorporate a broad range of cross-discipline data sources.

In the most advanced research and development areas, the level of focus on learnings and incremental knowledge is highly specialized. These areas of research have become very narrowly defined and highly concentrated around succinct sectors. Historic advancements and breakthroughs are occurring in isolated tunnels that continue to branch out into ever-narrowing channels of knowledge. We are approaching a period that Nobel Prize winner Nicholas Butler once said — “An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing.” This extreme level of detailed progress limits the cross-disciplined application of findings and hinders collaboration and the sharing of critical knowledge.

For example, patients that visit their General Practitioner with a sore knee will likely be prescribed rest, ice and some aspirin. If the same patients go to an orthopedic specialist, the patient could be prescribed orthotics. A Nutritionist might recommend an anti-inflammatory diet. At a doctor trained in Eastern Medicine, patients may get acupuncture and prescribed yoga or other stress-reducing exercises. A surgeon focusing on the same symptoms might perform X-rays, ultrasound or an MRI in search of a structural repair prognosis.

Each specialist prescribes a safe and sound remedy to the problem closely aligned to his or her educational background and expertise. The bias of applying one’s specialty is not limited to the medical area but is common in all areas of problem-solving. What gets lost in these specializations is the application of the sum of all knowledge applied in a holistic approach. Even when cross-disciplined teams are assigned to work on a problem, there are often conflicts of personality, style, and approach. Seldom do these teams develop a plan that optimally integrates all the fields of study into a new cohesive innovation.

A sore knee is one thing, but the number of sequestered experts can grow exponentially for an undiagnosed debilitating ailment. In a recent New York Magazine article, writer Tom Scocca in “My Unraveling” describes the frustration of navigating unconnected specialists, hospitals, test facilities, lab analysts, and billing systems searching for a cure. Scocca dealt with multiple misdiagnoses and even had to play the role of messenger to ensure test results were shared across his segregated medical teams. Scocca’s story of a quick onsetting ailment is pretty scary, but his description of the disconnect between his medical teams is what is truly terrifying. AI may not have been able to diagnose and cure Tom, but to read the run around he experienced in a city with some of the best medical experts in the world, having an AI agent as a sidekick in this process could have helped.

Genuine approaches that integrate across disciplines can be empowering and bring new thinking to the world. The bestselling biographer Walter Isaacson who has written books on Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs and most recently Leonardo Da Vinci sees the power of cross-discipline study as the key to these accomplished thinkers and creators. “The ability to make connections across disciplines — arts and sciences, humanities and technology -is key to innovation, imagination, and genius.”[i] As significant as these thought leaders were to the advancement of ideas and progress, this occurrence of cross-disciplined genius in humans appears once or twice in a century.

This integration of seemingly unrelated disciplines can have a transformational impact on a solution. Steve Job’s, when creating the Macintosh, tapped into his knowledge of fonts from an unrelated calligraphy class he took before dropping out of Reed College. Thomas Phinney, a senior product manager for fonts and typography at Extensis, says “What Jobs did with the Macintosh was not just revolutionize digital typography — that would have happened sooner or later. The unique thing he brought to it was the democratization of digital type. Jobs brought font menus to the masses, introducing not just experts but average consumers to individually designed lettering. The idea that the average person on the street might have a favorite font was a radical thing.”[ii]

The real promise of AI is that it could incorporate all forms of data regardless of the range of study. AI would do so without bias toward one discipline and would not be limited to just a couple specific proficiencies but, rather deep domain knowledge across limitless fields of study. Futurist Watts Wacker and Ryan Matthews explain in the book, The Deviants Advantage, that true innovation in an area often develops at the fringe of a specific discipline and can often be considered a “Deviant Behavior.”[iii] AI will not be sensitive to the social pressure of staying within the lines to solve a problem and will merge unrelated disciplines without hesitancy to form new ideas.

AI’s power to bring an unbiased integration and deep knowledge of multiple disciplines has already proven to demonstrate breakthrough thinking in playing the ancient game Go against a human expert. As two technology reporters, Joon Ian Wong and Nikhil Sonnad point out in Quartz, Google’s Artificial Intelligence agent won the game Go over the world’s grandmaster by “defying a millennia of basic human instinct and approaching the game differently than any human. The AI also came up with entirely new ways of approaching a game that originated in China two or three millennia ago…”[iv].

The capacity of AI to go broad and deep across limitless knowledge will be like applying a cross-discipline group of the world’s greatest geniuses to diagnosis a patient, solve a humanitarian crisis or plan an individual’s day. While many of the discussions, goals, and aspirations of Artificial intelligence are to mimic human thought, the real power and long-term contribution of AI is that it will not think like an individual.

[i] Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

[ii] https://www.digitaltrends.com/apple/steve-jobs-the-godfather-of-fonts-as-we-know-them

[iii] The Deviant’s Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets by Ryan Mathews and Watts Wacker

[iv] https://qz.com/639952/googles-ai-won-the-game-go-by-defying-millennia-of-basic-human-instinct/

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