In May 1997, I was having dinner with a friend at a sushi restaurant in mid-town Manhattan. We were discussing the match then currently-underway between chess champion Garry Kasparov and IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer. I guess we must have been speaking more loudly than we thought, because as we were leaving a man walked over from another table and said that he and his companions had overheard us talking, and would we like to come over and meet Mr. Kasparov, who was having a quiet sushi dinner between matches?
We followed him over to their table in a bit of shock and were introduced to Kasparov. We mumbled our admiration for him, and gave him our best wishes for the momentous event in which he was engaging. One of the people at Kasparov’s table even published a short piece mentioning our encounter the next day, using it to show that the chess match was getting wide public attention.
Of course, you probably know what happened — Kasparov went on to lose his match against Deep Blue, in what is now considered a watershed moment for the development of artificial intelligence. As the New York Times said in a 2011 article recapping the event:
At the time, it was considered a stunning achievement and a significant step forward in the field of artificial intelligence. Some people said that a new era would be ushered in, one in which computers would perform many tasks — like air traffic control — that it once seemed only humans could do. That era has not quite materialized.
But almost 14 years later, chess programs running on an average desktop computer can play better than Deep Blue, making its victory no longer seem as implausible. .
The occasion of that article in 2011 was another big event in the history of AI: The victory of IBM’s Watson computer system over top human opponents on the game show Jeopardy!
Jump forward another five years, and today the Times published an article entitled “The Promise of Artificial Intelligence Unfolds in Small Steps,” detailing the progress of AI development over the past few decades. In particular, the article’s author, Steve Lohr, notes that Watson’s victory has fueled hype and then significant venture capital investment in AI projects (which was also true after the Deep Blue victory), but that the promise has outpaced reality.
Given the hype developing around blockchain technology, and the big investments now being made, it’s possible to draw some parallels here in terms of a trajectory. In particular, Lohr’s article makes the following key point:
The history of tech tells A.I. backers to hang in there. Silicon Valley veterans argue that people routinely overestimate what can be done with new technology in three years, yet underestimate what can be done in 10 years.
Predictions made in the ’90s about how the new World Wide Web would shake the foundations of the media, advertising and retailing industries did prove to be true, for example. But it happened a decade later, years after the dot-com bust.
Every technology is different, so it’s unclear how true the overestimate/underestimate timeline given above will hold true for the blockchain. By some measures, we’re already more than three years into the blockchain revolution. However, if we take the explosion of interest over the past year as the starting point, I have no doubt that some version of the above dynamic will play out, and that we’ll have some decent progress to show over the next 36 months, but that by 2025 blockchain technology will have altered many industries in very significant ways.
It doesn’t take a smart machine to predict that.
SIDE NOTE: There could be some very, very interesting intersections between AI and the blockchain in the future, and we’ll try to guess at some of those in later posts.