AI and the Infant Analogy

As I researched my latest book, The New Acceleration, a few things became very clear:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) is progressing at incredible speed
  • Most people have little awareness of whether, how and where it’s being used to affect their daily lives already
  • Nobody is very sure what level of regulation is required
  • AI is going to change pretty much everything

The Infant Analogy

One of the best ways to think about AI is to compare it to a toddler. Right now, it’s full of potential but it needs close supervision. It’s constantly learning and growing in capabilities — sometimes at a frightening pace. One day, it’ll mature and become self sufficient, still learning but also able to teach us. At times it’s hard to imagine this infant as being only 10 or 20 years away from becoming a teenager and then perhaps a scientist, engineer or doctor, but ask any parent and they’ll tell you “they grow up so fast”.

Thanks to AI, computers are learning to see, hear, talk and think. This fundamentally changes what computers can do. Just like toddlers, AI makes a lot of mistakes as it learns, but eventually develops its own unique talents. The influences that it’s exposed to will shape its eventual biases, behaviours and skills. There’ll be times we won’t understand its decisions, times it will disappoint us and times its feats will amaze us.

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The Awareness Imperative

We’ll put our new ‘offspring’ to work in myriad ways and this new workforce will be used to make our lives easier, faster and possibly better. But AI will also revolutionise many long-held foundations of society. Will we all have AI-ssistants anticipating our every whim, or will it be deployed to surveil, upsell and judge us? Will AI replace millions of jobs, leading to greater inequality, or will it open pathways to many more jobs?

I strongly believe we should all take some time to understand a little about how AI technologies like Machine Learning work and what their implications might be. There’ll be no avoiding it, so better to be aware rather than caught by surprise. That way, we can have a more informed view of how these incredible technologies can be harnessed for the greater good.

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