To begin with; a personal note. While long form postings here have been sparse, I’ve tweeted over a thousand article links over this year. Should the topics in this post be interesting to you, I want to invite you to a conversation there.
Three topics have captured my imagination this year. AI, fragmentation of common reality, and of course my day job, the disruption of transportation. I imagine these topics will continue next year, too.
Artificial Intelligence has certainly been a frequent conversation topic this year. Whether the subject is robotic vehicles, the destruction of jobs, or a coming Singularity, it seems everybody has some expectation for AI, which is nothing short of amazing considering just a couple of years ago this was a science fiction topic at most.
Singularity is certainly coming. Or more accurately, for some industries, like advertising and stock markets, it already arrived some time ago. That is, only those businesses which are using technology to transform themselves, and pushing the capabilities of technology further, are winning market share. In many ways, Google and Facebook are the AI duopoly for advertising — and people working in those companies are just as much components of their AI system as their AI algorithms are tools for the people. Similarly, computerized trading already overtook stock markets from flesh-and-bone traders a decade ago.
The economic driver for this transformation is pretty clear. It’s not to un-employ people — but to win market share from competitors (who will be the ones letting people go). It’s not that one AI replaces human decision making — but that a thousand small AIs radically change the speed at which decisions are made and actions taken.
Yet those algorithms will require human oversight. Our Fake News and filter bubble-driven fragmented reality is a proof of that. These AI systems are accelerators and amplifiers unlike any we’ve seen before, and without clear, careful consideration of desirable outcomes, connected to robust oversight of both the private systems and their public representations (the companies developing them), we’re going to see more runaway situations with unpredictable outcomes. The challenge is that much of the regulatory technology doesn’t exist yet.
Of course, everything above also links to what I mostly spend my days with, that is, transportation technology. Not only in the headline “robotic vehicles” sense, though. Those autonomous cars, trucks and buses are coming, certainly, but not without their own oversight and control solutions. Impressive as the development of autonomous driving is, it’s just a tip of the iceberg, though.
Majority of transportation challenges remain outside the vehicle — cities are suffering under oversubscribed street infrastructure, millions of hours are wasted in traffic or not being able to transit at all due to lack of transport options, and inefficiencies are causing massive economic losses. Making vehicles drive themselves doesn’t solve any of those challenges — it simply reduces costs related to driving.
The actual solutions to transportation require better coordination, availability, and orchestration of shared transit options — that is, putting people in the empty seats already moving, rather than sending even more vehicles about. These are exactly the kind of large-scale, system-level, human-machine challenges AI systems have already been changing, and is about to happen again. Move fast, but tread carefully.
And that is what we do at Kyyti, so more on that in another medium.