AI is great but there are more exciting things to come

I’m close to an AI OD. It’s all that gets talked about (and yes, I 100% admit that we at SPARCK are partially responsible for this).

AI isn’t really anything new. Back in 1985 when Microsoft released the first version of Excel for Macintosh, people were astounded that you could take paper-based calculations, feed some algorithms in, and get results out. Bingo, it’s intelligent (albeit artificial). To begin with, it was just accountants — they were the target market after all. Now computers are ubiquitous and, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t used Excel. I’ve seen massive, multi-regional projects efficiently delivered (on schedule!), entirely managed by an Excel spreadsheet!

Apple Computer with Excel 1.0 for Macintosh (1985)

The hype inducing calculations and algorithms underpinning many of the core AI Technologies (Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning etc.) are no different to that 1985 spreadsheet. Certainly, the languages are newer, but the functions they fulfil are more or less the same. But because it’s all-encompassing, pretty much every new technology we see on the market is powered by Artificial Intelligence. And that’s why everyone is talking about it.

We’re at peak hype according to Gartner

The real difference is that these calculations used to be done by mega-computers the size of a garden shed (see this fabulous device that played chess). It’s a marvellous feat of engineering — packing all the CPU power required to beat a human, in a package only the size of a Great Dane!

Now of course, we can do all of this using a device that fits in our hand. In fact, the GPUs in the latest iPhone can deliver 346 GFLOPS (wow!). To put that in perspective, Nvidia were building entire graphics cards in 2010 that delivered the same GFLOPS — at about six times the price, and over 100 times the size. That’s only seven years ago (think Kesha, Toy Story 3 and the Vuvuzela).

This is one of those graphics cards I was taking about. It was built in 2010. It now sits inside your iPhone and measures only 0.8700000cm²

This is important because it indicates another shift. The starting point for new technology is nearly always niche. But then you launch it. People are smart —they find unpredictable ways to get more value. Excel made calculations accessible to everybody, and in the process inadvertently revolutionised how we used something as seemingly basic as the spreadsheet.

The story of AI is much the same. Combine powerful technology within arms reach, with a hungry consumer base and a commercially friendly environment (App Store, Google Play etc) — adoption couldn’t be easier. Apple’s ARKit launched only a few months ago, and I can already sit at my desk and play virtual Jenga, with nothing more than my phone. The technology? Augmented Reality. The underlying enabler? Artificial Intelligence.

Or, if I was so inclined, I could pop out tomorrow and buy one of the many voice-activated assistants that are on the market. I can then have a conversation with them at my leisure. The technology? Voice + Natural Language Processing. The underlying enabler? Artificial Intelligence.

You get the picture.

So if, like me, you’re getting a bit tired of all the AI chat, then look on the bright side. Soon there’ll be something new to talk about (my bet is on AR) that will be far sexier, cooler (and still powered by AI), which will snap the headlines. I can’t wait!

Watch out team SPARCK