The Future Of News (part 2)

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future (by Kevin Kelly). Chapter 2 is about AI:

The AI on the horizon looks more like Amazon Web Services – cheap, reliable, industrial-grade digital smartness running behind everything, and almost invisible except when it blinks off. This common utility will serve you as much IQ as you want but no more than you need. You’ll simply plug into the grid and get AI as if it was electricity. It will enliven inert objects, much as electricity did more than a century past.

Three generations ago, many a tinkerer struck it rich by taking a tool and making an electric version. Take a manual pump; electrify it. Find a hand-wringer washer; electrify it. The entrepreneurs didn’t need to generate the electricity; they bought it from the grid and used it to automate the previously manual. Now everything that we formerly electrified we will cognify.

There is almost nothing we can think of that cannot be made new, different, or more valuable by infusing it with some extra IQ. In fact, the business plans of the next 10,000 startups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI. Find something that can be made better by adding online smartness to it.

An excellent example of the magic of adding AI to X can be seen in photography. In the 1970s I was a travel photographer hauling around a heavy bag of gear. In addition to a backpack with 500 rolls of film, I carried two brass Nikon bodies, a flash, and five extremely heavy glass lenses that weighed over a pound each. Photography needed “big glass” to capture photons in low light; it needed light-sealed cameras with intricate marvels of mechanical engineering to focus, measure, and bend light in thousandths of a second.

What has happened since then? Today my point-and-shoot Nikon weighs almost nothing, shoots in almost no light, and can zoom from my nose to infinity. Of course, the camera in my phone is even tinier, always present, and capable of pictures as good as my old heavy clunkers. The new cameras are smaller, quicker, quieter, and cheaper not just because of advances in miniaturization, but because much of the traditional camera has been replaced by smartness.

The X of photography has been cognified. Contemporary phone cameras eliminated the layers of heavy glass by adding algorithms, computation, and intelligence to do the work that physical lenses once did. They use the intangible smartness to substitute for a physical shutter. And the darkroom and film itself have been replaced by more computation and optical intelligence to do the work that physical lenses once did. They use the intangible smartness to substitute for a physical shutter. And the darkroom and film itself have been replaced by more computation and optical intelligence. There are even designs for a completely flat camera with no lens at all. Instead of any glass, a perfectly flat light sensor uses insane amounts of computational cognition to compute a picture from the different light rays falling on the unfocused sensor.

Cognifying photography has revolutionized it because intelligence enables cameras to slip into anything (in a sunglass frame, in a color on clothes, in a pen) and do more, including calculate 3-D, HD, and many other options that earlier would have taken $100,000 and a van full of equipment to do. Now cognified photography is something almost any device can do as a side job.

A similar transformation is about to happen for every other X. Take chemistry, another physical endeavor requiring laboratories of glassware and bottles brimming with solutions. Moving atoms—what could be more physical? By adding AI to chemistry, scientists can perform virtual chemical experiments. They can smartly search through astronomical numbers of chemical combinations to reduce them to a few promising compounds worth examining in a lab.

The X might be something low-tech, like interior design. Add utility AI to a system that matches levels of interest of clients as they walk through simulations of interiors. The design details are altered and tweaked by the pattern-finding AI based on customer response, then inserted back into new interiors for further testing. Through constant iterations, optimal personal designs emerge from the AI. You could also apply AI to law, using it to uncover evidence from mountains of paper to discern inconsistencies between cases, and then have it suggest lines of legal arguments.

The list of Xs is endless. The more unlikely the field, the more powerful adding AI will be.

Stay tuned for highlights from Chapter 3! (Chapter 1 highlights here).

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