It is incredible how rapidly technology has advanced since Steven Spielberg’s game-changing 2002 sci-fi release, Minority Report. From today’s perspective, the film is much less futuristic than it seemed back then. John (Tom Cruise) is seemingly followed everywhere he goes in the city by billboards enabled with facial recognition, calling out his name, shouting for his attention. Today, a Tel-Aviv company, Cerebro Platform, uses facial detection technology and mobile geolocation data to promote advertisements that fit the real-time demographic characteristics of those in front of the sign.
We’re already familiar with a personalised feed on Facebook and personalized advertising on the web. Cruise’s character controls his home with his voice; a commonplace act these days with Amazon Echo and Google Home in every household. Autonomous cars are (almost) here, while autonomous, weaponized drones are yesterday’s war news.
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Al affects us in tangible ways. From fake news to personalized music and videos, AI already penetrates every aspect of our lives. Just when can we call modern technology the fourth Industrial Revolution?
The first Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century with the mechanization of the textile industry, with iron, coal, and steam-powered technologies. Inventions like the flying shuttle, the spinning wheel, and the cotton gin machine, to just name a few, utterly changed the textile manufacturing industry. Rapid urbanization and industrialization transformed the world completely.
The second revolution in the mid-19th century saw steel and electricity changing things as radically as iron and coal had the century prior. In addition, the world saw the advancement of the synergies between the inventions of the first revolution, with expanding railroads, the introduction of the assembly line, and more. It was an era of mass-produced consumer goods that changed people’s lives, both rural and urban. Trains and automobiles made it far easier to get from place to place, and across long distances. Ideas and social connections and awareness of the world were now accessed faster than ever before thanks to newspapers, the radio, and the telegraph.
With the rise of electronics, transistors, and microprocessors, the third revolution took place not quite a century later. Telecommunications and computers took over the world.
We can assume a new, fourth revolution as an extension of the digitization or computerization of the third. The massive network effects of the internet and artificial intelligence (due to = speed, the scope, depth, and impact of these technological changes) significantly influence how individuals, companies and governments operate.
The Fourth Revolution
Many technological changes had to occur for this fourth revolution to happen.
Groundbreaking innovations in the field of nano-technology, dense microprocessors, distributed cloud computing, and massive parallel processing have directly enabled 3D modeling as well as the complex math required for neural networks, machine learning, and image processing.
The emergence and ultimate ascension of the internet sparked a huge increase in the amount of digital information being generated, stored, and made available for analysis. The amount of data that can be fed into a machine learning model is directly proportional to the accuracy of that model.
From automated to autonomous.
As recently as a few years ago, the artificial intelligence industry was exotic and rare. Today AI has evolved from the obscure to the mainstream touching consumers’ lives every day. As every single industry becomes more deeply entrenched with AI systems, we are all evolving with hybrid-skills co-existing with artificial intelligence technologies from price predictions to the purchase of air-travel tickets.
Watson-driven weather apps on our phones are reliable in accurately predicting the amount of sunshine we’ll get over next week and we all have come to appreciate the smart fraud detection alerts triggered by Mastercard and Visa on our credit card when company-owned AI spots unusual spending behaviors. We already have farmers who operate drones for crop monitoring and health management and are learning how to work with big data sets. I know Google Maps is collecting information on me, on my whereabouts, where I go, my preferred routes, and my preferred stops. Still, I won’t go back to paper-printed maps for the convenience these services bring.
Concerns that resonate
Still, there are concerns about our AI-enabled lifestyle. The ones that resonate the most with me include:
1) Loss of control – AI takes away some of our freedom and reduces our control over our privacy. We are actually willing to sacrifice a degree of freedom because of the perceived advantages we gain via digital tools and enablers – efficiency, convenience and superior pattern recognition, data storage, and search-and-find capabilities.
2) Misuse – AI-based surveillance and data systems used by nation-states and mega-corporations can concentrate too much power in the hands of too few to manipulate, control, and dominate others.
3) Inequality – A wider economic and digital divide occurs when those who control technology become richer and more powerful., This could lead to social upheaval.
4) Dependency – Our cognitive and survival skills diminish over time as we over-rely on AI to manage our information and memory.
5) Fake news is just the start– Exposure to cyber-weaponization, cybercrime, and cyberwarfare will continue to increase. Fake news is only an early face of that. We are already living in a world where reality is so easily manipulated by fake videos and fake media, and it’s only going to get worse. The explosion of fake news on the internet is already making it very difficult to identify the truth.
The way to address these concerns we have with AI is most likely going to come from governmental policy, education, and regulation. We need to educate the world’s citizens about AI and its pervasive effects. If we have an inclusive and bottom-up governance system of well-informed citizens, then we have a decent chance of ensuring AI can be regulated for enhancing and improving our quality of life.