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Could AI Really Be As Big As Electricity or Fire?

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Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai made a statement about AI that still has everyone talking. In case you haven't heard it:

“AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on. I think of it as something more profound than electricity or fire.”

To get behind this statement 100%, you need to answer two questions. One, does AI really have the potential to progress that far? Two, will it really be that impactful if it does? After all, fire and electricity are kind of a big deal.

How Impactful Could AI Really Be?

Fire is responsible for the advanced evolution of our race and its survival as an ultra-intelligent species.

Even with fire, our ancestors spent thousands of years focused merely on survival. The discovery of electricity and inventions to harness it have allowed us to move past a survival mindset and focus on thriving. With electricity, we live more comfortably and more efficiently.

Putting aside the fact that AI wouldn’t even exist without these two inventions, could it really have that same kind of impact?

We think so.

How Far (and Fast) Will AI Progress?

AI touches your life every day.

Ever used Google Translate? That’s natural language generation and processing, all done by machines. When your phone suggests news articles for you, it’s because an intelligent machine has learned your preferences and adapted accordingly. The ads you see on Facebook? Same thing.

This is all great, but we’re comparing AI to fundamental utilities that power everyday modern life. There’s a big difference between serving up the perfect ad and powering the whole human race.

But AI’s ability to improve and educate itself could propel it into the ranks of major public utility.

Just check out our article on Google’s AlphaGo Zero. The company gathered data on the complex game Go and built a system that beat human world champions. Then, they created a machine that taught itself how to play the game.

Without any external data, the second machine took just 40 days to destroy the original system 100 games to zero. The loser here was the system that had destroyed the human champions.

This kind of progress is staggering in its speed and scope. It’s true, this particular AI example was a narrow use case (beating a complex board game). But what happens when highly powerful AI systems are applied across industries to narrow use cases? The landscape starts to look a little different.

You can begin to imagine a world where AI lurks behind almost all your daily interactions and business tasks (see I spent 24 hours looking at AI in my everyday life). You may not always see artificial intelligence. It may not always be called artificial intelligence. But there is a very real chance that AI, with its ability to self-improve using massive datasets, starts being used to power everything in an increasingly digital world.

If only we could think of a metaphor that described a tool so useful that it makes everything else easier, better or more powerful...

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