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The simultaneous excitement and fear surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) are truly remarkable.
On the one hand, companies and investors are pouring billions into the technology, with interest accelerating since Microsoft-backed OpenAI in November publicly released the conversational chatbot ChatGPT that many are calling a tipping point for AI. “Generative AI will change business models and how work gets done and, in the process, reinvent entire industries,” a recent PwC report declared.
On the other hand, controversy is billowing. In May, AI pioneer Geoffrey Hinton warned that AI could pose a “more urgent” threat than climate change. A month earlier, billionaire Elon Musk and hundreds of others issued an open letter calling for a six-month pause on advanced AI work, citing “profound risks to society and humanity.” And on May 16, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman told a Senate committee he favors the creation of a new government licensing body for large-scale AI models.
Whew! Let’s catch our breaths for a moment. To be sure, AI systems are growing smarter at a staggering pace — able to understand not only text but images, starting to rival humans at general tasks, and even, as some suggest, beginning to approach true human-level intelligence. As a society, we should care deeply about where AI is heading and, of course, make sure the technology is safe before it is deployed.
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At the same time, while some of the anxieties around AI are understandable, the discussion should be rational rather than hysterical. It feels at times that the world is slipping into the latter.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Data Innovation put it well in a recent report: “Technology and human creativity have long been intertwined, and fears about the negative impact of new innovations have been overstated in the past. For example, prior innovations in the music sector led to fears that record albums would make live shows redundant.” But “over time, this and other tech panics fizzled out as the public embraced the new technology, markets adapted, and initial concerns turned out to be clearly overblown or never arrived.”
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I suspect the same will happen with AI. But that’s not to say we shouldn’t be thinking hard about the technology’s impact. We just should be sensible in examining AI’s trajectory and how it really will make a difference in society and the economy. Here are three things I believe to be true but that often get lost in today’s debate.
AI will foster an “intuition economy”
Generative AI, which can produce complex content such as text, imagery and audio, has stoked fears that AI is usurping the human creativity that separates us from machines.
But there’s another way to look at generative AI’s effect. As Bill Gates described it in a recent blog post, “As computing power gets cheaper, GPT’s ability to express ideas will increasingly be like having a white-collar worker available to help you with various tasks.”
Put another way: AI will help place all the world’s knowledge at everyone’s fingertips. For example, an attorney won’t need a team of co-lawyers and paralegals to do all manner of research before arguing a big case before a jury if the full wealth of information is easily accessible via an AI assistant.
Think of it as a collapse of the knowledge gap. And what it means, I believe, is that, with knowledge commoditized and democratized, we will enter an “intuition economy” in which human creativity will be valued more than ever.
For so-called knowledge workers, success will come not only from accumulating and expressing knowledge — since AI will increasingly take over that role — but also in leveraging this now widely available knowledge for new insights, innovations and discoveries.
Another way to view it: AI will never replace humans, as the doomsayers fear, but as AI systems grow more intelligent, they will force people to become smarter and more creative too. The value of pure knowledge decreases; the importance of what is done with that knowledge rises.
Companies and people who can’t adapt will fall behind
Goldman Sachs recently predicted that worldwide, generative AI “could expose the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs to automation.” But, its report added, “worker displacement from automation has historically been offset by creation of new jobs, and the emergence of new occupations following technological innovations accounts for the vast majority of long-run employment growth.”
I expect something similar will happen in the new AI world. With knowledge flattened as I described in Point #1, the most successful people and companies will be those able to connect the dots among different information streams.
By and large, significant innovations from now on will happen in the “unknown world” — that is, via insights gained thanks to AI’s ability to streamline and accelerate knowledge accumulation while humans focus on unlocking previously indecipherable mysteries.
In a way, what’s happening mirrors the software industry’s historic transformation to an open-source model in which underlying code is freely available, and companies compete based on the value they build on top of it. AI will be to knowledge what open source has been to software: All that will matter is the proprietary value developed on top of commoditized knowledge.
Because of this, my bet is on AI leading to greater innovation and productivity in business and society in general.
AI is an unstoppable train
We’re living in an age of acceleration. Consider that the agrarian economy spanned thousands of years, the industrial economy lasted a couple of hundred, and the knowledge economy has lasted 50 or so.
Or, remember that Microsoft took 25 years to become a household name, Google less than half that, and ChatGPT a few months.
Technology moves only one way: forward. While we’re wise to evaluate AI’s impact and consider guardrails on its development if they’re warranted, the cat is out of the bag on artificial intelligence. That’s simply reality.
It will be impossible to stop this technology and extremely difficult to slow it — there are too many benefits, not to mention too much money to be made — so the smartest thing to do is ask the right questions about AI, reasonably, without panic, and prepare ourselves for the inevitable AI-driven future.
Bipul Sinha is CEO and cofounder of zero-trust data security company Rubrik.
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