Artificial intelligence permeates systems all around the world: from traffic lights to mail spam control; from planes to autonomous car; from voice recognition to automatic translation. For every moment of profound change experienced by mankind in its revolutions (industrial, electrical, computational, and the “4th Industrial Revolution”), there was a certain technological element that magnified in an indelible and overwhelming way the creativity of the human being to deliver ingenious new ideas or combine what already existed with that central element.
Is it possible to say that any person, an “average joe” would already be having his life permeated by the use of artificial intelligence? Moreover, what is the combination of this technology with others that can engender a new kind of reality to which social rules for the sustainability of human relations are not yet foreseen?
Before the electricity revolution, human creations were intended for production growth or scientific advancement. It was all about mechanical construction and engineering powered processes. One of Portugal examples of it is the Institute of Geophysics of the University of Porto, in Serra do Pilar. This institute acquired and recorded meteorological/ climate data. At this site, several military personnel recorded atmospheric pressure, wind speed and direction, solar radiation etc., at various times per day, including Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. At night, there was no record. They had data, but with “low resolution”. One of the gadgets used, serial number #999, has embedded in itself the germ of logical reasoning: the Millionaire calculator. It was imperative to accelerate the calculations of various weather variables to have strategic information about navigation. In addition to this equipment, there is a seismograph installed by the Americans to measure the earthquakes (during the Cold War, the Americans wanted to know if there were nuclear bomb tests being carried out by the Soviets). Going through time, Alan Turing developed the electromechanic calculator known as Enigma, which defeated Germany war strategies during World War II. Science, math and technology were key.
Accelerating the history, we arrive at December 12th, 2015: on this day, Klaus Schwab published an article in which he coined the term “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, observing and giving name to a phenomenon that had been happening for some time, but which had an interesting characteristic never experienced by humans in its previous revolutions: the speed and depth of the impact of the use of technologies on the organizations (public, private and social) and society. Klaus emphasizes that there is an interpolation between numerous elements such as 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy, quantum computing, among others, due to the exponential scaling allowed by digitalisation and the accessibility of information provided by mobile devices, creating a diverse range of incredible possibilities. But it also brings lots of controversy and fear.
All of these technologies have basic principles in common: they operate under programmed codes following structured logics based on input, processing, and output, within the parameters of physical, mathematical and biological laws. However, one of these technologies has an immeasurable power and can cause inanimate creations to gain a reasonable degree of cognition. With Artificial Intelligence, it is possible to create cognition and decision making capabilities based on discrete details, even intuition. The era of cognition of inanimate artifacts has already began and its speed accelerates day and night, relentlessly, iteratively.
Is it possible to predict the future by looking into the past? That Millionaire calculator from the Institute of Geophysics had, to a lesser extent, built-in artificial intelligence. Following several pre-established steps, linking or selecting combinations of mechanisms, the military personnel was not worried to transfer the laborious calculations to an equipment. That Millionaire calculator eventually became electronic, shrinked in size and got into our bags and pockets. Miniaturization and specialization (financial, algebraic, scientific calculations) has reached such a point that the calculator simply dematerialized and were codified on our mobile phones. And this is happening to countless other electronic devices.
To a greater or lesser extent, we have lived immersed in Artificial Intelligence and have not noticed its presence. It is already present unequivocally in our lives in every search we make on the Internet; it is on every curve or exit of highways commanded by a traffic navigation application. It is present in the entertainment experience created by content companies. The Millionaire calculator rests silently on the wooden table at the Institute of Geophysics and the military who relied their calculations on that machine no longer work there. The existing monitoring technology at the Institute “competes” now with monitoring made by countless average joes with their sensor devices, connected in the Internet providing information in a massive way, beautifully animated with graphs, videos and animations, with high resolution. What once was exclusive to a few became democratized.
Experts and scientists are still there and will be there for a long time to come, but the passionate and curious are entering the game, catching up, creating and iterating very fast, powering inanimate creations with artificially intelligent computation (at least for very specific tasks). The average joe now have a potential personalized and artificial tutor in their hands. Now, it begs the following questions: what will you create? Will you (or your fellow mankind) be the master or servant of your creation?
Schwab, Klaus. 2015. The Fourth industrial revolution. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2015-12-12/fourth-industrial-revolution (as seen in April 2nd, 2019)
The Millionaire Calculator
Mindell, David. The Science and Technology of World War II
https://www.ncpedia.org/anchor/science-and-technology-world (as seen in April 2nd, 2019)
Sense your City Project (Swissnex)
McKinsey and Company Insights. Ask the AI experts: Should we be afraid of AI? https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-analytics/our-insights/ask-the-ai-experts-should-we-be-afraid-of-ai