The commoditization of intelligence

While everyone is busy talking about the AI*** revolution, the geopolitical landscape is being shaped by a new kind of pipeline. This time, it’s not about oil pipes, power lines or fiber optics cables anymore. While basic services will become increasingly digitally commoditized in the uberization of every industry, nerve centers of power will gravitate around who can organize the right blend of human tasks/microtasks/chores/gigs and AI (Automatic Intelligence). At the same times, cities will start upgrading their infrastructure into smart everything, from railroad to traffic lights to surveillance cameras to earthquake sensors, starting in the US, Western Europe and especially in China. Many nation states, especially one filled with corruption throughout recent history, will realize that the limiting factor in the new arms race is a resource they had been neglecting for decades – education.

 

Our children’s and grandchildren’s generation will face a very binary choice: automate or be automated. Either they will write code to assign the HiveMind resources (i.e. Internet, Cloud, X-Chain, Ether, service mesh, whatever) more efficiently/constructively/creatively or be assigned tasks by the HiveMind in the micro-gig/mini-task economy. As the rabbit in the headlights, we disproportionately discuss about the advantages and opportunities of AI or of “the third industrial revolution”. Sometimes we share an anecdote about Skynet or about how “I pity the robot who’ll take my job”, just to ease ourselves that we are also considering the downsides. Occasionally, a lost voice gathers a small crowd in a conference room to talk about the “ethics of AI” or about whether “the car should kill the CEO, father-of-three, owner of the car or the pregnant homeless pedestrian who happened to jaywalk on her way to her crack dealer when the breaks”. What amuses me most about some AI conferences is that at least half of the people in the room have never run a pre-trained neural net on their machine before. Everyone’s sharing links to Siraj’s Youtube clips or to the latest episodes from Two Minute Papers, but not one’s putting in the hours. The work. The code. Even technical people : we don’t put ourselves through the discomfort of writing code in a new language, for a new framework or platform often enough. A few years after we graduate, on average, even IT professionals get lazy. They chose to focus on one technology or one stack or one vendor even – whatever’s warm and comfy. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that people should put in more work in actually running a machine learning model on their data. Even a banale one. Even running a regression on the number from that Excel your boss keeps making you send him is still progress. And I’m not saying that everyone should be an engineer or a programmer. I’m just saying that everyone, from kindergarten, should start learning what machines can and can’t do, just like they learn not to put their fingers in the wall socket and not to leave the gas running”. Because …

 

Society will fragment even further. The political power across states will continue its downwards trends in regard to economic influence of more affluent and infleuntial corporations. Democracy will be kept as a sharade between politicians-media-tech and the people who are actually pulling the string and paying the bills. The power will either belong to corporations in corporatocracies and to authoritarian rulers in countries which will are now embracing populism. Either way, prosumers don’t really get to vote. They only get to be more predictable cogs in an ever-growing machine. In this new world order, physical commodities and services will become digitized and turned in various service models (pay per use, pay per miles, pay per order). Companies, with revenues already exceeding the GDP of some small countries, will control the main pipelines: data, electricity, oil, data and intelligence . Our obsession with digitalization will force workers who don’t master “the taming of machines” into performing tasks delegated by the machines  (eg. last mile delivery and couriers, human drivers who act according to some API call).

The state of the IT industry around AI is pretty much similar to the state of mind of students in their first semester at the university. Eager, partially confused, to some extent motivated – but either way clueless to what’s to come. While I have full confidence in the growth of automation, augmented and automatic intelligence, I also think we are underestimating the extent to which this process will turn us into cyborgs. SkyNet won’t be 100% silicon and metal, it will be tangled mesh of machine and human activity. While automatic intelligence evolves, more human intelligence is turned into commodity.

In this new era, controlling automatic intelligence is the new gold and human intelligence is the new oil.

 

The automation of intelligence will undoubtedly affect our lives and careers. There is little doubt about that. It is for this reason that I believe it is our responsibility to prepare our children and to give them the right tools-of-the-mind, so they won’t have to end up on the wrong side of automation.

 

*** “A.I.”, like many overhyped terms, is weakly defined, overlapping and confusing. Think of AI more as of Automatic Intelligence or Automated Intelligence rather than as Autonomous Intelligence or Artificial (General Intelligence).

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