Artificial Intelligence: Man's New Best Friend


Roll over dogs, there’s a new human companion in town and it’s smart, omnipresent and perhaps best of all, hair-free. Thanks to massive improvements in artificial intelligence (“AI”), technology is taking data’s utility to a whole new level, with a lot less drama than Elon Musk fears. While Hollywood, journalists and scientists wonder whether AI will turn on us, the less ballyhooed reality is more subtle, pervasive and industry-changing.

Lots of Smoke

Far be it from me to disagree with Stephen Hawking or Bill Gates about the long-term risks of an independent “super intelligence.” But here and now, some of the world’s leading technologists are working hard for much humbler, more pragmatic and benevolent applications. Over the past year, IBM doubled down on Watson and its multi-billion dollar efforts to apply cognitive computing to medicine, financial services, education and sports. Microsoft open-sourced its deep learning platform to accomplish feats like recognizing photos and understanding human speech; Google open-sourced TensorFlow, its latest machine learning platform; Facebook began experimenting with a ubiquitous personal assistant; Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, Jessica Livingston and others are investing $1 billion+ to fund OpenAI; Accenture is doubling down on AI; and the broader ecosystem is growing so fast it’s hard to map (though credible private tallies estimate that VCs have invested over $2.6 billion in 780 startups in this space over the past couple years).

Lots of Fire, Too

So what? Well, the reality is that AI is already enabling experiences we all take for granted. Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Google Now, Amazon Echo and just about every new car have voice-based interaction. None of them are perfect, but they’re changing the way we interact with increasingly personalized machine-powered experiences, every day. Less prevalent, but perhaps even more powerful, AI and its close cousin, machine learning, are fighting fraud and changing the way we invest, buy a house, find a hotel, drive a car, and meet a mate. Smartphones and tablets changed the way we live, work and play. The next major revolution in how we interact with technology is well under way, and heads up: it isn’t “mobile,” drones, or virtual reality (at least not yet). It’s the AI under the hood of all of these technologies, and more.

Can’t Live Without It

I love dogs. I mean, come on, don’t you always hang a question mark over the head of someone who doesn’t? But let’s face it, you never leave home without your smartphone, which is your personal portal into massive amounts of AI-powered experiences. You often leave home without your keys, wallet, and yes, your furry friend.

AI + Big Data = Whoa

Yes, really. AI is man’s new best friend because the next meta-wave of technology is all about ingesting, understanding, cleaning, parsing and applying massive amounts of unstructured data. It’s inconceivable for people to accomplish these tasks at scale without AI.

Yep, We Need Each Other.

Nor can machines accomplish these massive, data-driven tasks including data enrichment, cleansing, and collection, without us. AI will cause disruption, but it will not cause large-scale job loss. Why? Three reasons.

First, humans still have massive advantages in our ability to pattern recognize, synthesize subjective factors (including emotions), and anticipate other human responses. Machine learning algorithms will continue to perform more rote tasks, better, and move up the “value chain” to more complex tasks. But the New York Times accurately concludes that lawyers’ jobs are safe, and a large-scale study by McKinsey estimates that less than 5 percent of jobs can be completely automated based on existing technologies within the next three to five years.

Second, machines need humans to train, test and retrain them. The limits of AI are no longer computing power, or bandwidth, or raw data. The biggest limiting factor in AI’s applicability is the availability of high-quality data that accurately reflect how specific types of people think, act and feel. At our intelligent crowdsourcing company, Spare5, we are powering a diverse set of customers’ needs for domain-specific, reliable training data through the use of machine learning algorithms powered by human insights, and so we are seeing the revolution from the engine room.

Third, big companies are still figuring out how to integrate new AI-powered capabilities into their existing workflows. For example, AI is going to revolutionize how we shop. In the near future, my connected devices will anticipate my purchases, by understanding not just a fraction of my history, but also by considering my existing wardrobe, style, season, weather, geography, personality, life stage, hobbies, preferences and broader fashion trends. That’s a lot, but it is not science fiction. Ironically, though, retailers are going to need to break out of their A/B testing comfort zone to radically incorporate these capabilities. Those that do, will win big. Those that do not, well…ouch.

In a Harvard Business Review interview, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee called upon entrepreneurs to “race with machines,” pointing out the massive opportunity we have to create new, better jobs and lives by harnessing the computing power we are creating:

This is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to think of ways of using humans in new applications, combining them with technology. We call that racing with machines as opposed to racing against them. 

Sorry, Rover

There’s been a lot of hype about machines in the media. We’ve heard the good and the bad, making it all the more important to take a step back and examine the actual relationship between humans and machines. Thus far it hasn’t been one of competition—man versus machine. It’s been one of companionship—man with machine. Separate, man’s evolution is limited, and machines are stunted. Together, humans can teach machines to learn and interact with humans, ultimately aiding them in accomplishing their greatest goals and realizing their most innovative visions. Machine, by all accounts, is our new best friend.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere
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