Artificial Intelligence For All: An Industrial Revolution Scale Technology
I still remember when I first heard the word Artificial Intelligence (AI). We were undergraduate students at the University of Buea, Cameroon. That must have been around 2014/2015. Artificial Intelligence was as foreign a word to me as my name can be to you. It wasn’t a thing. It sounded so complex and so abstract that I was certain it wasn’t for me.
At the time, I never imagined that it would be the field I would finally get to work in. More so, I could not imagine that Artificial Intelligence would be a term that more and more people including people outside the tech space get to casually use almost like we use the word “internet”.
Today, AI is a buzz word. And it is transforming our world and creating a new normal that we are yet to fully experience. It’s a revolution.
The world we have today has been built through great leaps in technological advancements. The different technological leaps that significantly changed the way we work and produce came to be referred to broadly as industrial revolutions.
The first industrial revolution (1IR), situated in the 18th century, was powered by the development of the coal-powered steam engine. It ushered in the shift from human labor powered production to mechanized mass production especially in the textile industry.
The second industrial revolution (2IR) was mainly driven by the invention of electricity. Dated between 1870 and 1914, with 2IR came great inventions like the light bulb, the telephone, the internal combustion engine and automobiles, the airplane, the radio, the camera, the assembly line etc. It completely revolutionized transportation, mass production, infrastructure development and gave the world telecommunication capabilities among others.
The third industrial revolution, 3IR, which unfolded from the 1950s and to the early 2000s, was driven by the shift from analogue to digital electronics. Also regarded as the digital automation revolution, 3IR ushered in the use of electronics and Information technology to automate production. 3IR brought us computers, all kinds of electronics, the Internet and paved the way for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution also called Industry 4.0 builds on the provisions of the 3IR. A McKinsey & Company 2022 article postulates 3 main foundational drivers of Industry 4.0 as:
- connectivity, data, and computational power: cloud technology, the Internet, blockchain, sensors
- analytics and intelligence: advanced analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence
- human–machine interaction: virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), robotics and automation, autonomous guided vehicles
- advanced engineering: additive manufacturing (such as 3-D printing), renewable energy, nano-particles.
While all the above are drivers of the 4IR, I purport that AI is and will remain the most ubiquitous and the most impactful. AI is applicable across all sectors of the economy. From healthcare, education, transportation, to space exploration and production of the next weapons of mass destruction. AI will be everywhere the human mind reaches.
AI holds the greatest potential to impact us tremendously, for better and for worse, and that impact will reach everyone directly or indirectly.
With the mass adoption of such powerful, yet, poorly understood technology, there are powerful unforeseen and unintended consequences. The repercussions and ramifications of AI on us are will only be known as we adopt and use it. I don’t believe we can predetermine what they will be very well. Notwithstanding, we have to think about them.
With AI, machines now are capable of human-like capabilities on complex tasks like writing, painting, vision and recognition, speech and highly intellectual work like translation better than 95% of the human race. That is unprecedented beyond the shadow of any doubt and it is fantastic. But it is not all good news (we can discuss this in another article).
The most important thing to note here is that, an industrial revolution scale technology doesn’t only affect some sectors in the economy or some aspects of life but cuts through everything changing how things were previously done completely. AI is doing that. And we are all subject to this revolution.
Those who know that it is happening, and those who are clueless about it are all impacted to different degrees both positively and otherwise. In this AI enabled world
- Our cameras can be eyes with brains capable of recognition
- We can produce content including text, images and videos with very minimal effort. More than ever you can’t trust what you see because it looks real.
- Anyone can become smarter and more effective by intelligently using the publicly available AI solutions like chatGPT
These capabilities that AI is unleashing for the good of the human race are truly amazing. We should all be using them. How? Seek and you will find. But with great capabilities for good, come great capabilities for bad intended or unintended.
With great power come great challenges and great responsibility
Perhaps the most talked about challenge that most people are largely concerned with is that AI will take over our jobs. And yes AI will take over many jobs, starting mainly in advanced economies. All industrial revolutions from the first to the third, destroyed jobs. But more importantly, they created new ones, often better ones, and unleashed new capabilities to serve more people better goods and services. We already know this.
Industrial revolutions destabilize old equilibriums. But they also create new ones. The most important thing for individuals is positioning oneself to have a place and play a role in the new equilibrium.
New equilibria are always biased against some people in the population in favor of others. They are very often biased against the old in favor of the young. They are biased against the less educated in favor of the more educated. They are often biased against the developing in favor of the developed. They are biased against conservatives in favor of liberals. They are often biased against tradition in favor of novelty. They are biased against people who are slow to change in favor of people who hunger for change. Take for instance
- 1IR was biased against experts, often older craftsmen who had mastered the art of spinning cotton in favor of younger people who understood mechanization and were excited about leaving manual labor behind.
- Digitization was biased against experts who couldn’t do the same work with computers in favor of people who were less experienced but could do the same work using computers.
- Today, younger people who understand how to elicit insight from data are replacing the experts who used to be consulted for such insight that they took years to amass.
That has always been the spirit of industrial revolutions. When they show up, a new equilibrium is about to be set. They are inflection points in human progress that unleash new possibilities.
Many people worry about their security to provide for themselves in the modern economy. In this age, security in employment and business has become a wild ghost. It is a chasing of the wind. One might as well hug his shadow for comfort.
We have to leave behind the concept of job security and embrace a new concept, adaptability.
The security of anyone in this modern age is to acknowledge these:
- Change is inevitable and it is coming to us at a faster pace.
- The only security one has to not be swept away and destroyed by it is to focus on their ability to adapt and change with the changing times.
- Decide to bend with the wind not against it. Be flexible.
- The second Industrial Revolution: The Technological Revolution https://richmondvale.org/blog/second-industrial-revolution/
- Third Industrial Revolution Brings Global Development by Mohajan, Haradhan
- Industrial Revolution — From Industry 1.0 to Industry 4.0 https://www.desouttertools.com/your-industry/news/503/industrial-revolution-from-industry-1-0-to-industry-4-0