When Everything Wakes Up

Get ready for a world of talking toasters, ATM’s, snack machines, hotels, houses, and coffee pots. We’ve been conditioned by every single fictional depiction of AI as coming about abruptly. One day your at the DMV and the next day Skynet takes over. This is called a hard takeoff and it gets nearly 100% of media coverage.

Nick Bostrom, popular AI academic, thinks this is the most likely scenario and that it will result is a single dominant super AI (a singleton).

“The nature of the intelligence explosion does encourage a winner-take-all dynamic. In this case, if there is no extensive collaboration before the takeoff, a singleton is likely to emerge – a single project would undergo the transition alone, at some point obtaining a decisive strategic advantage.” - http://bit.ly/1RHsLtk

In contrast, a soft takeoff prediction posits that every thing around us will get smarter and smarter and become a normal part of life and that we will get used to it much like the way we’ve gotten used to carrying super computers around in our pockets. This view predicts that AI advances will happen incrementally and diffuse throughout society.

I believe this is far more realistic view of how things will unfold, and interesting, almost completely unrepresented in publicized AI discussions. The reality of the soft takeoff theory can be see by plotting the converging trajectory of two technologies:

\1. Artificial Intelligence as Utility

“It [AI] will enliven inert objects, much as electricity did more than a century ago. Everything that we formerly electrified we will now cognitize.. There is almost nothing we can think of that cannot be made new, different, or interesting by infusing it with some extra IQ… Like all utilities, AI will be supremely boring, even as it transforms the Internet, the global economy, and civilization.” - http://on.wsj.com/1RHtb2P

\2. The Internet of Things

“This is the language of the future: tiny, intelligent things all around us, coordinating their activities. Coffeepots that talk to alarm clocks. Thermostats that talk to motion sensors. Factory machines that talk to the power grid and to boxes of raw material. A decade after Wi-Fi put all our computers on a wireless network—and half a decade after the smartphone revolution put a series of pocket-size devices on that network—we are seeing the dawn of an era when the most mundane items in our lives can talk wirelessly among themselves, performing tasks on command, giving us data we’ve never had before.” - http://wrd.cm/1RHt87k

I’m convinced that resistance to the soft takeoff theory in the coming years will likely be a result of people continuously raising the bar of what constitutes intelligence (see the AI effect) rather than looking at the sate of technological progress with fresh eyes and perspective. As of this week anyone with Internet access and wherewithal can develop on and integrate with IBMs’ Watson and Amazons’ Alexa. Let that sink in and now extrapolate out ten years. We are about to enter an age of technological animism.