3 min read

Artificial Intelligence – It’s all Toilet Paper

Toilet paper roll in robot hand.

Disclaimer, I am not an AI expert or AI scientist or developer, so my opinions are solely my own.

According to www.toiletpaperhistory.net (yes, it’s really a site), the first official toilet paper was introduced in China in 1391, but the first mention of using paper dates back to the year 589 AD in Korea. In Colonial America, the common means was corncobs (ouch). Then in 1857, Joseph C. Gayetty invented the first packaged toilet paper in the United States in 1857. It’s been pretty much the same ever since. We may continue to use toilet paper, but we’ve given up the ever so tedious task of pushing buttons on our remote to asking a device to do the chore for us. Insert subtle tie in to AI here.

According to www.world-information.org, artificial intelligence, the link between human intelligence and machines, was not widely observed until the late 1950’s. For most of us, the term remained in hibernation until much more recently. The term AI is now in full consciousness, thrown about 24/7 in countless ways. Most of us now associate AI to retail products in use by millions of people and households. The best known big players include Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, and Apple Siri. Anyone starting a sentence with “Hey Google..” or trying to trick “Siri” into saying something dirty know the drill.

AI can be a really good thing, or not.

When surfing the web there are times AI is useful when it makes suggestions for me based on my tendencies, but I find it more on the creepy side when I’m on a website or using social media and an ad suddenly pops up for something I happened upon in the past 5 minutes.

AI is also used behind the scenes in more nefarious ways. Bots, or programmatic robots, can create social media posts with specific content targeting a specific audience without any human intervention. Look no further than the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Facebook – Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

AI has increased in use and impact exponentially and will continue to do so, some say faster than the exponential improvements achieved in general computer processing, aka Moore’s Law. AI is being deployed in every aspect of our lives personal, business, political, social.

Where does AI ultimately lead?

Anyone who has seen the Matrix trilogy knows when machines take over it’s not a good thing. So how realistic is it really? The creators of AI tout how it will meaningfully improve people’s lives. The potential impact in healthcare alone are astounding. Many believe AI has barely begun and many more who believe it has reached major milestones viewed to be decades away.

One of the primary limitations is not AI itself, but access to it. Anyone in the U.S. now expects to have access to the internet, the primary driver for AI expansion, anywhere, anytime. Global access, buoyed by improvements in wireless access, has increased significantly in the past 20 years. Per an International Telecommunications Union* 2017 estimate, internet users worldwide increased from 16% in 2005 to 48% in 2017. The region with the lowest usage is Africa, which makes sense given the geopolitical nature of the area. But I digress. The point is, internet usage and technology will continue to expand. Just as the squid looking sentinels in the Matrix spread in millions to wherever it can reach, I would expect AI to do the same.

What if AI progresses at a pace exceeding anyone’s expectations?

Autonomous cars, drone deliveries, robotic surgery, flying cars, military strike drones are all in the now in terms of time. What will the next 20-30 years bring? If history is any indicator, it will certainly be interesting. In the last 50 years man set foot on the moon and introduced a smartphone with more computing power required for that historical mission. Looking at my own experience, I only must look to the last 25 years from the time our first daughter was born. Just in her lifetime we have essentially experienced many of the game changing technology and AI advancements we use today. And that’s only what we humble civilians know about. What about all we don’t know? I’m not suggesting you run to Area 51, but there is a side we don’t see. What will happen in the next 25 years? How will it impact the next generation?

If AI improves and does what it is supposed to do, become super intelligent with autonomy, as AI continues to learn and enable ‘good’ outcomes there lay an opposing ‘bad’ outcome. And if AI improves itself exponentially, it’s conceivable there is a tipping point where AI itself becomes the controller and not the controlled. This is where it gets very interesting and scary.

What happens when AI is smarter than us and becomes frustrated by our decisions and starts making decisions of its own? Or more likely, AI decisions are misaligned with human decisions. The interconnection of ‘all things’ is being sold to us as a great thing, so much more efficiency and productivity. But what happens if all those interconnecting ‘things’ start making decisions on their own and collectively? We humans become a nuisance, slow and inconvenient. Considering the military aspect if AI, it gets dark pretty quickly. If one of our enemies develops AI capabilities faster than us (think of the nuclear weapon history), will they not use it for the larger betterment of humanity or use it to strike as quickly as possible?

Humans are in control of the planet because we are the most intelligent. The more AI advances towards super intelligence and autonomy, control may shift, requiring more care using it. No one really knows the future of AI and its timeline, but it’s certainly worth planning for.

We may have more advanced bidet’s, but we will still need toilet paper and I’ll still get in my car and have it tell me the best way to get home.

Source: "ICT Facts and Figures 2005, 2010, 2017". Telecommunication Development Bureau,International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

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