For decades, futurists and technology lovers have speculated about what a future with artificial intelligence (AI) could look like. And for the past couple of years, we’ve seen a steady rollout of impressive AI tools that are unlike anything that came before it.
Technologists are speculating that we could be entering a new kind of industrial revolution, capable of transforming life as much as the internet did when it originally came to prominence. White collar workers in countless industries are worried about job security for the first time. And investors and business leaders are practically drooling about the potential profitability of AI applications.
Is it possible that this supposed AI revolution is overhyped?
And if not, what comes next?
Generative AI: Past, Present, and Future
One of the most impactful technology developments of the past few years has been generative AI, a type of tool designed to generate content based on a user prompt. Typically, these tools use large language models (LLMs) to analyze millions and millions of examples of content, so they can use a predictive engine to produce content similar in quality and scope.
Generative AI has potential applications for almost every industry, some of which are more obvious than others. Most people understand that generative AI is useful for content creation, as it can churn out original material on almost any subject in a matter of seconds. But generative AI is also useful for the legal industry; lawyers are already starting to use generative AI tools for legal research, document review, contract drafting, and more.
Upon using one of these tools for the first time, you may be overwhelmed by the quality of content it’s capable of producing. Before your eyes, you can watch it “write” hundreds of words about any topic you’re passionate about – and it might be close to the quality of content you can write.
Early users occasionally walked away feeling like this machine was practically sentient, or that it was a preliminary model that could turn into an artificial super genius. But the reality is a bit more mundane.
At the core of this tool is nothing more than a prediction engine, attempting to predict the most likely next word in sequence after studying innumerable examples of similar pieces of content. Accordingly, this type of tool is incapable of providing genuine opinions or insights, it doesn’t have any true expertise on any subject, and it has no discernible personality to inject into the work. On top of that, there are still problems with accuracy, bias, and repetitiveness.
That’s not to say that generative AI is bad. On the contrary, it’s quite incredible. But to say that this is single-handedly capable of sparking an AI revolution might be an overstatement. In the future, with sufficient advancement, this may change.
AI Isn’t Exactly New
Do you feel like the AI revolution has just begun? Many people do. But the truth is, we’ve been using AI and machine learning for the better part of a decade, and few people were claiming we were in the midst of a revolution even a few years ago. Digital assistants like Siri are examples of AI that can recognize human speech and replicate human speech – but nobody thought Siri was going to take over the world.
The AI Gold Rush
Now, we’re seeing the rise of hundreds, or even thousands of AI tools built on similar architecture. Innovators and business leaders all over the planet are hoping to get a piece of the AI pie. Companies like Nvidia, which makes integrated circuits necessary for GPUs and countless AI applications, have surged in popularity. And practically every major tech company is trying to figure out how to get a competitive edge.
On some level, this is very exciting. AI has practically unlimited potential to improve our lives, boost efficiency and profitability, and transform our economic landscape for the better. But there’s a huge amount of investment in a relatively new technology that hasn’t demonstrated its full potential yet. These are similar conditions to what we had in the beginning of the dot-com bubble when the internet was still new.
The Long-Term Potential
Most instances of AI that we currently have are examples of narrow intelligence; these are systems that are very, very good at only one thing. Artificial general intelligence (AGI) is something entirely different. With AGI, you could gain access to human-like cognitive abilities, capable of “thinking” and combining ideas from many different areas. Human-level AGI is still a long way away, and super-human AGI may or may not be possible. But we must acknowledge the infinite potential here.
Where We Are
AI is here. It’s been here. And it’s truly impressive. But all the profit-seeking entrepreneurs chasing shiny objects and all the luddite-adjacent doomsayers might be overstating the overall impact that it can currently have.
Featured image provided by Pavel Danilyuk; Pexels; Thanks!