There’s a name that’s mentioned in every story written about artificial intelligence since 1984, and it’s not a scientist. It’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. So let’s get this out of the way. The Terminator is a very fine film, but it is not a documentary.
Futurist and author Gihan Perera, who has been watching computer intelligence grow exponentially for 30 years, admits, “Artificial intelligence scares some people. They think it’s a killer robot. They’re thinking of Arnie Schwarzenegger, but that’s not what AI is. It’s just self-learning software.
“We don’t need to worry about ‘the singularity’. That’s dystopian thinking. But there’s also a utopian view where, thanks to AI, we’ll all be living lives of luxury, doing everything we choose to do.
“The reality will be somewhere in between.”
This sounds vaguely reassuring. What’s not in doubt is that businesses which don’t quickly adapt to and capitalise on the myriad advantages of AI will be terminated by those that do.
“In business, if you’re not engaging with AI, you’re going to get beaten; it’s that simple,” explains Perera, author of Disrupted: Leading the Change Through Crisis, Recovery and Growth.
“One of the biggest mistakes that I see leaders make with AI is that they don’t realise how powerful it already is. They pray that they won’t need to get on the AI bandwagon because they think it’s too difficult, but it’s already here, and the businesses on the bandwagon are riding away from them.”
The key is a term that humans generally struggle to understand – ‘exponential growth’ (rarely seen in nature, or at least, not until a health pandemic comes along).
“We don’t see much exponential growth in real life, and the best business example is Kodak, which was one of the biggest brands in the world in 1995, and filed for bankruptcy in 2012,” Perera says.
“Kodak didn’t understand exponential growth. We often hear that they were afraid of digital, but it was actually someone in the company that invented the digital camera, took it to senior management and said, ‘What do you think of this?’
“You might think management said, ‘Destroy it. It’s going to kill us,’ but it’s the opposite; they said, ‘This thing is grainy. It’s slow. It will never be as high quality as film. Don’t worry about it.’
“But they didn’t take into account that technology grows exponentially, and they were quickly overtaken.”
Another thing a lot of people don’t realise is just how much AI is already a part of their everyday lives, and how much it is driving the success of some of the biggest companies on the planet.
AI already sets the prices on Amazon, predicts your Google searches, runs your GPS, sends you an Uber, matches buyers and sellers online, recommends songs on Spotify and even qualifies borrowers for companies like Ant Financial Services Group.
This giant Chinese company – valued at around A$400 billion, or three to four times the equity value of Goldman Sachs – uses AI for consumer lending, credit-rating services, investment funds and selling health insurance.
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