The rise of intelligent machines
It is difficult to grasp fully the speed, depth, and overall impact of the digital and fourth industrial revolutions with, as a major component, the rise of intelligent machines. The challenges and opportunities are unprecedented, and organisations and employee lives are at the frontline. How to start thinking about speed of change and impact on management and people in this emerging future (futuristic?) environment?
Exponential growth – what if your daughter were 1000 times more intelligent than you?
We are all familiar with the words: intelligent machines, robotics, global connectivity, sensors everywhere, virtual reality, augmented reality. We are also familiar with the early applications of these technologies: personal agents, analytics, robots, autonomous vehicles to name but a few. We can also read in the press the impact of these technologies on jobs and organisations. What is more difficult to grasp is what the future has in store in the medium to long term. A simple extrapolation won’t do. The reason is that the human mind tends to extrapolate linearly (see references); it has difficulty with a fundamental aspect of all these technologies: exponential growth. In a sense we are used to it, with Moore’s law being well known. Moore’s law is used to describe the doubling of transistors on a computer chip every eighteen months and the growth in bandwidth of communication networks. Computing power, memory and connectivity are increasing exponentially and their cost is also reducing exponentially. Up until recently, the benefits could be described as benign from a human perspective; that is, mostly beneficial with few apparent disadvantages. Who would object to cheaper laptops, cheaper smart phones, cheaper phone plans, video streaming, etc. Exponential growth seems to bring convenience and material advantages that are easy to grasp.
It is a different matter when we start to think of intelligence. Let’s take a child, your child perhaps. Let’s imagine that she is growing in intelligence in front of your eyes. Initially, as you would expect the child will grow and it is rewarding, and you’re pleased. But then, as she reaches her teenage years her intellectual capacity keeps doubling every eighteen months, in speed of thinking, breadth and depth of knowledge, and sophistication of analysis. By sixteen, say, she is at your level. By the age of thirty-two, her memory and knowledge would be approximately one thousand time yours and she would also think one thousand times faster. What does it mean and what would the impact be on you and society? And what if all children were to become like your daughter? We think it is safe to say that we have no idea about the implication on us and our society. You might say that artificial intelligence is not like human intelligence or that it may not grow quite as fast. True, but it does not change the outcome, we still have no idea. We have trouble understanding exponential growth and its implications. What we can say, is that we are entering the age of turbulence. This means that unpredictable, rapid change in and from multiple directions will challenge us at every turn.
These changes will produce huge waves that will collide and create massive upheavals. There will be disruptions, in technology, the economy and society. Change will happen to us and we will have to transform and adapt. There are great opportunities but there are also great risks. We are entering the ‘age of disruptions’.
Impact on management thinking
Most of our current management thinking was developed in pre-Internet time, and most definitely pre-AI. Let’s call this ‘legacy management’. The question is: what type of management will be needed to cope with the ‘age of disruptions’? What will be the role of the individual, the team, the organisation, the business leaders and society? We will endeavour to address these questions in future blogs. We’ll do it in two ways: by taking a high-level view and also by considering practical aspects and solutions that could be applied now. We want to enlarge thinking if we can but we also want to be and stay relevant and practical today. Stay tuned!
Paul Guignard, Ph.D. Founder and director, Capability Institute