There are compelling impacts in the pivot points where technology and the economy intersect. How e-commerce has transformed traditional retail, how self-serve kiosks have reduced input costs and displaced workers, how web platforms like Airbnb, Uber or Hotwire have disintermediated entire industries.
But what about the promise of artificial intelligence (AI)? How do we embrace this disruption?
Advocates of AI, and there are many companies investing great sums to perfect computational intelligence, recognize the immense power and potential of thinking systems. Super intelligent computers connected to an array of robotics, machinery and the internet.
Just like HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” self-actualized computers have the potential for great benefit and great peril. In the 1984 film “The Terminator,” when computers became self-aware they immediately focused on destroying humanity.
A lot of technological ground has been covered in 35 years since The Terminator, but the potential of these computers is now upon us.
We are all becoming more reliant on Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri and even self-driving cars; all forms of early AI. Research is currently focused on developing AI for efficiency and cost-reduction benefits. Having computers write their own programing code, dangerous mining exploration, even providing medical assessments and diagnosis. Any function where humans can fatigue, express emotional interference, be exposed to danger, or where time is a critical constraint.
Could P.E.I. invest in AI to interact with tourism enquiries through telephone or internet? Yes, thousands of conversations concurrently all hours of the day by one system. If your regional hospital was understaffed and threatened with closure, would you drive 30 minutes to a closer hospital or would you be comfortable being assessed and medically serviced by intelligent computer systems? If sourcing staff to operate your seafood processing facility is a challenge, would you turn the operations over to a series of robotics (lights-out manufacturing is a growing phenomenon)?
With these benefits also comes human-resourcing displacement, and significant social upheaval. Business will seek efficiency, but governments will be left to address the repercussions — which are significant.
For all the business benefit, why are technology leaders such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak raising alarms? This week, billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban was addressing a group of high-school students and stated, “If you don't think by the time most of you are in your mid-40s that a Terminator will appear, you’re crazy.” That is a 2040 prediction.
For all the promise and peril, we are on the cusp of initially great personal benefit, great business benefit, followed by rapid societal readjustment and potentially an intelligence greater than our own which may or may not have the same objectives as humanity. This final evolution is the fear of some.
Like Canadian rapper Drake states on his album of the same title, “What a time to be alive.” We can see the path before us but have little potential to influence this trajectory. Adaptation becomes important to fortify business models and forward plan.
One thing is for certain, when technology and the economy intersect, change occurs at an increasing pace.
Blake Doyle is The Guardian's small business columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.