A Meeting of (Artificial) Minds
Connecting AI technologies presents extraordinary opportunities and unprecedented dangers.
True artificial intelligence, like virtual reality or the self-driving car, is one of those long-promised breakthroughs that seems to be finally arriving. It’s possible that AI’s entrance into everyday life will happen so gradually that we’ll barely notice it—think of the way video calling crept in via Skype and FaceTime. But it seems equally likely that AI will be the killer app that disrupts beyond recognition the way companies conduct business and governments run countries.
As with many digital technologies, there’s one key ingredient that could prove to be the catalyst that truly brings artificial intelligence to life: connectivity.
The Giants of AI Put Their Heads Together
Recently, it was announced that IBM and Salesforce were launching a new partnership that would combine the might of their respective artificial intelligences—Watson and Einstein—to create a new solution able to deliver previously-unavailable insights applicable across sales, marketing, commerce and services. Given the demonstrated power of IBM’s Watson tech and Salesforce’s massive user base, this could be a major development.
APIs as Neural Pathways
Specifically, it might conceivably have a significant impact on the way many—if not most—enterprises market and sell their products and services. But to understand the broader significance of this deal, we need to look at how it is being achieved. IBM’s Watson APIs are getting integrated into Salesforce, so that Watson’s AI tech can combine with Einstein and customer data to deliver new predictive insights.
Web APIs, which Salesforce pioneered, are essential to the ubiquitous connectivity that characterizes the age of “always-on” mobility and the Internet of Things. APIs connect enterprise IT systems and data stores with smart devices and apps of all kinds. They also present the possibility of tying artificial intelligences into this vast web of information and functionality, creating extraordinary opportunities for machine learning.
By connecting online, AIs like Watson and Einstein could become very, very smart indeed. This would undoubtedly create a great deal of the disruption that we’re all being invited to embrace in the age of digital transformation. But many—including some highly-prominent tech boosters—would question whether the specific type of disruption that would come from connected AIs is necessarily something to be welcomed with open arms.
The near-apocalyptic dangers inherent in linking powerful artificial minds has long been a staple of science fiction, perhaps most famously via Skynet from 1984’s The Terminator. In 1993, sci-fi author Vernor Vinge came up with the term “technological singularity” to describe this theoretical phenomenon. Far-fetched? The previous example of video calling shows how speculative technologies are now easing into our everyday lives.
So, maybe not so far-fetched.
Enthusiasm for digital disruption is one thing but letting potentially dangerous technologies run amok is quite another. AI’s integration into the connected web of our digital lives will require careful management and good governance. To an extent, this is nothing new—the internet, APIs and IoT have all thrown up their own challenges. It’s just the scale that has changed. The opportunities and dangers created by AI connectivity are truly unprecedented.