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Pink-eyed terminators and limbless chickens are a distraction

Beyond the apocalyptic alarmism of Boris Johnson's UN speech on the challenges of technology, there were some pertinent points. Our Technical Team Lead, Brad Stacey, separates truth from fiction, and suggests a more balanced view of the future of AI.

 

The Prime Minister’s dread-filled speech at The UN was delivered like some bizarre Etonian stand-up set, but there’s an interesting lesson to be learned.

Change is happening

There’s no doubt about it, our hyper-connected, data driven, AI infused world is changing quicker than we might realise. In the last few weeks:

Today machines are able to see, hear, understand, speak and make decisions in ways previously considered impossible. As algorithms improve, chips get cheaper and more data becomes available this progress isn’t going to slow down.

This period of rapid technology change will deliver new opportunities to be yet more efficient, yet more effective or preferably both. This is an opportunity that presents itself just as openly to our competitors as it does ourselves. Therefore, we have to engage. If we don’t engage, we fall behind.

How should we engage?

Johnson’s view, though entertaining, won’t leave you with many options to move forward through this change in a meaningful way. Our mindset is to be optimistic, but realistic. To be thoughtful but focused.

Optimistic… – I’ve always found the preoccupation with theoretical killer robots to be bizarre when there are amazing and real breakthroughs being made on cancer vaccines, the detection of premature babies, clean energy, cruelty free food and much more. We’ve got to be optimistic about what these technologies mean for us, our businesses and our clients.

…but realistic – In AI there’s a “no free lunch” theory which states that there’s no easy, one-click fix for a given AI problem. While new these new technologies can help transform your business, it’s unlikely to be an overnight or revolutionary change. Even cutting-edge technology has clear limitations. Bear in mind that not all innovation has to be ground-breaking. Fix something small, learn, fix something bigger.

Thoughtful… - The best technology solves real problems in brilliant ways. The worst creates new problems. Be mindful of what your choices mean to the people that will be affected by your decisions, even if indirectly. Always challenge 1 dimensional measures of success.

…but focused – the big questions about technology like “what happens when machines are smarter than humans?” and “how do we adapt to an economy where nobody has to work?” are stimulating and worth asking. They sell books and conference tickets, but beyond that they can be a tremendous distraction. Focus on how, in the near term, you can solve today’s problems with today’s tools. That way you’re best set to take on tomorrow’s.

Embrace the change

Johnson’s speech was sprawling, dystopic and preoccupied by the negative impact of technology giants. From that position it would be easy to disengage, to think it’s all much to negative and to assume that the only people that could possibly benefit are those technology giants.

The brave and more challenging thing to do is to engage. Embrace this change with optimism, an open mind and the motivation to get something done and you’ll have a better business to show for it. You’ll discover new ways to work and uncover completely new opportunities.

To find out more about how Bray Leino can help your brand navigate the changing digital landscape, contact Austen Donnellan.