Life After the Cambrian Explosion in AI

Dag Kittlaus, co-founder and CEO of Viv, recently authored a piece in TechCrunch called “A Cambrian Explosion of AI Is Coming.” Here’s a quick summary of what I took away as the major points of the article. Kittlaus postulates that intelligent assistant technologies are in their adolescence.

Neural NetworksThe iPhone and Siri were both groundbreaking products that “set a new bar for simplicity.” The iPhone was a complete market success and initiated a paradigm shift in the way we interact with digital technology. Siri didn’t have the same success, but it marked the beginning of the next paradigm. Intelligent assistants will simplify how we access applications and in some cases make services completely transparent.

Once intelligent assistants are at the point where they understand our needs and can independently find and access services to fill those needs, a whole universe of easily accessible services will open up to us. We won’t have to even think about how to interact with an app, or even what app to use. All that will be managed for us behind the scenes by our assistant.

Intelligent assistants will be able to more smartly anticipate our needs by connecting the dots between actions we take and other actions we might wish to take as a result. For example, if we’ve just booked a date on an online dating site, we might like to reserve a table for dinner, find out what entertainment is scheduled for that night, and pre-order something for our date. Kittlaus sees this emerging ability of AI to do what he calls “deep linking” as the beginning of a new, powerful marketplace where people will be able to target all kinds of products and services to people who are receptive to their message.

I agree with Dag’s vision. However, I wouldn’t emphasize the commercial aspect of the intelligent assistant-enabled marketplace. Yes, there will no doubt be lots of companies that will leverage an intelligent assistant’s knowledge of your intent and current needs to market their wares to you. But if the future of an AI-empowered world is primarily about more effectively targeting ads, that seems like a pretty dismal world. In fact, if sounds like something out a Philip K. Dick novel, where in his bizarre future persistent advertising drones slide through the cracks in a rolled down car window to bombard the driver, who just complained about the onset of baldness, with a hair growth formula.

I’d like to think that it will be world in which our intelligent assistants will keep us from being pestered by advertisements we don’t want. Maybe there isn’t even a need for advertising anymore, because your assistant will understand you and anticipate what you’re looking for at any given moment and present you with the best choices to address your need. Of course, this anticipation could become a double edged sword. As a prominent panelist mentioned during a discussion at the recent Intelligent Assistants Conference sponsored by Opus Research, do we want to live in a world where as soon as you think about how good a high-calorie muffin might taste, a muffin drops out of the sky into your hands and is charged to your credit card? Will the intelligent assistant also know that you’re trying to lose weight and prevent the muffin from dropping? Do we even want our intelligent assistants making those choices for us?

The AI Cambrian Explosion will happen, and possibly sooner than we think. The conversations are already underway about how this technology may impact our lives.

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