Below is the kick-off to our series, AIML: Big Changes, Big Conversations. Taking AIML (Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning) as our example, we will explore methods for accelerating and amplifying conversations around major changes in ways that enable us, as individuals and as a collective, to understand and direct their impact.

“AI is the new electricity.” So stated artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) expert Andrew Ng during MIT’s EmTech Digital Conference this year. Electricity, as a commodity, was initially perceived as an additive ingredient that might contribute to incremental change, observes Ng.  In retrospect, of course, we know it “transformed everything.” Ng gives two quick examples of the “unexpected ramifications” of electricity: electric refrigeration, which (no big deal) “changed the entire food supply chain system”; and electric motors, which (casually) revolutionized virtually every form of human industry. These kinds of grand scale “transformative effects” are exactly what Ng predicts will come about through AI.

This explains why companies are currently hiring chief data officers and chief AI officers in the same way they once hired the now absurd sounding “Vice President of Electricity”. Ng tells it like this:

…in the early days we used to have a role called the VP of Electricity. Because electricity was really complicated; you had to hire someone to manage it. I think we’re in that stage now. And this is creating a lot of value. If you’re not quite sure what else to do, if you’re a C-level exec, if you hire a chief data officer or chief AI officer, they can come sprinkle a bit of AI on things, and it will be worth your while.

But… and this is a big “but,” Ng thinks that in the next several years “there’ll be another transformation” and AI will need to become integral to company-level, strategic decisions of all sorts. AIML will no longer be merely “sprinkled” on top; it will be integrated into the very fabric of how we work and how we plan for the future of our organizations.

In his recent book, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, Nick Bostrom, director of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, argues for a holistic and planful approach to the sea change in our world that is indicated by AIML. Society, insists Bostrom, is just beginning to take seriously the idea that,

… a machine intelligence transition might occur in this century, that such a transition might be among the most important events in human history, that it might be accompanied by some amount of existential risk as well as tremendous upside, and that it would be prudent to put in a bit of work in advance to see if there is something we should be doing to shorten the odds of a favorable outcome. Granted, there is still that picture of the terminator jeering over practically every journalistic attempt to engage with the subject. But away from the popular cacophony, it is now also possible—if one perks up one’s ears and angles them correctly—to hear the low-key murmur of a more grownup conversation.

If it is indeed the case that this “grownup conversation” is just beginning, how do we amplify it? How do we accelerate it? How do we help positively direct this major change at the personal, organizational, and societal levels? These are the kinds of questions that we at Collective Next thrive on.

Transformation is what excites and unites us. Facilitating positive change is our mission. As we think about a step change like that coming with AIML, we support a purposeful response in at least three ways:

  1. Expanding the conversation—Engage with a larger community in understanding and assessing AIML.
  2. Putting content into context—Help companies understand the opportunities and challenges that will arise as a result of AIML.
  3. Convening the community—Create opportunity for reflective conversation within and among experts from the AIML community.

In this series we will focus on venues in which this approach to facilitating change can occur. We will explore a community forum, which foregrounds AIML. We will consider a global summit, which explores technological innovation as it relates to banking. And we will listen up with a podcast, which seeks to have “human conversation about machine learning.”