I don’t know which bothers me more: Seeing the term “AI” tossed around as a marketing buzzword for things that don’t have any AI, or seeing technologists who really do use machine intelligence claim that AI will destroy us all. Both seem likely to turn people away from artificial intelligence just as the rest of the world is turning toward it.
Let’s define AI, for our purposes, as machine algorithms that don’t just automate human activities, but augment them to be smarter. AI doesn’t only make your work go faster, it gives you unprecedented, even hard-to-believe abilities to predict success or failure, to find a needle in a planet of haystacks, or to see meaning in patterns that look like random noise even to experts.
This sort of AI has already remade marketing. The most effective mailing lists are no longer spam-’em-all broadcasts. They’re AI-targeted to audience segments, who each get a customized message. What to say to who, and when to say it, is optimized by algorithms that have calculated what will most likely generate the best response from each recipient based on what’s already known about them.
Great for marketers – but what does AI do for you?
You probably only notice the failures — that pair of shoes that follows you around on every website you visit, even after you buy them. But you’re not seeing all the messages you’re not getting, those you’d have no interest in at all.
Until now, it’s often been machines that trained humans — we do manual, boring data-entry work, like preparing charts or entering the same profile info to a dozen sites. But AI is really good at taking over all the dull data-shoveling and number-crunching. We can go back to being smart and creative with our brains, and let the machines automate and optimize repetitive tasks for us.
To use True Anthem as an example, online content long ago passed the point where anyone could see even a fraction of what’s being created every day. It’s accelerating even as you read this. AI will be not just helpful, but necessary, to connect you with the stories that matter most to you.
An easy example: AI might know that by and large, you hate political news and don’t bother reading it. But what if your mayor were arrested? You’d probably want to know. Or you might find Bitcoin articles tiresome — unless the price crashes hard, which you might find interesting.
These are the kind of personal insights AI is gearing up to do. But it’s still popular to dismiss it: “My human staff are far more effective than any algorithm.” Let me put this diplomatically: Sorry, they’re not. Like chess, optimizing content engagement is a complex puzzle, but one with a finite set of options that can be analyzed. There’s no way for a human being, or even a team of them, to beat the world’s most powerful algorithm.
It’s not Humans Vs. AI
The misunderstanding behind these claims is that the future is Humans vs AI, rather than Humans equipped with AI. What works best is when humans who understand the end goals, who know what does or doesn’t count as success, who can translate goals into a machine and then translate its results back to other people, train AI to enhance their efforts.
Most people, when asked, say that AI is going to eliminate a lot of jobs — but not their own. That’s human thinking at its most human. AI doesn’t replace jobs, it transforms them. True Anthem will intelligently automate social media posting, relieving social media managers of the tedious and laborious task of posting each item themselves. Machine intelligence already powers far more of human endeavor than most of us realize. We shouldn’t disparage AI systems as our competition, but embrace them as the most tireless, fastest-learning trainees we could ever hope for.