By Ron Schmelzer
The conversation around Artificial Intelligence usually revolves around technology-focused topics: machine learning, conversational interfaces, autonomous agents, and other aspects of data science, math, and implementation. However, the history and evolution of AI is more than just a technology story. The story of AI is also inextricably linked with waves of innovation and research breakthroughs that run headfirst into economic and technology roadblocks. There seems to be a continuous pattern of discovery, innovation, interest, investment, cautious optimism, boundless enthusiasm, realization of limitations, technological roadblocks, withdrawal of interest, and retreat of AI research back to academic settings. These waves of advance and retreat seem to be as consistent as the back and forth of sea waves on the shore.
This pattern of interest, investment, hype, then decline, and rinse-and-repeat is particularly vexing to technologists and investors because it doesn’t follow the usual technology adoption lifecycle. Popularized by Geoffrey Moore in his book “Crossing the Chasm”, technology adoption usually follows a well-defined path. Technology is developed and finds early interest by innovators, and then early adopters, and if the technology can make the leap across the “chasm”, it gets adopted by the early majority market and then it’s off to the races with demand by the late majority and finally technology laggards. If the technology can’t cross the chasm, then it ends up in the dustbin of history. However, what makes AI distinct is that it doesn’t fit the technology adoption lifecycle pattern.
But AI isn’t a discrete technology. Rather it’s a series of technologies, concepts, and approaches all aligning towards the quest for the intelligent machine. This quest inspires academicians and researchers to come up with theories of how the brain and intelligence works, and their concepts of how to mimic these aspects with technology. AI is a generator of technologies, which individually go through the technology lifecycle. Investors aren’t investing in “AI”, but rather they’re investing in the output of AI research and technologies that can help achieve the goals of AI. As researchers discover new insights that help them surmount previous challenges, or as technology infrastructure finally catches up with concepts that were previously infeasible, then new technology implementations are spawned and the cycle of investment renews.
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