Rise Of The Machines: AI Has Arrived

Feature Stories | Nov 16 2023

There is no disagreement AI is here and is about to explode into our lives. As for how long it will take to change the world is up for debate, and not all implications are positive.

-What is generative AI?
-The question of productivity gains
-Is your job safe?
-The bad stuff

By Greg Peel

It seems like artificial intelligence only arrived on the scene in 2022 following some Archimedes-style epiphany in geek-world, but the reality is AI has been around for some time.

AI is based on machine learning – something Alan Turing, famous breaker of the Enigma code -- began working on in the 1940s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that computers became powerful enough to be of use. Until recently, machine learning was largely limited to predictive models, used to observe and classify patterns in content.

Machine learning, noted McKinsey & Co in a report published early this year, is a type of artificial intelligence. Through machine learning, practitioners develop AI through models that can “learn” from data patterns without human direction.

The unmanageably huge volume and complexity of data (unmanageable by humans) that is now being generated has increased the potential of machine learning, as well as the need for it.

AI is the practice of getting machines to mimic human intelligence to perform tasks. You’ve probably interacted with AI even if you don’t realise it -- voice assistants like Siri and Alexa are founded on AI technology, for example.

The recent big step up in AI is all about “generative” AI. Siri might be able to answer your question from sourcing the web, but she cannot write an essay on The Causes of World War I. GenAI describes algorithms that can be used to create new content, including audio, code, images, text, simulations, and videos. Recent breakthroughs in the field have the potential to drastically change the way we approach content creation, suggests McKinsey.

GenAI appeared to burst on the scene with the release of ChatGPT (generative pretrained transformer). It’s a free chatbot that can generate an answer to almost any question it’s asked. Developed by OpenAI, it’s already considered the best AI chatbot ever. And it’s popular too: over a million people signed up to use it in just five days.

Microsoft began investing in OpenAI in 2019 and continues to invest. The company launched ChatGPT on its Bing platform, blindsiding search engine leader Google. Google responded by rushing out its own GenAI offering, Bard, which at the beginning was poorly received but is now challenging ChatGPT as the go-to version.

ChatGPT is the most recent iteration of OpenAI’s GenAI offerings. Earlier versions were considered somewhat suspect. And it’s not just Microsoft and Google that have been developing and investing in GenAI in recent years. Meta and Amazon are also in the game, and Apple is too, but is keeping that close to its chest for now.

And Elon is in on the act, releasing Grok on X. Unlike rival chatbots, Grok is said to be “sarcastic and foul-mouthed”, but also potentially superior to the others, according to geeks, and there are more others about as well.

It’s not just about know-it-all chatbots. GenAI, it is agreed, will change the world. Will it change the world for the good?

General Purpose Technology

If AI is to be considered a general purpose technology, and Capital Economics believes it is, then “the implications for the macroeconomy could be huge”.

It is considered in recent history there have been three such examples of general purpose technology that have changed the world. The first is the invention of the steam engine in the UK which led to the nineteenth century Industrial Revolution.

The second is the introduction of electricity in the US in the early twentieth century, and the third came in the late twentieth century with the introduction of the internet. It can also be argued there was a fourth in between – the invention of the internal combustion engine.

The world-changing aspects of these developments lay in productivity. Productivity is defined as GDP per man-hour.

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