Many people remember the day, or the general time period, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. Very quickly, the world realized that mobile computing would never be the same. It really is hard sometimes to believe that the iPhone and the whole mobile revolution that came with it, is less than 10 years old.
Technology people often talk about “10 years” as a unit of time that is long enough to allow for stretches of the imagination, but not so long that people will forget what it is that they predicted [whether personally or publicly]. No one predicted the very positive and world changing fallout from the introduction of the iPhone. I remember very well, top tech analysts speaking of the extended period of time that it would take for smart phones to spread across the world and cross even just the 50% penetration mark.
No one predicted that mobile phones would allow for the developing world to skip over the entire desktop computer generation. In the past, I have described how the weather, geography and power needs related to distributing desktop computers in the developing world, made them impractical. Mobile phones gave people what they needed, even just at the level of SMS. It is clear to everyone across the entire globe, that there is no going back [not that anyone would want to].
I’ve spoken a great deal about big data and the latest tools for analyzing huge quantities of information. And I have previously described how these elements were just feed-ins to the world of artificial intelligence [AI] and computer-based learning, which includes the whole field of deep learning. Every major player is working on AI and computerized learning. Just this morning, I read an article about Microsoft’s venture into this field.
As my eyes followed the words displayed on my computer screen, I came to understand how Microsoft has been working on machine learning [ML] for decades, and how this technology is already a major influence in our lives. I also was pleasantly surprised to read how Microsoft was making the full power of its own version of ML, available to the general public. Microsoft’s version of ML is to become so easy to use that developers of everything from singular mobile apps to enterprise wide systems will incorporate ML into almost everything people do with technology.
Of course, Apple and Google and Amazon and IBM and so many more companies are working on equivalent projects. But there was something about this article, about Microsoft’s efforts, that gave me the same feeling I had when I saw Steve Jobs holding an iPhone. Once again, I was struck by this feeling that the world was going to change and that before we knew it, we would no longer believe that there was a time when we could function without this new technology.
ML is soon to become so foundational and so widespread that we won’t even feel its presence. When a person uses their mobile phone, they really don’t think about the entire infrastructure necessary to make it possible to SMS, MMS, GPS, Skype, play games, connect to the corporate network, all from the same device that is thinner and thinner every year.
The same is true with AI and ML. Soon, it will not strike anyone as unusual that a single voice command of the type “my wife and I would like to go to dinner tonight” will trigger a series of events and software that will automatically know that it is your anniversary, that your favorite restaurant is across town, that you will prefer to take a taxi so that you can have wine, if you will want to contact a babysitter and that you will want to actually have dinner at 8 PM. When your wife opens her closet, it will become second nature to have some hidden device provide advice on which outfit would be most appropriate [taking into account the fact that she has lost 5 pounds since the last time she wore the particular dress]. The husband will be told that his usual pants are both inappropriate for such an evening and in any case, are in the wash. I should point out that none of what you have just read in any way reflects my personal experiences in life.
As often as such things have been predicted in the past, and as fantastical as they seem, and as intrusive as they are, I am willing to predict that this will all come to pass within the next 10 years. Something about this article about Microsoft says to me that we are finally in the midst of the perfect storm that will make all of this functionality straightforward and even easy to implement. The “Internet of things” will merge together via ML into an ecosystem which totally surrounds us and is constantly talking about us, in order to be ready to provide us with any service we could possibly want or need.
My perspective is always medical, and I think it is already pretty clear how I imagine all of this technology affecting our healthcare. Just of late, I have discussed in previous blog posts, how Apple seems to have broken through the glass ceiling that has kept consumer applications out of the realm of enterprise scale electronic health records. Government efforts to create a unified and universal medical record will fall by the wayside as the private sector creates far better solutions. And as people almost subconsciously hand over their private medical information, in order to create better and better ML-based algorithms for diagnosing and treating disease, the whole world will experience a quantum leap forward over the next 10 magical years.
Human beings are creatures of habit. The whole world of big data is actually nothing more than collecting information about those habits. Analytic systems that can deal with big data tease out the habitual patterns of human beings from the chaos of data that is constantly being provided. ML will allow computers to constantly improve their own functioning by applying these new rules of habits. Finally, AI will take the output of all of these technologies and wrap them up in a package that becomes our personal, persistent and rarely wrong assistant.
How will we know when AI has really reached its first major milestone of success? All you have to do is to ask any Jewish mother to know the answer. When AI systems channel Jewish mothers from around the world and say to an individual “I know you better than you know yourself”, the revolution will truly have begun.
Thanks for listening. For those in Israel – enjoy the snow. Shabbat shalom