Graeme Wood recently attended the Cannes Festival and noticed the industry acknowledgement of the importance of artificial intelligence and machine learning. In this opinion piece, Graeme looks at how the growth of this sector has already impacted and will continue impacting our lives into the future.
The increasing importance of machine learning was an undercurrent throughout the recent Cannes Festival. It was obvious on the perimeter, where the big guns of the programmatic industry moored their yachts, but also underpinned many of the award entries and conference speeches in a more subtle way. Throughout the Cyber, Media, Mobile, Promo and Outdoor winners, the role of data processing was clear, whether to create stories, utility or behavioural change. The term Big Data was less apparent – as an industry we are slowly learning that it isn’t about how much data you have, it’s what you do with it that counts. And that puts data processing right at the heart of the creativity that the festival celebrates.
From the stages, we heard about what is in store over the next ten years, as machine intelligence rapidly outpaces human. Artificial Intelligence is often seen as a scary prospect, conditioned as we are by decades of dystopian sci-fi from 2001 through The Terminator and The Matrix. However, Kevin Kelly (Founding Executive Editor of Wired magazine) made an important distinction: AI is a term only used to describe things that don’t exist yet. The unknown is profoundly threatening, but we aren’t threatened by cars that have learnt to brake better than we can, or planes that don’t need pilots to give 100% attention throughout 12 hour flights. Or Siri. As big technological change is humanized and built into our world, we naturally accept innovation that improves our lives.
And let’s be clear, embedding artificial intelligence into every aspect of our lives is going to be the growth industry over the next decade. The first industrial revolution came about through the application of artificial power: for the first time, we didn’t need 20 horses to generate 20 horsepower. Human effort + artificial power became the killer app, whether applied at the scale of a factory or an electric light. The coming intelligence revolution will take the same approach: human thought + artificial intelligence = exponential results.
While this may make the technology itself less threatening, it does raise some questions about what the role of humans may be in this hyper intelligent world. In the short term, this was answered on the Innovation stage, where Laura Jordan Bambach (Creative Partner for Mr President and Co-Founder of SheSays) and Mark Earls (Executive Group Planning Director at Ogilvy London) demonstated the fundamental problem with machine intelligence – it is too good to be creative: robots are cool, but robots are boring. All innovation comes from imperfect copying (Innovation = copy + human error), whether gene mutation driving evolutionary change or problem solvers in the garages of Silicon Valley. To make exponential leaps, we need humans who are able to make errors.
In the long term, Mark Holden of PHD outlined a more daunting future: the merger of human and machine intelligence. By 2029, the internet will have intelligence greater than that of humanity. The miniaturization of hardware will mean that individuals can augment their own intelligence with hardware upgrades and implants. By 2045, we will be able to upload our own consciousness to the cloud. In a world where VR and AI have blurred the boundaries between what is real and what is virtual, technology offers the very real possibility of ‘virtually’ living forever as a machine consciousness and virtual presence – the Terminator style human/machine conflict could not take place because there is no distinction between human and machine.