AI is the Elbow of the Technology Curve
You are probably familiar with the near-right-angle part of an exponential curve. It all starts rather gradually, but at some point, things suddenly pick up speed, and before you know it, that gradual increase is rocketing North. Over long periods of time, it can be hard to predict when that Northward turn will be.
There are few advantages to getting old. One such advantage is perspective. I’ve been involved with technology my whole working life. I was there in the late 70s when the microcomputer revolution began. I happened to be working with a company that installed local area networks (LANs) when they first became available for microcomputers. Next, I worked with a startup that was developing groupware tools (like threaded discussions and group document development) even when dial-up connections were still predominant. Finally, I actually founded one of the first internet companies in Michigan.
Each time a new technology came along that changed the world forever, I was there to watch it unfold. Each time, the adoption curve seemed accelerated from the prior major breakthrough. So, it is no surprise that the AI explosion that is upon us now seems to be overwhelming us.
Silicon Valley is not evolving. The same tenets of fast and wreckless progress to gain dominance in early adoption curves are in play. It’s not fringe naysayers who are sounding the alarms this time, but the central progenitors of the technology in question. This would be like Steve Jobs warning against the dangers of smartphones or Mark Zuckerberg warning of social media’s looming threat to democracy. Other people have made such warnings, but this time it’s different.
As this article in Psychology Today points out:
“Being right too soon forces us to reconsider not just our ways of doing things but our ways of thinking about things. It propels us into a metacognitive space, where even the act of thought must be reconsidered. This is where philosophy intersects with technology, questioning not just the ethics of AI but the very existential framework we exist within.”
The essential message here is that the adoption curve for this technology is happening too fast for us to understand the full implications of how it affects humanity’s path forward. Prior breakthroughs have teased us with similar implications. The argument can be made that we still haven’t sorted out how social media platforms shape society and how best to use such tools for the greater good.
The rise of social media as a force in society is a slow roll compared with the meteoric rise of AI’s influence. All the alarm bells are sounding at once, but nobody is running for the door. Our brains are already proving inadequate to the task at hand. By the time humans fully comprehend what they have unleashed, it will already be too late.
Humanity seems to be entering a period that provides the greatest tests of our resiliency. We are faced with problems that, for the first time, may be too late to solve by the time we fully comprehend their magnitude. Climate change is one such example, and the proliferation of AI seems poised to be another.
In the immortal words of Samuel L. Jackson's classic JURASSIC PARK line, "Hold on To Your Butts!" This rollercoaster is going up fast. Let’s hope it doesn’t drop us even faster.