For several years I’ve had an assistant in my kitchen. Not as my sous-chef, but rather to keep me informed and entertained. Alexa offers the latest weather, regular news updates, settles trivia disputes, plays the music I like to hear, informs me of deliveries, and even turns lights off when I ask. But I wouldn’t have called Alexa ‘intelligent.’ That is, until recently when she asked me whether I wanted her to turn off any lights in the house I missed. I could say, at the least, that she has learned something about me over the years.

Home assistants like Amazon’s Alexa are a great illustration of how artificial intelligence (AI) has permeated our world. It is a prominently featured technology at the current Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Not that it’s new – AI has been an established research discipline since the 1950’s. But in recent years there’s been steady progress, driven by more powerful computers and available data that feed better algorithms. Intelligent technologies are rapidly becoming ubiquitous in our daily lives. Navigation systems, streaming recommendations, banking services, home assistants, cars, and even appliances use AI to serve us better. 

The use of AI in business is also growing at a rapid pace. Sophisticated algorithms are used to automate and optimize quality control in manufacturing, direct autonomous robots in warehouses, and find optimal transportation routes for deliveries. HR departments use AI to help select job candidates, perform interviews, and answer employee questions on complicated policies. In marketing AI is used for ad targeting, customer service chatbots, search optimization, and even content creation. Even legal departments are using AI for research and document reviews.

Most current AI applications are focused on solving narrowly defined problems. The ambition is to create more general AI solutions that provide human-like creativity and intelligence. Examples are AI programs like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion that can translate any verbal prompts into digital art. An AI-generated art piece even won an award at the Colorado State Fair last summer, much to the displeasure of other artists. Another recent example is ChatGPT from OpenAI. At the surface it is a very advanced chatbot that answers (almost) any questions with clarity and authority. It can even write poems (it created an homage to cats for me) and computer programs. But it does come with a serious warning from its creators: it doesn’t always know how to separate fact from fiction. 

The increasing power and use of artificial intelligence comes with significant risks. Its development is led by a small group of experts, who – knowingly or unknowingly – bring their own biases and objectives. It is impossible for users of intelligent technology to know all the details of how it works – similar to when we drive a car. But using a car does require basic knowledge of how a car works, as well as the rules of the road. This should also apply to the use of AI. The use of AI for the benefit of all was the topic of the Signal 2021 conversation with Dr. Fei Fei Li, who is co-director of Stanford’s Human-Centered AI Institute.

After a year where a forest fire blew through the tech-based economy, we will see green sprouts of technology innovation burst open in 2023. As John Battelle highlights in his newest predictions AI will be prominent in the creation of new business opportunities. But it requires all of us as ‘drivers’ to educate ourselves and be actively involved with how to best use AI as a force for growth and a force for good. Through Signal360 and the Signal 2023 Summit (July 12) we are happy to be a guide on your journey toward an intelligent technology future.

Stan Joosten & John Battelle,
Editors-In-Chief, Signal360 / Co-founders, Signal P&G

P.S. We created the image for this piece using DALL-E, an AI image generator, with the prompt, “An abstract world where intelligence technology exists to create connectivity in blue concentric circles.”