If you’re following along lately, you’re probably hearing a lot about Artificial Intelligence (AI). It’s a technology that has been around for a while, but is now becoming a hot topic in the tech world. Some people are saying that it’s unreliable, and that it’s “confidently incorrect”. While this may be true now and for a long time into the future, that doesn’t diminish the promise of the technology. We know this because we’ve seen it before.
In 2001, Wikipedia was born as a side-project of the expert-driven and peer-reviewed, Nupedia. It was a bold move. An encyclopedia of human knowledge generated by a community. Anyone can quickly add and remove material from Wikipedia. And as crowdsourcing became a more acceptable way of gathering knowledge, it began to generate momentum. It also generated a lot of controversy.
After all, it has been argued, how can anyone trust what they read on Wikipedia? Where were the fact-checkers and editors? Well, as it turns out, they were there as well. They were part of the same group of people who were writing the articles, and they helped Wikipedia grow and gain legitimacy over the years. It worked so well that Nupedia was shuttered, replaced by the side-project it had spawned.
Why? Efficiency. Yes, Nupedia was as a tech-driven effort, but it was outclassed on all fronts by what Wikipedia could do in terms of volume. This material was not well vetted, but it was a viable product and, as it turned out, “good enough” for an information-hungry internet. Plus, it had the promise, just like with AI, that it would continue to improve.
While the idea of Wiki software had existed for 7 years before its adoption into what would become Wikipedia. It was a tool with a lot of potential that just needed the right organization around it to evolve into something bigger. That is where we stand with AI right now.
AI can generate an incredible amount of material and, just like crowdsourced corners of the internet, it is capable of generating a lot of garbage. Yet, we already know that with the right people and right system, it can also be used to generate something amazing.
That is why it is important to always remember that these various AI initiatives are tools. They are meant to make work easier and more efficient for those who figure out how to use them. This is how we should be approaching them, a tool to augment our limits and ultimately as a work multiplier.
The current discourse around Artificial Intelligence seems to fall into two camps. People who are wildly excited about the promise of the technology, and the people who like to point out all the problems with using AI in its current form. Both groups are filled with smart people, who will be framing how our world will look, or not look, in the next few decades. If you want to see an example of the debate in a practical space, you should look at the discussion around using AI on Wikipedia.
The most passionate from both group are keenly aware that our future will be shaped by our relationship with Artificial Intelligence. That is why now, we should be taking a hard look at not just the promise of the technology, but how we can overcome its inadequacies and pair it properly with our own efforts. By doing so, we will take the reins of our future and utilize the technology in ways that engages with humanity rather than attempting to replace it.