So artificial intelligence has triumphed over human intelligence. Deepmind’s AlphaGo program has beaten human champion, Lee Sedol, at Go. AlphaGo won 4:1 in the 5 match series. Game over for the human race...?
The news that a computer program has beaten the world champion of one of human civilisation's oldest board games is indeed startling. Go is a fiendishly complex strategy game whose origins can be traced back over 3000 years in China. So has the ancient civilisation of Humankind had its day, to be replaced by a smarter, even more ruthless empire?
AlphaGo’s feat is impressive. It comes in a line of such triumphs of machine over man that include Deep Blue beating Gary Kasporov at chess, Watson beating the reigning champions of Jeopardy and Deepmind’s wins last year over some Atari arcade games. The capacity of these technologies to absorb, analyse and action based on huge data sets is undeniable and getting stronger. These feats are not just limited to games. Artificial Intelligence is being widely used in logistics, manufacturing and, of course, the military. Self-driving cars are being tested on public roads, drones are delivering packages in record times and 3D printers are producing complex moving structures. The Internet of Things is spreading its tentacles across the world. Sensors are being scattered across cities, embedded in buildings and even people. The name, Go, literally means ‘encircling game’. We are being steadily encircled by technology.
Watson is now being used in healthcare and has been proven to provide more accurate diagnoses of cancer than healthcare professionals. So artificial intelligence has the power to solve complex human issues. And AlphaGo's ability to tackle a highly complex game like Go shows its ability to look “globally” across a board. This raises the possibility of artificial intelligence finding world solutions that humans don’t necessarily see in big complex areas, like climate change, energy resourcing and food production. It’s also worth reminding ourselves that AlphaGo is still essentially a human triumph. We are a long way off the creation of artificial sentient beings. What we have now is some powerful task orientated artificial intelligence. AlphaGo is brilliant at Go, but it couldn’t tie its own shoelaces.
We live in fearful times. The sorts of stories we produce portray scary images of the technological future: Terminator, Ex Machina, Transcendence, Humans… the list goes on. Gone is the optimism of the 1980s’ Back to the Future with its flying cars, self tying boots and pizza printing machines. But we are applying our current fearful state to our feelings of the future. We cling to the past almost before it is the past: Instagram photos with vintage filters and selfies. We are trying to create a sense of certainty in uncertain times. And as organisations we look very short-term - at most five years - because we find the future unsettling, strange and scary.
But ‘future’ is a plural word. There are many possible futures. And we all have a chance to shape the future. As organisations, companies and people, we should free our minds of the current fearful view of the future and consider other outcomes. Positive futures. What would you like the future to be? What is your preferred future? Storytelling is an age-old human technique for addressing the unknown, the strange and the scary. We should think of other stories than the Terminator. Thinking longer term and thinking how you and your organisation can fit in to the story of a positive future, opens up new possibilities. It also helps us ask the right questions and make the right choices now. Technology doesn’t have to be toxic, but too often it is because we don’t question how we use it. The future too could be a toxic technology future, unless we question how it could be. I have been helping a range of companies do this in sectors from retail, to utilities, to healthcare, to marketing. It is not always easy to change one’s perception of reality, but when it happens, it is extremely positive, liberating and empowering.
AlphaGo should remind us all to take a longer term view of technology, consider what we want the future to be like and make some positive choices now. The game has only just begun for the human race.