by Bask Iyer

With great power comes great responsibility

Dec 13, 2017
Artificial IntelligenceTechnology Industry

Give back to your community by using tech for good.

artificial intelligence / machine learning / binary code / virtual brain
Credit: Thinkstock

History will someday document this era as the Silicon Valley gold rush. Consider the fact that very few of the 49ers made their mark by striking gold. Rather, those creating the infrastructure, materials (Levi’s jeans!) or services for the thousands flocking to the state minted the foundations for society and culture.

Almost two centuries later, that’s what we’re doing here today, in tech. We’re creating incredible opportunities and successes by developing the ecosystem. It is up to us give back to community, so everyone benefits – using tech for the good of all and spreading the knowledge.

This includes encouraging those around us to keep innovating and staying curious. Humans need food, shelter, and clothing (in addition to WiFi!). But we’re not easily satisfied. Once basic survival needs are met, we still seek for something else – knowledge, growth.

This drive to innovate, improve, and ease our environment isn’t a new concept. Time has a way of cycling in waves – I studied AI back in school. At that time our assignments were to write programs to solve for heuristics – that would differentiate between Larry the Bird and Larry Bird.

Back further, consider ELIZA, the original bot developed in the mid-1960s at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. This was essentially the forerunner for Siri; you could chat with her, so it looked like you were having a real conversation.

So why are we in tech talking about AI again? Compute power magnified by the scale of Cloud. We can process so much more in such a small time. Additionally, whereas previously we’d reach bandwidth or technical limits within a minute, now we have essentially unlimited amount of data storage. It was only a couple years ago part of my role as a CIO was advising people how much data was reasonable to store. That conversation no longer happens. It’s like the evolution of cell phone plans from 450 minutes per month to unlimited calling.

Think of it in terms of sports analysis. Decades ago a baseball batter would have to rely on human instinct, trying to guess if the next pitch would be a curve ball was likely based on the previous pitches observed in the ongoing game. Possibly, athletes could observe video tapes stored in a library room for a broader competitive advantage. Today, compute power and storage allow for the easy analysis of every pitch from a pitcher’s entire career. Or even an overview of every pitch thrown throughout the existence of the ball club.

The concept for AI has always been there, now we’re working on the reality of understanding. We don’t know what the limits of speed are yet. (At some point, we’ll all just end up as energy.) Ultimately, tech is people. We are the ones who must be responsible and not just assume, “Hey this has happened before; it’ll all work itself out.” It is crucial to remember that changes – big or small – affect people. And the genie is out of the technology bottle on this one.

Leadership is critical to support principled and forward thinking. As humans, we seek knowledge through exploration. Emotions and longing will still exist, no matter what AI or other forthcoming technology enables. It is part of our nature that curiosity will always push us forward. Good and evil have always existed in humans. We are still responsible for our actions. We cannot take a backseat and let AI run the show.

Tech hasn’t solved for hunger, shelter, climate change or other survival mechanisms yet. There are still a world of possibilities to discover. Some people will use it for good; some people will attempt to enact evil. That’s a given. Thus, the imperative on us to work even harder for good.

What I can control is doing good. I am dedicating to doing this with my teams – empowering good people and good companies. And giving back to the communities that helped me to get where I am today. I invite you to do the same.