Editor’s note: This commentary explores AI, and it’s worth noting that the upcoming town hall event, “AI: Hype, Harm, or Hope?'” hosted by Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN) and the Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce, will also delve into AI. The event, featuring experts discussing AI’s societal impacts, will take place from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26, at the Performing Arts Center in Eden Prairie Central Middle School, located at 8025 Old School Road. You can register for the event here.
By Brad Canham
If you could go back in time, what would you say to the people working to split the atom?
Would it be, “I’m glad you scientists and politicians have nuclear fission all figured out!”
It’s likely you would have other things you’d give voice to.
AI is similar to other powerful technologies that reshaped the world — nuclear fission, gas engines, and the like. It is different, in that you’re already deeply involved in the fundamental resource that AI, as a technology, is using to reshape the world.
In fact, you are, whether you know it or not, a part — quite literally — of the AI conversation.
With the first successful nuclear fission test, hydrogen atoms forever acquired the new status of a “standing reserve,” ready for future use in nuclear reactors and weapons. This is not unlike a dam on a river. The dam places water into a stand-reserve state to turn turbines, irrigate crops, or in the case of the Lake Riley dams, raise or lower water levels.
The standing reserve of AI consists of the trillions of digitized artifacts on the Internet. In other words, human knowledge.
That is a key difference.
Human knowledge created the awe-inspiring technologies of dams and nuclear fission, placing hydrogen atoms and water into standing reserves. In turn, we humans choose when, where, and how to use these standing reserves of power.
In the case of AI, human knowledge also created AI technology. The unique distinction is AI places human knowledge — the thing that created it — into a standing reserve. Books do the same thing. But, by comparison, books are vastly limited by their physical nature. The Internet also serves as a standing reserve for applications like the Google search engine. Today, Google is a top 10 worldwide company, having used its access to the standing reserve of the Internet to penetrate nearly every aspect of modern life. A few decades ago, it didn’t exist.
However, compared to the potential of AI, even Google’s vast penetration of digital existence is minor. Comparing the power of Google search and the power of AI’s Large Language Models (LLMs) and neural network’s ability to use the standing reserve of human knowledge is like comparing the power of the Lake Riley dam to the power of the Atlantic Ocean.
Like the other technologies that preceded AI, like dams, gas engines, and nuclear fission, it is challenging to understand the details. There is a tendency to let the experts, technologists, and politicians figure it out. That is an irresponsible mistake. Technologies can reshape life, as these from the past have done, unleashing electrical power, radiation, climate change, and the Interstate Highway System, to name a few. Today’s experts may fare better in controlling the direction AI takes and how it will shape the future for good or ill. Personally, that is not a bet I would make.
We’re all living with decisions made by others. To be charitable, we can assume they did their best; they raised their voices, regardless of whether they understood the technologies of nuclear fission, gas engines, or dams. But they are now long gone, as we, too, will all be one day.
The initial time travel scenario is, perhaps, not helpful. We do not know if someday we will be able to travel from the future to the present.
We do know AI is dramatically shaping the present. We do know everyone, not just the experts or politicians, experience the results of powerful technologies like AI for generations, for good and ill.
Everyone has a stake in the answer to questions like “If you could guarantee one thing about what AI would, or would not, do in the future — what would that be?”
We also know technologies reveal things about what we believe, prioritize, and who we are as a society and as individuals.
We have all given voice to things online. We have created digital text, photos, movies, and code that AI is now drawing from.
We are all part of AI’s standing reserve.
In other words, our voices are already shaping the AI future. The majority of us aren’t experts, and we don’t have to be.
People don’t need a secret AI invitation, nor do they require special expertise to add their voices to the AI conversation.
It is already happening.
Editor’s note: The writer of this commentary, Dr. Brad Canham, is a 25-year resident of Eden Prairie. He is a technology entrepreneur, a marketing expert, and the founding editor of Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN).
Brad also holds the position of vice president of research at Transforma Insights, a UK-based analyst and speaker firm that covers telecom, IoT, AI, and digital transformation. In addition to his role at Transforma Insights, he is a corporate fellow at the University of St. Thomas Opus School of Business, where he teaches entrepreneurship and innovation courses.
You can contact him at email@example.com.
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