Tuesday, May 3, 2016

AI, Robotics, Software and the Arts

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on………………."

Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, Software and the Arts:

Predicting the future has always been fraught with the danger of making false assumptions and rash predictions based on limited data and information.  But that's been true in the past in part because the future took its sweet time in getting here.  That is changing - as Moore's law in technology is now applicable to areas beyond just technology itself.  The future, in short, is getting here a lot faster than it use to.  

There is little question that software programs and platforms have already dramatically impacted at least certain business models.  The clearest example is probably Kodak - a company that once dominated the photography field.  In 1998, Kodak sold 85% of all photographic paper worldwide.  They failed to appreciate the importance of the rise (increased quality and affordability) of digital photography, and a few years later they were bankrupt.  

Software has even more recent examples of fundamental changes in business models.  Uber owns no cars, but is now the biggest taxi company in the world.  AirBnB owns no hotel properties, but they are becoming the biggest hotel company in the world.   Lawyers are slowly becoming in less demand as legal advice is increasingly available on the internet at affordable prices for everyone.   Self driving cars will soon be available to consumers, and in a couple of decade the automobile industry will undergo profound shifts as the average consumer won't need to own a car.  Whenever you want to go somewhere, you will simply call up on the telephone and one will come pick you up and take you where you want to go.  No need to park it, garage it, service it or even pay for insurance.  And as self driving cars will be in far fewer accidents, the automobile insurance industry will likely become so highly cheap and competitive that it too will fade into oblivion as a business model.  3D printing is already changing manufacturing business models.

Software advances, combined with increasingly sophisticated robotics, (itself combined with advances in artificial intelligence) and the changes in how work is performed - and thus jobs in the marketplace - in fields as varied as healthcare, manufacturing, and education - will likely result in changes which render them all virtually unrecognizable from today's models; the world will be much different in just 25 years than it is now.  Not that far away really.  

So how might all that affect us in the arts?

Will software combined with robotics and AI produce "artists" who can create new, original (and perhaps exciting, interesting, beautiful works) that in any number of areas - from theater to painting to music composition and performance - rival, or even surpass, human creativity?  Or is the very definition of art limited to creativity born from human endeavor?   What about some combination of creativity that involves the collaboration of humans and intelligent machines?  Is that different?  Are these merely academic questions that have little relationship to reality, or are they fundamental questions that will demand to be addressed sooner than we would like?  

Then there are questions about how AI, robotics and software will impact us as "arts administrators".  Clearly, there are some functions we play as business people that will soon be more efficiently and effectively done by the "machines" - including financial and accounting management, but perhaps also (at least in part) in the areas of development and fundraising (grant applications, robo calling donation solicitation, donor recruitment and the like), and in such areas as program management (if not in idea generation and development).  It may be an arrogant conceit (and a dangerous one) to pre-suppose that the machines can't do all the things we do.  Like the rest of society, jobs in our sector may also disappear.  We are doubtless just a small sampling of the bigger problem of the machines doing human work and thus large segments of humans no longer having the work that sustained our economic model for so long.  What civilization will do with hundreds of millions of unemployed people (and more given the on-going rise in population) is anybody's guess.  What will we do?

Again, is consideration of these kinds of big and small issues and challenges currently no more than a diversion, or are things moving so fast that these kinds of questions ought to get more attention now - before it is too late?

Software, and the implications of the impact software is making in the models we have used in business (but also in societal and social relationships) is already here.  Robotics is here too, and just on the cusp of widespread launches across platforms too numerous to mention.  In a decade it is likely no one will think of the Rhumba vacuum cleaner or Detroit assembly lines as robotics.  Those efforts will seem primitive.  AI is in the pipeline, and very likely much more sophisticated in the labs than the computer that beat the human "GO" champion in a head to head matchup recently.  That will soon seem like just a parlor trick.

Many people already fear moving too fast into AI, and that human beings may again bumble forward in an area that may produce results with which they are ill-equipped to deal.  And this in an area that may have irreversible and draconian consequences.  The question looms that if AI advances to the point where it is on a par with, or surpasses human intelligence, how long might it be before the machines conclude that its the human species that poses a dangerous threat that must be eliminated.  That's the stuff of science fiction movies I suppose, but it might be a subject for the arts too, as the arts might play some cautionary role in helping us to go slower into the void. 

In the meantime, there are some very real likely advances that will impact both artistic creativity and the jobs arts administrators perform.  When do we seriously ask questions about the future, if the future is only a decade or two away and coming on faster and faster?   

Have a good week.

Don't Quit
Barry

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