Taming the AI beast
What King Kong in all its remakes can teach us about AI strategy for business. Why you need a diversity of thinking, including sceptics, and why learning about AI and its implications is a survival hint for the adventure.
A trip to the movies
I recently re-watched King Kong in the 2005 edition. I am old enough to remember, when the 1976 version was the NEW King Kong and we all marveled at the advances in special effects since the original 1933 classic. Of course the new, new version (15 years old already) takes another technological leap forward.
What I find captivating about King Kong, however, is not its special effects. It's the story and I suspect this is the reason, why it keeps getting remakes. The modern world is hungry for sensational discoveries and for the brave explorers fortune and glory awaits if they survive their quest. Driven by circumstances and opportunity the quest in King Kong changes from shooting a movie on location to capturing the beast, ultimately leading to the iconic battle between nature and technology, between beast and man at the top of the Empire State Building.
The AI entertainment show
In 2020 we are still hungry for sensational discoveries and we easily get very excited about new wonders brought to us by brave explorers and eager journalists. The most sensational beast, the King Kong of technology, which combines intelligence, power and - perhaps - some kind of human touch, is artificial intelligence (AI).
For the price of an entrance ticket, as they say in the movie, you get to experience the 8th wonder of the world. Hardly a week passes without a new astounding announcement from the world of AI and we keep wanting more. When AlphaGo defeated Lee Sedol in Go (in 2015) it was a major breakthrough in neural networks. It was the 1976 remake of the 1933 classic game of chess between IBM's Deep Blue and Gary Kasparov (in 1997).
AlphaGo - The Movie (of course) is an inspiring AI classic. Watch it here.
Since then AlphaGo has evolved many times to take on different games. The most important characteristic being, that it learns from scratch by playing games with itself. It has therefore been renamed AlphaZero.
Over the summer OpenAI released GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer - version 3), a deep learning-based language model. It is possible to have seemingly intelligent conversations with the GPT-3 algorithm and speculations of the potential have run wild again. A quick search for "GPT-3" on Medium will reveal articles with titles such as:
GPT3: The first artifical general intelligence?
GPT3: The new mighty language model from OpenAI
Will GPT3 kill coding?
There are sceptical voices in the crowd. The voices of reason and caution, you might say. They are the ones, who say "Is it really a good idea to capture King Kong?" and we know, how that goes. In an ironic twist, some of the harshest criticism comes from two professors in New York. Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis (authors of "Rebooting AI: Building artificial intelligence we can trust") have written their opinion in MIT Technology Review and it is worth a read. Find the article here.
Taming the beast
How are companies to navigate in this world of constant entertainment and remakes? How do we avoid finding ourselves in a Broadway theater with a beast, that suddenly breaks loose and wreaks havoc across the city?
One lesson from King Kong is, that there was not really a long term strategy for what to do with King Kong, once he was in New York. There were no contingency plans. Is a strategy for AI a good idea? Yes. Understanding the business needs and the environment, where the AI is to perform, is crucial for success. A lesson learned the hard way in the UK when an AI-algorithm was used to evaluate exams. If the system is already broken, an algorithm cannot fix it. Story in MIT Technology Review here.
It is definitely worth it to seek inspiration from the latest advances in AI, but it is vital to go beyond the thrill-seeking entertainment and seek to understand the implications of the new technology:
How could this transform your business?
How might it transform your competors' business?
What will it take to apply it?
These questions don't always come with obvious answers, so seek a diversity of opinions to get a sharper picture of what the technology can and cannot do for you. It doesn't always matter, what it can do for another company, if that company has a completely different business model from yours. Listen to the sceptics. They may also be wrong of course. They may not be as adventurous as you, but sometimes their advice might just prevent disaster. Educating yourself to look at the implications of the technology will be the most powerful tool to help you match it with your business strategy. It is definitely a time to be bold and brave and venture into the jungle of new tech, but there is no need to go about it foolhardedly. When someone in a movie suggests "Let's split up", you know things are about to go sideways. Develop that sensation for AI in your business and leverage the knowledge in the team and their diverse opinions. Strengthen it further with external partnerships.
"The airplanes didn't kill King Kong. Beauty did."
The tragic end of King Kong was inevitable, driven by the wrong strategy, placing King Kong in the wrong environement in front of an unprepared audience seeking the thrill, but without understanding the nature of the beast.
It doesn't have to go that way for your AI business. Go forth and explore, but be prepared with strategy, knowledge and wisdom. As I wait for the centennial remake of King Kong, where I expect the same tragic ending, I believe we can all write happier endings for our businesses.