In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s complex machines like the cotton gin and the sewing machine were developed to increase efficiency in manufacturing. A couple hundred years later we are in a much different technological climate where Kindle’s are taking the place of books, iPods are taking the place of CD’s, and we brush our teeth with battery-powered toothbrushes.
Looking at the distant end of the chronological spectrum, we are admittedly far from the age when robots will rule the earth (some experts disagree, but it’s safe to say that for now we’re safe from a “Terminator” situation). Right under our feet, however, technology is becoming increasingly advanced to the point where machinery and software can outperform humans on more complex and varied tasks than ever before. This opens a pandora’s box of ramifications with potentially positive and negative consequences.
Three cutting edge startup companies are finding their niche in industries that we didn’t even know would exist ten years ago. Each companies’ goals are unique and their innovative technology is revolutionizing the role of humans in various industries.
The first company whose technology is more proficient than natural human skill is Narrative Science. The three year old startup company that is based out of Chicago takes structured data sets and converts them into tangible prose. What started as software initially developed to create recaps for baseball games, is now being utilized by financial firms to write daily reports – a plethora of articles written by Narrative Science (a listed vendor here at Emerj) can be found on their website.
Peter Kafka, a writer for allthingsd.com offers his own perspective on the inventive new company whose work is invading his profession. In the article Kafka provides an example of an article written by Narrative Science based on information gathered from Tweets by Newt Gingrich. Kafka admits the articles the company produces “aren’t made up of sterling prose, but they are very serviceable”.
This statement reinforces his belief that there is a niche for automated writing in journalism and that emerging technology (see this article in AllThingsD).
While subjective/stylistic journalism remains unscathed by automated writers, Narrative Science has a place in mundane, objective, content writing. The software created by Narrative Science sifts through massive amounts of data with unmatched efficiency and compiles it into standard passable prose.
One might argue that sure, technology can translate statistics into words, but humans are still valuable assets as we are needed to decipher and analyze the patterns and trends that can be found in the complex data sets.
Grok Solutions (website no longer active), formerly known as Numenta, has created software which “finds complex patterns in data streams and generates actionable predictions in real time”. Its technology is based on “the biological principles of human intelligence, enabling unprecedented degree of adaptive learning and automated capabilities”. Grok is capable of completing complex tasks due to its machine learning algorithms which replicate the learning process humans undergo.
Grok has been implemented in various companies for specific reasons. The way each company utilizes the software is dependent on the companies mission, but Grok is primarily used** to analyze streamed information to forecast demand for goods, manage energy usage more efficiently, or identify problematic patterns appropriately.
If you have ever seen the film Limitless, this software draws comparisons to Bradley Coopers character who takes a mystery “pill” which taps into the other 80% of your brain which is normally rendered useless. In the movie, Bradley Cooper is able to recover all previous memories – any previous articles, photographs, conversations, or information of any sort from any point in his life – at any given moment. With this newfound ability he is able to process and store information at an incomparable rate and use relevant information gathered from strategic observations and inferences to single-handedly climb to the top of Wall Street in days, etc…
Similarly – yet unfortunately slightly less effectively – Grok uses sensors to receive information from wide array of sources. Grok outperforms humans on many levels as it is capable of digesting exponentially larger amounts of information which humans would only dream of internalizing. Grok then uses this enormous database to make savvy, insightful examinations and consequently take more valuable and profitable action.
Here is an article from VentureBeat detailing the successful application of Grok software into diverse companies in different industries.
A Thoughtful, Personable Assistant Who Doesn’t Take Lunch Breaks
Incredible Labs if one final startup company whose excepetional technology is taking the place of humans. It’s innovative software serves as a personal assistant by organizing your personal daily schedule and like Grok, absorbing extraneous information such as weather patterns, traffic patterns, and related news to inform your daily schedule.
The mobile personal assistant which the company has given the name “Donna” is proactive and anticipates various factors which a standard personal assistant would not consider.
For example, she – not “it” as CEO Kevin Cheng is mindful to call the software – will automatically inform you when to leave for a meeting based on traffic reports and weather patterns and will provide you with directions before you have left. Donna will sift through the days news headlines as well and will apprehend you if you are in the process of or are scheduled to travel to an area which is under the threat of a natural disaster or any other sort of threat or hazard.
Over time Donna will even learn to account for personal habits. When you accidentally spill your coffee and subsequently miss the exit to your office downtown, Donna will recalculate the next fastest route while simultaneously searching for the next closest Starbucks as she has come to realize this is your typical pre-work coffee destination. She will offer you directions to the closer Starbucks and might also offer directions to an alternative coffee shop which is more directly on the route to your workplace.
This software is unprecedented and is able to complete tasks that humans do not have the time or technical capacity for.
Narrative Science, Grok Solutions, and Incredible Labs are designing software which together, are revolutionizing the role of humans in society. Human-designed software is beginning to outperform humans on many levels, most notably by gathering and analyzing massive amounts of data in an astoundingly more efficient way. The companies who implement this technology have an invaluable advantage. With the extraordinary capability to make actionable predictions based on information from a larger and more cognizant database, humans are becoming irrelevant in various different industries.
The goal of these technologies is most likely not to make human’s obsolete, but to open their creative capacities and also take care of some of the “mindless” and redundant activities of our day-to-day lives. Such is the progress of technology. Where this road will take us in 10 years, I couldn’t tell you… but I’d probably advise against picking up a new job that a AI might be capable of performing (which is a lot more than it was even just 12 months ago).
To the future,