These days the term Artificial Intelligence or AI has become a buzzword. Buzzwords can be very misleading. Words that create a lot of buzz, are often times, words that are associated with entertainment or rumors or drama. The overuse of the term AI in our current society, is causing most people to be driven thousands of miles away from the ‘real stories’ and all the new ideas that are emerging in the field of AI.
Just the other day my colleagues and I were having a conversation over lunch and the topic of AI came up. Some one at the table asked:
‘So what’s new these days? What do you guys think is going to be the next big thing after Facebook or Google or the internet?’
Our table being comprised of mostly engineers – in aerospace industry – and some business analysts, didn’t take more than a few seconds to bring up the topic of AI. The conversation very swiftly led to the idea of how some big corporations like Amazon or Facebook are using ‘data’ and ‘AI technology’ to manipulate people’s lives.
And of course the discussion would be incomplete and ‘not-entertaining’ without the stories of how Elon Musk warned the entire world about an AI ‘take-over’ and apocalypse. Other than a handful of people in the world – who are involved with AI business, startups and research – most people, only think of AI as something ‘elusive’ or ‘threatening’ and relate it with sci-fi and tales of doom.
The misleading information even circulates among young and aspiring entrepreneurs who are ‘obsessed’ with the idea of AI being the next big thing. One of the most famous angel investor in Silicon Valley – Peter Thiel – encourages himself and others to be very careful about any business related to AI.
“Silicon valley investors tend to box start-ups into ‘deeply misleading’ categories and ‘trends’ – most of which are just buzzwords. Today, Silicon Valley is focused on self-driving cars and artificial intelligence, while a few years ago the buzz was around big data and cloud computing. Once something is a ‘trend’ that means others have already identified it, so it’s unclear about what’s innovative about it. When an investor gets a pitch with a lot of buzzwords, it’s like a ‘tell’ in poker that the company is not unique”
Peter Thiel, Co-founder of PayPal, Angel investor and Partner at Founder’s Fund
Just like Mr. Thiel said, these days the buzzword in the tech industry is ‘AI’. It’s his job to verify if a company or startup is unique or not. If he’s not able to do that successfully, it could lose him hundreds of millions of dollars.
The word AI may have gone mainstream, but as a man of science and an engineer, I am gonna tell you one very important thing that affects the entire planet as a whole.
The technology behind Artificial Intelligence is perhaps the most unique concept to ever exist.
Before I go on explaining how AI, even being a deceiving buzzword, has the potential to changing the world and give rise to multi-billion dollar companies, let’s first do a little time travelling by peeking through the curtain and looking into a ‘not-so’ distant past.
A Trip Down The Memory Lane
The year’s 2000. The Wall Street Journal runs a story about the viral growth of a small startup based in Palo Alto, California, known as – PayPal. In the story, PayPal – being the fastest and most advanced online payment system – is mentioned as a disruptive company speculated to be worth $500 million. This new found spotlight results in the startup’s lead investor to put in an additional $100 million dollars. This was just what the creators of PayPal needed to break free from some of their hurdles and make their product a success. Just as the founders close the deal in the middle of March 2000 , NASDAQ crashes and reaches an all-time low. The ‘dot-com’ bubble pops. 2 years later, PayPal gets sold to eBay for a whopping $1.5 billion.
The founders and winners of PayPal goes on to use their fortunes to create some of the most renowned companies is existence. Since the PayPal was sold to eBay in 2002, the founders – Elon Musk has founded SpaceX and co-founded Tesla Motors; Reid Hoffman co-founded LinkedIn; Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim together founded YouTube; Jeremy Stoppelman and Russes Simmons founded Yelp; David Sacks co-founded Yammer; and Peter Thiel co-founded Palantir.
Considering the fact the the ‘dot-com’ crash was one of the worst economic downturns in the history of United States, with losses of over $1.8 trillion – the story of PyPal and its founders seem nothing short of a fairy tale. PayPal wasn’t the only unicorn that emerged out of the dot-com era. Amazon (1994), Google (1998), eBay (1995) and Yahoo (1995), are all behemoths that were born during the period of the dot-com craze.
Don’t Let Buzzwords Steal the Show
Yes, it is without a doubt, a known fact that buzzwords like ‘dot-com’ or ‘artificial intelligence’ could be misleading and even result in deadly financial crashes. But that does not mean that looking into the prospects and ideas behind these technologies are a waste of time.
Companies like – Google and Amazon made the most out of the dot-com era. They truly understood the power of what the internet had to offer to the rest of the world. These companies were not just obsessed about how to make money during the time of the internet. Rather, each company was on a mission to change the world in a certain way. And they knew exactly what role the dot-com or internet played in serving their mission. They respected and understood the technology behind the internet.
AI might be a buzzword, but the technology behind it is substantial. It is the type of technology that has the potential to solve diseases like cancer or dementia. The possibilities are endless. It won’t hurt to be aware of it’s true capabilities and at least try to develop a basic understanding of its nature.
We should always be aware of the misled and over-hyped speculations, but at the same time we should never forget how some ordinary people like Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel shielded themselves from all the noise and buzz surrounding the term ‘dot-com’ and made use of its true potential, and changed the world.