• David Zanca

"Just One Word"; Maybe, Two

Updated: Mar 30, 2018

In the award winning film, The Graduate, recent college graduate Ben Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) receives a piece of unsolicited career advice from a drunken family friend, Mr. McGuire. Famously, the exchange was:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?

Mr. McGuire: There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

If they remade the film, what would that one word be? Four years I recalled that movie dialogue and told an audience that the "one word" would be Analytics. And indeed, I believe that has been true for the past four years. Virtually every industry and discipline has a treasure trove of data to analyze for a wide variety of purposes: better performance or efficiencies, more intimacy with customers and stakeholders, specific targeting of messaging, pattern recognition for health related sciences and behavioral patterns. Medicine, law enforcement, marketing, operational groups sports, genetic research, urban planners, and more and more have embraced analytics.

Now, I am not about to say that all the applications for analytics have been created. Far from it. Analytics will continue to grow and expand in importance as the Internet of Things creates more data crumbs. The creative use of analytics will touch virtually every sector. And as compute power, and decision modeling continue to improve, predictive analytics will become mainstream (if it is not already).

So, that brings me to today. If they remade the film now, what would the magic word be? One word? Analytics? My bet is they would need to rewrite the dialogue a bit:

Friend: I want to say two words to you. Just two words.

Graduate: Yes, sir.

Friend: Are you listening?

Graduate: Yes, I am.

Friend: Artificial intelligence.

Graduate: Exactly how do you mean?

Friend: There's a great future in AI. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Artificial intelligence will revolutionize production processes, our interactions with technology, and decision making in many of the disciplines mention above. It's impact is just being imagined and felt. For example, driver-less vehicles deploy major AI engines to recognize objects and make decisions.

Inside the expansive title of AI are multiple types of technologies. The first ties back to the "one word," analytics. Predicative analytics is a particular form of AI which uses big data to recognize a pattern of behavior and recommend a course of action. Another form of AI are machine based logic engines which are rules based rather than data based and build analytical compabilities based on those rules. Think of a loan processing application. Think of the logical processes of the human brain. These engines can have self-learning mechanisms that build upon their rules and increase knowledge independently of human input.

The ability to merge the power of data analytics with machine based AI opens the future of artificial super intelligence which futurist Ray Kurzweil called the "Singularity". This concept suggests that machine intelligence, through its own internal learning cycles, will be able to surpass human intelligence. Thought leaders like Elon Musk and the recently deceased Stephen Hawking have expressed concern over the ethical and harmful potential of uncontrolled super intelligence in machine form.

Perhaps these same concerns were raised seventy years ago as mankind unleashed the power of the atom. Some controls and regulations were put place, but Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima occurred anyway. Nuclear proliferation continues, and it is a continuous threat to human civilization. Maybe we can make sure artificial intelligence is harnessed for good and is controlled. It's a tall order because accumulating knowledge and then applying that knowledge are attractive policies for individuals, companies, nation-states, empires, and tribal groups. But, we have to start.

So, now the rewritten advice is: "Just two words." Artificial Intelligence. And there is a certainly a future in it.

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