Ron Lancaster

Thoughts on tech and leadership

Something exciting and perhaps incredible is happening in AI right now. In short, we’re seeing massive leaps in AI where the best models can generate human-level art, music, poetry, stories, and more.

Given the rapid advances and often stunning examples, it’s useful to consider how disruptive this might be. To frame this, we can take inspiration from the recent past.

In 2007, the introduction of the iPhone started what later became known as the Mobile Revolution. That is, eventually most people in the world would access the internet via a smartphone - and companies that wanted to reach those people would need to offer a mobile solution.

A few years later, in 2011, Marc Andreesen wrote a significant thought-piece titled “Software is eating the world”. In that essay, he made a point that’s now taken for granted:

But too much of the debate is still around financial valuation, as opposed to the underlying intrinsic value of the best of Silicon Valley’s new companies. My own theory is that we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.

More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services — from movies to agriculture to national defense. Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not.

What we have seen over the past few years is AI surpass human-level capabilities in seeing, hearing, and speaking. And this year, we have witnessed AI matching and exceeding human-level capabilities in generating text, images, videos, and more.

An interesting question then is whether the current AI revolution is more like the mobile revolution: the parallel being that everyone company needs to adopt AI. Or, is it more substantial than that, with almost every business and industry eventually being disrupted by AI.

Last year, Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, wrote “Moore’s Law for everything”. In this passionate essay, he asserts that over the coming decades, nearly everything will be changed and disrupted by AI.

The coming change will center around the most impressive of our capabilities: the phenomenal ability to think, create, understand, and reason. To the three great technological revolutions–the agricultural, the industrial, and the computational–we will add a fourth: the AI revolution. This revolution will generate enough wealth for everyone to have what they need, if we as a society manage it responsibly.

As noted, to get to the point of near total disruption, where “AI eats the world”, we will need AI that can create, understand, reason, and think. Sam Altman’s position seems to be that this is a matter of “when”, not “if”.

With the AI’s released just in the past several months such as Dalle2, MidJourney, and Stable Diffusion, it is clear that AIs can create. And with ChatGPT, more often than not, it appears that the AI understands what is being asked and can reply appropriately.

But no publicly-accessible model, now, exhibits true reasoning and thinking.

As such, we are not there yet; the current impact of AI is more like the mobile revolution. And yet, it is exciting to see the rapid progress of AI and the possibility ahead.

At the point where we do have AI models that can understand, reason, and think, then this will change from an AI revolution to a path of disruption more analogous to AI eating the world.

And we may not be as far away from that future as we think.