Then & Now: Lessons from the Internet Age for Today's AI Concerns
Just when I thought the conversation about artificial intelligence had to have reached a fever pitch, along came news reports that AI could cause human extinction. It was in this moment that I decided to take a step back from all the noise, hype and catastrophizing about AI and take a look at what people were saying about the internet 30 years ago—just to get some perspective.
As you can imagine, it took me down a few rabbit holes to a time when my hair wasn’t gray and the “World Wide Web” and other tech disrupters were likewise the subject of some pretty cringe-worthy commentary by doomsayers and naysayers (not to mention some great comic material):
Like when American Astronomer Clifford Stoll in an article for Newsweek, wrote that “no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.”
Or when hosts of the Today Show, perplexed by a web address the teleprompter was telling them to give their viewers, asked, “What is internet anyway?” (This B-roll footage seems to be included in every milestone anniversary segment that NBC runs about the internet.)
Now consider: As of 2022, the estimated number of internet users worldwide was 5.3 billion, up from 4.9 billion in the previous year. This share represents 66% of the global population, according to Statista.com. The United States is the third largest market with 307 million users nationwide.
Apple’s introduction of its first iteration of the iPhone to the consumer market invited naysayers like former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, no less, to laugh at it, saying, “500 dollars? Fully subsidized? With a plan? I said that is the most expensive phone in the world. And it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard. Which makes it not a very good email machine.”
They’re everywhere: Today, out of the approximately 300 million smartphone users in the United States, or roughly 90% of the country's population, 135.97 million people are using iPhones, according to BankMyCell.
Eventually, I found myself back to AI when I happened upon this Saturday Night Live spoof from a few years ago of Amazon’s Alexa. “Amazon partnered with AARP to present the new Amazon Echo Silver, the only smart speaker device designed specifically to be used for the greatest generation.” I’m sure if you have a parent at this age, you can relate.
AI is already a part of the family: With the introduction of AI in smart speakers, the market is expected to reach $100 billion by 2032 at a CAGR of 25.6% between 2023 and 2032, according to Market.us.
Remember the computer lab?
I can also look back at myself and laugh. Like when I was in college, taking an MIS class. We had to walk to a computer lab, and assuming a computer was available, we had to send notes to our professors through the system from an address we’d been given. I remember thinking at the time how dumb it was that I had to do this to communicate with my professor, not at all appreciating at the time that this was the start of email.
We’ve been here before and come out stronger
My point is in all of this is that technology has been imposing revolutionary change on us as people and as businesses for the past several decades—each time accompanied by risk and fear of the unknown but also the potential for exponential profitability.
In my last blog, I talked about the need to establish strong repeatable processes and standard operating procedures—the building blocks to what I’m calling input-ready data—in order to make the most out of automation and AI. This is essential regardless of where AI is headed and a good place to start.
Maybe you haven’t had as much experience as I have, but at the pace technology is advancing, you don’t have to go back very far anymore to have had to adapt to the ways it has changed the way we live and work. People still have jobs, and businesses are still prospering. It’s just going to be different—again.
So, let’s continue to stay in touch as we make our way through together.