Rule of the Robots: How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything by Martin Ford – Here are my five lessons and takeaways

Rule of the Robots• Indeed, the availability of data at a scale that would have once been unimaginable is arguably the single most important factor underlying the startling progress we have seen. 
• The purpose of this book will be to explore the future implications of artificial intelligence by viewing it not as a specific innovation, but rather as a uniquely scalable and potentially disruptive technology—a powerful new utility poised to deliver a transformation that will someday rival the impact of electricity.  
• Now imagine taking a single, extremely specific innovation—an AI-based diagnostic tool or perhaps DeepMind’s breakthrough in protein folding—and multiplying it by a virtually limitless number of possibilities in other areas from medicine to science, industry, transportation, energy, government and every other sphere of human activity.
• In essence, an “electricity of intelligence.” A flexible resource that can—perhaps someday with almost a flick of a switch—apply cognitive capability to virtually any problem we face.
• Ultimately, this new utility will deliver the ability not just to analyze and make decisions but to solve complex problems and even exhibit creativity.
• Humanity cannot afford to leave artificial intelligence on the table. Because AI will amplify our intellect and creativity, it will drive innovation across virtually every field of human endeavor.
• Artificial intelligence will evolve into an indispensable tool that will be crucial in addressing the greatest challenges we face, including climate change and environmental degradation, the inevitable next pandemic, energy and fresh water scarcity, poverty and lack of access to education. 
• Still, to the extent that the need to navigate increased complexity and an explosion of knowledge is holding back the pace of innovation, artificial intelligence may well prove to be the most powerful tool we can leverage to escape our technological plateau. This, I think, is the single most important opportunity for AI as it continues to evolve into a ubiquitous utility.  
• THE QUEST TO build human-level AI is, I think, the single most fascinating topic in the field of artificial intelligence.
• My argument has been that AI is indeed different, and the reason is anchored in the core thesis of this book: that artificial intelligence is a systemic, general-purpose technology not unlike electricity, and it will therefore ultimately scale across and invade every aspect of our economy and society.
Martin Ford: Rule of the Robots


I presented my synopsis of Rule of the Robots: How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything by Martin Ford at the January First Friday Book Synopsis.  It was the third book I have presented that deals specifically with Artificial Intelligence (AI), along with many others that touch on AI among other elements of the rapidly digitally transforming world we live in.

Martin Ford’s earlier book, Rise of the Robots, won the business book of the year award in 2015 (from McKinsey and The Financial Times).  You might want to read my blog post about that book:  But Where will the Demand Be? – My Lessons and Takeaways from Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford.

This follow-up book, Rule of the Robots, is kind of a “this is where we are now,” book.  It is also a “this is what is coming” book – coming soon, and coming later.

I think that every business leader needs to be aware of the AI landscape.  He or she will either be an AI master user, or be left behind, in the not too distant future.

And, by the way, AI is permeating every aspect of our lives, in ways that we do not yet begin to grasp.

In my synopses, I always ask: What is the point? Here is the point for this book:  We face massive problems, from global climate change to future pandemics to the coming loss of so, so many jobs. We may not (likely, will not) have enough innovation capability to solve these problems.  Artificial Intelligence is the necessary tool to build a better and sustainable future. 

And I ask, Why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three answers for this book:
#1 – This book provides a “where we have been, where we are now, and where we likely are going” overview of Artificial Intelligence.
#2 – This book presents an honest look at failures, challenges, and dangers, even as it offers hope for what can be.
#3 – This book is written in understandable terms.  In other words, non-techies can understand most of what the book has to say.

I always include a few pages of Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages.  Here are the best of the best from this book:

• Predictable intellectual work is at especially high risk of automation because it can be performed by software. Manual labor, in contrast, requires an expensive robot.
• We probably should not assume that most former truck drivers or fast food workers can become robotics engineers…
• My own view, as I argued in Rise of the Robots, is that a large fraction of our workforce is eventually at risk of being left behind as AI and robotics continue to advance.
• AI will certainly destroy jobs, but it will also make the products and services produced by the economy more affordable and available.
• The path forward must be to fully embrace the potential of artificial intelligence, but to do so with open eyes.
• In a world where guaranteed access to the electrical grid is often taken for granted, it is easy to forget just how long and arduous electricity’s climb to dominance actually was.  …From Benjamin Franklin’s famous kite experiment in 1752, a full 127 years passed before Thomas Edison finally perfected his incandescent light bulb in 1879.  …Still, by 1925, only about half of homes in the United States had access to electric power. It took several more decades and Franklin Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Act before electricity evolved into the ubiquitous utility that we know today.
• What’s more, it’s a good bet that artificial intelligence will rise to dominance far faster than was the case with electricity.
• Indeed, artificial intelligence may ultimately prove to be one of the most effective tools we have as we look to recover from the crisis unleashed by the coronavirus.
• Artificial intelligence is poised to reshape our world—and it may happen much sooner than we expect it.
• New businesses or organizations will be set up to take advantage of AI from their inception; artificial intelligence will become a critical component of every future business model.
Intelligence is, after all, the ultimate resource—it is the fundamental capability that underlies everything human beings have ever created. It is difficult to imagine a development more consequential than the transformation of that resource into a universally accessible and affordable utility.
• Intel, IBM, Apple and Tesla all now design computer chips with circuitry designed to accelerate the computations required by deep neural networks.
• By 2016, AWS was growing so fast that the new computing resources that Amazon had to add to its system every day were roughly equivalent to everything the company had in place at the end of 2005.
• The cost of accessing the hardware and software that enables artificial intelligence seems certain to fall. At the same time, the AI services available through the cloud will be continuously upgraded as the tech giants strive to gain a competitive advantage by incorporating the latest innovations generated by researchers working at the field’s frontier.   …even the most advanced • AI technologies will become increasingly commoditized and available at little or no cost beyond what cloud computing clients pay to host their data.
• There is one thing, however, that no company gives away for free: its data. …Nearly all the value generated will be captured by whoever owns the data.
• Companies that are on the frontier when it comes to leveraging AI within their business models are likely to have a substantial first-mover advantage. That could well lead to winner-take-all scenarios as businesses with especially effective big data and artificial intelligence strategies gain a significant competitive advantage.
• Any business, government or organization that leaves artificial intelligence on the table is engaging in a misstep of such magnitude that it could reasonably be compared to disconnecting from the electrical grid.
• Some of the highest profile and most-hyped applications of artificial intelligence are likely to underperform relative to our expectations, while dramatic progress in other, often less visible, arenas will take us by surprise.
• A self-driving car operating on a public road that can reliably navigate ninety-nine percent of the situations it encounters may be worse than useless because that outlying one percent virtually guarantees disaster.
• The robots-as-a-service approach, combined with the ability to rapidly train robots for new tasks, is clear evidence that we are approaching a future where robots will be just as adaptable as human workers. And that is likely to be a game changer in a variety of industries.
• Robots don’t take vacations, never get sick, are never late to work and in general don’t suffer from any of the management issues and inconveniences that arise continuously with human workers.
• …coronavirus. Suddenly a machine that can produce fully prepared food with a total absence of human contact may offer significant marketing advantages.
• Will artificial intelligence prove to be the technology that will finally bend the healthcare spending curve by scaling productivity increases across the industry?
• It seems likely that any truly significant near-term AI impact on healthcare will emerge in activities that require no moving parts. In other words, artificial intelligence will make its mark in the processing of information and in purely intellectual endeavors, such as diagnosis or the development of treatment plans. The interpretation of medical images using machine vision techniques is an especially promising area. A number of studies have demonstrated that deep learning systems are, in many cases, able to match or exceed the capabilities of human radiologists.
• If public roads were anything like the inside of an Amazon warehouse in terms of the overall level of predictability, self-driving cars might already be widely deployed.
• What self-driving car service will look like for the foreseeable future: specified routes with designated stops in carefully curated areas that aren’t too challenging.
• The most enthusiastic accelerationists—often acolytes of Ray Kurzweil, who codified the idea in his “Law of Accelerating Returns”—are confident that in the next hundred years, we will experience, by historical standards, the equivalent of something “more like 20,000 years of progress.”
• If you want to imagine a life defined by relentless innovation, think of someone born in the late 1800s who then lived through the 1950s or 1960s. Such a person would have seen systemic transformations across society on an almost unimaginable scale: infrastructure to deliver clean water and manage sewage in cities; the automobile, the airplane, jet propulsion and then the advent of the space age; electrification and the lighting, radios, televisions, and home appliances it later made possible; antibiotics and mass-produced vaccines; an increase in life expectancy in the United States from less than 50 years to nearly 70. …The difference between the car you drive today and the car that was available in 1950 simply does not compare to the difference between that 1950 automobile and the transportation options in 1890.
• There is plenty of evidence to suggest that a broad-based stagnation in the generation of new ideas is quite real. …research productivity has sharply declined. …Their analysis found that the efficiency with which American researchers generate innovations “falls by half every 13 years.” …“Everywhere we look,” wrote the economists, “we find that ideas, and the exponential growth they imply, are getting harder to find.” …The researchers found that the “number of researchers required today to achieve the famous doubling of computer chip density” implied by Moore’s Law “is more than 18 times larger than the number required in the early 1970s.”
• The old joke that physicists have often told about nuclear fusion: “It’s always thirty years in the future.”

In my synopses, I include numerous key points from the book.  Here are quite a few from Rule of the Robots:

{• Prelude:  Remember Amara’s Law:  We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”  (Attributed to) Roy Amara, past president of The Institute for the Future}.

  • {Some terms:
  • Artificial Intelligence: the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.…At its simplest form, artificial intelligence is a field, which combines computer science and robust datasets, to enable problem-solving.
  • Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): to put it simply: a machine that can learn like a human, fully and completely on its own…}

• Consider:
• the box-making robots at Amazon — Amazon is already moving aggressively to automate more aspects of its warehouse operations. …the machines instead almost instantly construct custom-sized boxes around an item as it travels along a conveyor belt. The machines can box about 600 to 700 items per hour—as much as five times the capability of a human worker.
• When AI defeated the human champion in Go, China had its own “Sputnik moment”
• The achievements may also have led to what venture capitalist and author Kai-Fu Lee has called a “Sputnik moment” in China—in the wake of which the government quickly moved to position the country to become a leader in artificial intelligence.

  • Maybe we should start with Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near
  • target date – 2029 — Kurzweil has predicted for decades, and still believes, that AGI will be achieved sometime around the year 2029. Unlike many AI researchers, he continues to have faith in the Turing test as an effective measure of human-level intelligence.
  • And…though it may be hard to conceive of this being true…we are not innovating very fast, or fast enough, these days.
  • We are going to need AI to jumpstart new rounds of innovation.
  • The pace of innovation in areas like transportation, energy, housing, physical public infrastructure and agriculture not only falls far short of exponential, it might be better described as stagnant.
  • the low-hanging fruit of technological innovation had been largely harvested by roughly the 1970s.
  • In virtually every scientific field, that requires the assimilation of vastly more knowledge than has been the case previously. The result is that innovation now demands ever larger teams made up of researchers with highly specialized backgrounds, and coordinating their efforts is inherently more difficult than would be the case with a smaller group.
  • Artificial Intelligence as the new electricity
  • Viewing artificial intelligence as the new electricity offers a useful model for thinking about how the technology will evolve and ultimately touch nearly every sphere of the economy, society and culture.
  • Warning:  However, there is one important caveat. Electricity is universally viewed as an unambiguously positive force. …AI is different: it has a dark side, and it comes coupled with genuine risks both to individuals and to society as a whole. 
  • It’s here:
  • “they” can write
  • they can almost run a factory; almost run a fulfillment center (or; warehouse)
  • they can make hamburgers
  • they can take and process orders
  • they can beat world champion players at:Chess; Go
  • they made the fast vaccine development possible
  • In other words, it is an innovation with the potential to accelerate progress in virtually every sphere of biochemical science and medicine.
  • Facial recognition
  • Throughout the world—but especially in China—surveillance systems employing facial recognition and other AI-based technologies are being used in ways that vastly enhance the power and reach of authoritarian governments and erode any expectation of personal privacy.
  • And…credit where credit is due – give praise to video game development and improvement…
  • Graphics processing units, or GPUs; Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox.
  • It’s coming…soon…but not this afternoon…
  • New physical technology
  • A new class of chip comes much closer to mimicking the brain. …These emerging “neuromorphic” chip designs instantiate hardware versions of neurons directly in silicon.
  • Cashierless stores
  • self-driving cars
  • I’d say there’s a real danger that truly autonomous cars are going to remain five years in the future for many years to come.
  • There is little doubt that self-driving vehicles will someday be one of the most tangible and consequential manifestations of the revolution in artificial intelligence.
  • electric cars – no more internal combustion vehicles
  • medical diagnosis
  • diagnostic AI applications are already beginning to match or even exceed the performance of the best doctors.
  • AI as a service
  • The upshot of all of this is a powerful new utility carrying the ability to deliver machine intelligence on demand virtually everywhere.
  • Unsupervised Learning
  • A breakthrough that results in an AI system that is able to reliably deploy the kind of common sense reasoning that we take for granted in humans would be an extraordinary advance. …It’s difficult to overstate the magnitude of a genuine breakthrough in unsupervised machine learning.           
  • So, so many jobs at risk.
  • Virtually any job that is fundamentally routine and predictable in nature—or in other words, nearly any role where a worker faces similar challenges again and again—has the potential to be automated in full or in part. …Studies have found that as much as half of the American workforce is engaged in such predictable activities. …tens of millions of jobs could eventually evaporate in the United States alone.
  • AND! — …Middle class jobs are at risk of being deskilled, so that a low-wage worker with little training, but who is augmented by technology, can step into a role that once would have commanded a higher wage.
  • Jobs will disappear… and where will the demand be?
  • a vibrant market economy depends on vast numbers of consumers who are able to purchase the products and services being produced. If these consumers do not have jobs, and thus income, how will they create the demand necessary to drive continued economic growth?
  • In my view, the most straightforward and effective way to address the distributional challenge brought about by artificial intelligence advances is simply to give people money.
  • In contrast, artificial intelligence will impact every sector of the economy more or less simultaneously. Most importantly, this will include the service sector and white collar jobs…
  • A 2019 report from Wells Fargo, for example, predicted that about 200,000 jobs in the U.S. banking industry would evaporate as the result of advancing technology over the next decade.
  • So, what’s the holdup – robots need hands and fingers that work like humans’…
  • The fundamental limitation holding back a more widespread robotic revolution is more often than not dexterity.
  • The reality is that, even after decades of work on robotic hands and the algorithms required to animate them, their dexterity is not yet close to human level.
  • an affordable and genuinely useful robot for the home is likely to remain out of reach for the foreseeable future.
  • In June 2019, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said, “I think grasping is going to be a solved problem in the next 10 years.”
  • As technology journalist James Vincent points out, “nothing stumps a robot quite like a bag of oranges.”
  • So, what are we talking about:
  • The arrival of very fast computers with massive, massive, MASSIVE, troves of data
  • recent dramatic advances have been enabled by the confluence of two relentless trends in information technology: First, the arrival of vastly more powerful computers. And, second, the enormous troves of data now being generated and collected across the information economy provide a resource crucial to training these networks to perform useful tasks. Indeed, the availability of data at a scale that would have once been unimaginable is arguably the single most important factor underlying the startling progress we have seen.
  • Tesla’s data advantage, as fact, and example…
  • Tesla does indeed have a striking competitive advantage—something that ultimately could allow it to outpace its competitors and be the first company to deploy fully autonomous self-driving cars. …Rather—as is so often the case in the field of artificial intelligence—the advantage lies in the data that Tesla controls. …In other words, Tesla has access to a truly massive trove of real-world photographic data that none of its competitors can come close to matching. …Tesla’s ability to incorporate massive amounts of real-world data is a potentially disruptive advantage. …No engineer could design a simulation that would come close to replicating the detailed, and often weird, reality captured by the cameras on Tesla’s ever-expanding fleet.
  • Deep Learning – Continuous Learning by the robots and software
  •  The researchers at Covariant believe that “reinforcement learning”—or essentially learning through trial and error—is the most effective way to progress, and the company claims to be building a system based on a massive deep neural network that it calls “universal AI for robots,” which it expects to eventually power a variety of machines that can “see, reason and act in the world around them, completing tasks too complex and varied for traditional programmed robots.”
  • Dangers we will face, and might face:
  • Could artificial intelligence pose an existential threat to humanity?
  • growing inequality; dehumanizing work conditions
  • All of this points to increasing inequality and potentially dehumanizing conditions for a growing fraction of our workforce.
  • In other words, business owners, managers, superstar employees and investors are capturing the fruits of progress, and ordinary workers are getting almost nothing.
  • infrastructure threats
  • AI-enabled cyberattacks on physical infrastructure and critical systems that increasingly will be interconnected and managed by algorithms, as well as threats to the democratic process and the social fabric.
  • other threats, like…
  • The Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election offers a relatively tame preview of what might be coming.
  • the killer drones; the swarm of killer drones – consider genocide; or coup/takeover drones…
  • Perhaps the most terrifying near-term threat is the development of fully autonomous weapons with the ability to kill without the necessity of a human giving specific authorization.
  • and… the science-fiction-inspired threats
  • from the “Paper Clip Threat” to The Terminator
  • Security and privacy issues
  • Security risks are, I would argue, the single most important near-term danger associated with the rise of artificial intelligence. 
  • And…Big Brother may actually be watching you:
  • Eventually, a genuinely Orwellian system of comprehensive and carefully orchestrated social control could well emerge.
  • Note:  consider two types of danger: danger from humans using AI vs. AI using AI
  • A little chronology:
  • Cloud Computing; Amazon Web Services – 2006
  • As of 2018, Amazon Web Services operated more than one hundred data centers located in nine different countries throughout the world. …The growth of the cloud services provided by Amazon and its competitors has been staggering.
  • Ninety-four percent of organizations, ranging from multinational corporations to small-and medium-sized businesses, now utilize cloud computing.
  • iPhone – 2007
  • Amazon purchased Kiva Systems, 2012 (the little orange robots in their fulfillment centers) — Amazon now operates more than 200,000 of these robots at its distribution centers worldwide. The result has been a three-to four-fold increase in the number of items that can be retrieved by a typical picker over the course of an hour. 
  • A footnote – what a great and tragic loss to humankind it was to lose Alan Turing at his young age
  • And, here are my five lessons and takeaways:

#1 – Robots, software, algorithms, data…the “tools” of Artificial Intelligence – are here, and increasing in number and enhanced capability by the day. AI will be shaping and changing the future.
#2 – Innovation has slowed down.  We have picked all the low hanging fruit. We’re going to need AI to innovate us into the future.
#3 – AI brings new, unique, and very dangerous dangers.  We need to prepare, and plan, in advance, to face these dangers.
#4 – AI will result in serious loss/destruction of jobs.  We need to ask:  what shall we do when more and more people will not be able to find genuine work?  (Consider the loss of income; consider the loss of meaning).
#5 – Whatever your job, you will be using AI.  It would help to learn as much as you can, as fast as you can, about AI, so that you will not be behind the curve; so that you will not be left behind.

If you are not already immersed directly in Artificial Intelligence work, this book is for you. It will explain what is now possible, what is coming, and how AI will literally be part of everything going forward.  I think you might really want to read this book.

My synopsis, with the audio recording of my presentation, and my comprehensive, multi-page handout, will be available soon on this web site.  Click here for our newest additions.

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