Progress is as Simple as a Bowl of Cereal: Joining Forces with Noodle.ai to Create Perfect Flow
My connection to the artificial intelligence revolution is rooted in my chess career. When I learned about Noodle.ai and its intention to propagate FlowOperations to create a world without waste, I immediately wanted to work with them to evangelize “good AI.” In this inaugural blog, I’ll share some earlier experiences that connect me to Noodle.ai’s mission of creating a frictionless flow of goods to consumers.
The First Knowledge Worker Threatened by Automation
In 1985, in Hamburg, I played against thirty-two different chess computers at the same time in what is known as a simultaneous exhibition. I walked from one machine to the next, making my moves over a period of more than five hours. The four leading chess computer manufacturers had sent their top models, including eight named after me from the electronics firm Saitek.
It illustrates the state of computer chess at the time that it didn’t come as much of a surprise when I achieved a perfect 32–0 score, winning every game, although there was an uncomfortable moment. At one point, I realized that I was drifting into trouble in a game against one of the “Kasparov” brand models. If this machine scored a win or even a draw, people would be quick to say that I had thrown the game to get PR for the company, so I had to intensify my efforts. Eventually, I found a way to trick the machine with a sacrifice it should have refused. From the human perspective, or at least from my perspective, those were the good old days of man vs. machine chess!
Eleven years later, I narrowly defeated the supercomputer Deep Blue in a match. Then, in 1997, IBM redoubled its efforts—and doubled Deep Blue’s processing power—and I lost the rematch in an event that made headlines around the world. The result was met with astonishment and grief by those who took it as a symbol of mankind’s submission before the almighty computer. (“The Brain’s Last Stand” read the Newsweek headline.) Others shrugged their shoulders, surprised that humans could still compete at all against the enormous calculating power that, by 1997, sat on just about every desk in the first world.
In just one decade, I had gone from being the youngest world chess champion in history, at 22 years old, to becoming the first knowledge worker whose job was threatened by automation. Across the chessboard from Deep Blue, facing the machine’s 200 million moves per second calculating power, did I wish that IBM had made a slightly slower and weaker system? Perhaps, in a weak moment, but of course, that isn’t what any competitor should want, or anyone who benefits from technology progress—that is, everyone.
I could either bury my head in the sand and get swept into the past, or I could embrace the AI revolution and help harness the strength of machine intelligence to augment my human creativity and improve my performance. I chose the latter, and over the last 25 years, I have been studying the rise of AI, reporting from the front lines, and widely sharing what I’ve learned in articles and books like my 2017 publication, Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins (PublicAffairs), and from collaboration with partners like Noodle.ai.
We often think of AI as stronger, better, more ruthless humanoids: terrifying AI like Hal from Arthur Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or Skynet from Terminator haunt our collective consciousness. But, as my lessons from Deep Blue taught me, humans and machines are good at different things.
Machines excel at imitating human decision-making processes. And, because they never get hungry, or grouchy after fights with a partner, or need to run out to get more coffee, like us humans, machines can continue to perform high-quality decision-making in perpetuity. Thus, artificial intelligence (which I’ll call AI1) is perfect at efficiently performing low-intelligence tasks within closed systems.
Meanwhile, humans excel at adapting to new environments, responding to unfamiliar constraints, and operating within open systems. For the sake of alliteration, we can call this authentic intelligence (AI2).
When we combine the brute strength of machine artificial intelligence and the creative power of human authentic intelligence, we get augmented intelligence (AI3): AI1 + AI2 = AI3. And, as that 2005 “freestyle” chess tournament demonstrated, the sum is greater than the whole of its parts. Augmented intelligence can harmonize the strengths of both components without diminishing the need for either of its constituent parts.
Progress Can be as Simple as a Bowl of Cereal
In addition to providing exciting new job opportunities, augmented intelligence will increase productivity, which is how we produce the gains that make our lives better, generation after generation. That sounds abstract, but we all saw just last year, during the pandemic, how important the small, everyday steps toward progress are. In the past, a pandemic like COVID could have brought widespread starvation as distribution systems collapsed. Researchers at the environmental nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance even used statistical models to map out such a scenario for COVID-19.
But, by using all the intellectual horsepower of augmented intelligence, Noodle.ai’s partners kept churning out reliable, dependable products despite all the challenges COVID brought. It was through the operating resilience of machine intelligence, guided by human management, that Noodle.ai’s partners kept cornflakes in our pantries and milk in our refrigerators throughout the pandemic. Progress can be as simple and as significant as making sure we all have breakfast in the morning.
And over the last year, while augmented intelligence saved breakfast in the kitchen, it also saved lives in the hospital. From the very start of the pandemic, nonprofits and scientific researchers alike published literature on how AI helped frontline workers combat COVID-19 at every step of the process by more rapidly diagnosing patients, contact tracing their relations for potential spread, and assisting doctors and nurses triage patients.
Supply chains are boring until you realize you can’t live without them, a lesson we shouldn’t forget as the pandemic wanes. The benefits of “boring” AI are clear and present, and we shouldn’t forget that to chase after every hyperbolic story about robots’ dystopian visions of automated dystopias.
The question facing business leaders and government officials is how we can best combine the strengths of machine intelligence and human creativity to create a better tomorrow for all of us. Noodle.ai is helping to find a solution by doing well while doing good for the world. And we can measure the progress of integrating machine labor with human intuition in something as simple as the bowl of cereal that still made it to your kitchen in the middle of a global pandemic.
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