"When you are born, you know nothing." This is the kind of statement you expect to hear from a philosophy professor, not a Silicon Valley executive with a new company to pitch and money to make. A tall, rangy man who is almost implausibly cheerful, Hawkins created the Palm and Treo handhelds and cofounded Palm Computing and Handspring. His is the consummate high tech success story, the brilliant, driven engineer who beat the critics to make it big. Now he's about to unveil his entrepreneurial third act: a company called Numenta. But what Hawkins, 49, really wants to talk about -- in fact, what he has really wanted to talk about for the past 30 years -- isn't gadgets or source codes or market niches.
As the automation of physical and knowledge work advances, many jobs will be redefined rather than eliminated--at least in the short term. The potential of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics to perform tasks once reserved for humans is no longer reserved for spectacular demonstrations by the likes of IBM's Watson, Rethink Robotics' Baxter, DeepMind, or Google's driverless car. Just head to an airport: automated check-in kiosks now dominate many airlines' ticketing areas. Pilots actively steer aircraft for just three to seven minutes of many flights, with autopilot guiding the rest of the journey. Passport-control processes at some airports can place more emphasis on scanning document bar codes than on observing incoming passengers.
Artificial intelligence is gaining traction in enterprises, with many large organizations exploring algorithms to automate business processes or building bots to field customer inquiries. But while some CIOs see self-learning software as a boon for achieving greater efficiencies, others are leery about entrusting too much of their operations to AI because it remains difficult to ascertain how the algorithms arrive at their conclusions. CIOs in regulated industries in particular, such as financial services and any sector exploring autonomous vehicles, are grappling with this so-called "black box problem." If a self-driving rig suddenly swerves off of the road during testing, the engineers had darn well better figure out how and why. Similarly, Finservs looking to use it to vet clients for credit risks need to proceed with caution to avoid introducing biases into their qualification scoring.
Over the next five years, we are about to witness the world we live in entirely disrupted by improvements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Children today are growing up with AI assistants in their homes (Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa) -- to the point that you might consider their mere presence an extension of co-parenting. As voice and facial recognition continue to evolve, machine learning algorithms are getting smarter. More and more industries are being influenced by AI, and our society as we know it is transforming. The transportation industry looks like it will be the first to be completely disrupted by artificial intelligence.