Imagine what it would be like if you woke up and had to live through the same day over and over again, doing the exact same things. What difference would it make if you won the lottery and become a billionaire if next day you’d wake up with no money and have to start all over again? You’d get bored eventually and desperately want to get out of the loop.
Now think about your work. Would you prefer to do the same thing over and over again or face new challenges and do exciting things every day? Would you dream of becoming a dish washer or a pilot?
Ever since the dawn of history, people have tried to get boredom out of their work. So we invented tools, then tools became more complex and evolved into machines, and now we’re working on creating “smart” machines.
The washing machine: a simple example
Would you be happy if all washing machines disappeared tomorrow? Would you be grateful that you now had to carry out its tasks yourself? Or would you prefer that your washing machine, instead of vanishing suddenly, discovered how to order detergent, separate clothes and even fold them nicely?
Would you complain then that you have too much spare time and get bored, or would you find interesting new things to focus on instead? We, at Nibo, know for sure what we’d choose. Because, just as industrial automation has reduced the hours we have to work, domestic automation — like washing machines — has dramatically reduced the amount of housework we have to do.
We use machines to achieve more
Here’s another imagination exercise. Think about building your dream home. I know mine is a log cabin.
How would you transport and stack all those logs to build it? By yourself? Unless your name is Hercules you’d need all the people on your street to come and help you, for weeks in a row. Or you could do the sensible thing in the current age by renting a crane and doing all the work in just a few days.
As you look around you see everywhere in our modern world examples of people and machines working together to accomplish what none of them on their own can achieve.
Overcoming human limitations with machines
If people have almost no limit when it comes to imagination, they’re much more limited when it comes to power and speed. Although machines cannot be creative, they don’t get tired, hungry or bored. And when created and controlled by people, they can achieve things so amazing that we get to call them “smart”.
Throughout history we’ve tried to get more speed and power by using machines to extend what our minds conceive. Machines became more complex and smaller, and when working with data we began calling them computers.
When Turing broke the Enigma and saved millions of lives in the process, such an accomplishment seemed to be an impossible mission even for a team of the brightest scientists, mathematicians and cryptographers. He made it possible by first inventing the machine, the computer, able to carry out the task.
The computer had no problem in decrypting messages. The principle was the one of brute force attack by trying many combinations at the same time. Nowadays even a student can write a computer program to do something similar, as a homework assignment. Incredible? Not as incredible as what will come next.
The changing roles of humans
To start with, computers made their way into the military before making inroads into large enterprises. It was their mission to compute large amounts of data and to spill out results at speeds impossible for humans. Over time they got smaller and smaller; the initial Turing Bombe machine could barely fit into a large room and cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.
As soon as computers entered the age of miniaturization, they also made their way into our daily lives. And our role, as their “parents”, also evolved in time. What was originally a “computer specialist” or “programmer” role has nowadays become developers, QA engineers, software architects, UX designers, data specialists, project managers, network and system engineers, database administrators etc. Even developers have specialized into front-end, back-end, or full-stack developers to work with different platforms and technologies. We improved computers and computers made us evolve the way we work with them.
Using computers to untangle data
We automated everything. At first, we focused on industrial processes and this led to better quality, less wastage, more complex products and lower prices. We automated our factories, planes, cars, offices, street, cities and even homes. Yeah, it seemed scary at the beginning, but now nobody complains that the lawn is watered automatically or that the vacuum cleaner is doing its job alone. This just frees up us humans with more time to do what we do best — create.
But now we and computers face another challenge — big data. An amount of data so large that even working together with computers we cannot process it using traditional methods. So we have to teach our “digital friends” how to find new ways to interpret all this data.
This is how AI came about and why, bit by bit, it’s made its way into our lives. Shops that can tell you what supplies to buy for your printer or recommend which shoes will best suit your needs; newspapers that give you the latest about whatever you and you alone are interested; apps that tell you what your friends are up to lately; maps that can guide you through a busy traffic day; or technical support that can help you anytime, anywhere and on any matter.
Humans taught computers how to untangle huge piles of data, and then computers were able to tirelessly help other humans. We humans have faced and overcome different obstacles throughout the course of history, and now with the help of our digital “friends”, more and more interesting challenges lay open to us. And if we can apply better judgement, this situation can only help us evolve and make our lives better.