I do a number of panels a month for the World Talent Economy Forum, in which we regularly argue about whether artificial intelligence (AI) is an appropriate name, real, and whether it will take jobs or provide them.
The fact is that AI is not sharply defined. We call voice-to-text programs behind digital assistants AIs, even though they really are not, and few of us interact with advanced AIs, like Watson and conversational computers that really are.
So I can understand the confusion, but like any misnamed tool (what is the “artificial” in artificial intelligence anyway?), it obfuscates both the current capability and full potential of this tool.
One of the places you can go to understand state-of-the-art AI is NVIDIA’s annual GTC event, which was this week.
Let’s talk about GTC and AI.
NVIDIA’s AI breadth
NVIDIA has the greatest breadth in AI of any company. It ranges from work done on a large scale with partners like IBM and Watson to applied AI solutions designed to go into small devices supported by NVIDIA’s Jetson platform.
At a typical GTC in person, you will see examples of robots, autonomous cars, advanced intelligent cameras, autonomous machinery for factories and farms, and autonomous delivery vehicles and drones.
The sheer breadth of the technology you’d see if the event was in person is fascinating, particularly when you realize you could combine many of these individual elements into solutions that could fully automate a factory, farm, city, or country.
At prior GTCs, I heard stories of AIs used for telesales that were so real the AI was not only more likely to close a prospect, but some of the prospects attempted to ask the AI out.
Given how the pandemic has made a lot of us feel isolated and alone, you can imagine a future implementation of this technology applied to mental health, either through a conversational robot in the home or through a cloud-based service connected to your phone or digital assistant.
For me, some of the most interesting hardware was applied to farming. I grew up on a farm and hated the kinds of tasks that AIs are now being trained to do, like selective weeding, or repetitive tractor use (plowing, harvesting, fertilizing) that can increasingly be done by autonomous tractors or even flying drones.
The automotive stuff is particularly interesting this year, because there are announcements from several automakers claiming to have fully autonomous driving by the 2026 model year. I expect that will only be level 4 autonomy (level 5 is due, assuming it ever arrives, closer to 2030). Autonomous driving vehicles are estimated to significantly reduce driving fatalities and injuries, while also significantly reducing the costs of owning a car (they are mostly expected to be electric, and their increased safety will massively reduce insurance premiums.).
I particularly enjoy the robots at the event. One year, I ended up ordering one of the drones (which, now that I think of it, never shipped). Drones are increasingly entering testing for package delivery, security, and military use. Some of the most interesting are used for things like removing nests or other potential grounding hazards from power lines and for finding missing hikers without putting additional people at risk. They are even developing drones that can carry people to safety without the need for a helicopter, potentially protecting the lives of the pilots.
NVIDIA’s GTC is a well-timed showcase of the coming waves of applied AIs that will help define this 4th Industrial Revolution. With applications addressing critical needs, like the shortage of long-haul truck drivers, getting help to remote areas, and lowering the costs and time it takes to deliver an on-line shipment, these AIs will increasingly define our future.
Learning where the technology is and will be is critical to our ability to anticipate and plan for a future where AIs and employees will increasingly be working together to gain greater economies of scale and increase the overall competitiveness of our companies.