horse-drawn carriage
Editorial

As AI Reaches the Mainstream, Self-Driving Cars Remind Us We've Still Got a Ways to Go

7 minute read
Douglas Eldridge avatar
While not exactly a technology skeptic, let's just say I approach any promises of big change with a big grain of salt.

I've never been what you'd call a skeptic of new technology, but I’ve learned to take things with a grain of salt after being disappointed so many times. 

When I first heard about self-driving cars I thought I would be seeing more of them by now, because that's what we were told. I'm lucky to travel far and wide to some of the world’s biggest and most forward-thinking cities and countries, yet I still haven’t seen one. So when I hear reports that AI will be taking my job next year or that chatbots will be the new customer service five years down the road, I simply jump in my car to remind me that while the technology will undoubtedly improve, we’re a long-ways from the alternative world that techies often seem to live in.

Despite still having to work eight hours a day, there are plenty of complementary automation tools that do make our lives more productive.  In my day to day, as with most people’s, I use chatbots, AI, digital assistants as well as an array of other technologies. Of course, for every solution that I use I get a dozen emails trying to sell me something similar, which brings me to believe that this technology is not exactly groundbreaking. 

Collectively though, they’ll continue to evolve technology to new frontiers which will continue to happen so gradually that a decade from now I’m sure my lead generation skills will still be in demand and how we’re working will only seem different when we reminisce on times of yore. 

When I look back to a decade ago, the technology that we take for granted today, certainly wasn’t what we’re currently using, but there are so many similarities that it’s easy to forget that we haven’t always been using them. Let’s take the self-driving car, for instance. While I can’t get in my car and program a trip across town, I can pull up to a parking spot and hit a button and it will park for me.  Little by little is how technology eventually becomes disruptive, not all at once. 

Related Article: Driverless Cars: Fact or Fiction?

Siri Seeps Into Our Lives

Apple introduced Siri to the world on the iPhone 4s in 2011. When I think back to 2011, I don’t see that as the same watershed moment in the tech world as I did the iPhone, which when I first saw it and compared it to my Blackberry I knew that we’d advanced overnight. But, when I consider what Siri does for me now and how voice technology has improved since then, it actually was a big deal. As a result of Siri becoming standard on a device that seemingly everyone has, the technology was able to evolve. Now we use voice technology in our cars, in our kitchens, anywhere. We use them to play music, to shop, to start the microwave — they’re everywhere and we don’t think twice about them. 

As with any technology, as it evolves we begin to see not only the benefits but the drawbacks as well. We’ve all heard stories of Amazon’s Alexa ordering things that “she” hears in a conversation or worse yet, that it is recording you. Now that the technology is mainstream we can clearly see that digital assistants, while useful, are still in their infancy.

Related Article: Want to Know the Future of Customer Experience? Ask a 2-Year-Old

AI Is Everywhere (Even if You're Unaware)

Siri wasn’t groundbreaking because of its ability to talk, but rather due to its ability to learn and comprehend. While Siri was the first mass-disseminated digital assistant, it was also many people’s first foray into the world of artificial intelligence. The keynote introducing Siri to the world spent much more time explaining how Siri learns and adapts to our language than it did hailing its ability to speak. 

On a personal level, we use and benefit from AI a lot more than we even realize. For example, online personalization is often AI powered. It’s easy to take for granted having content already curated for you, but it happens more often than you think, and, obviously, behind the scenes and seamlessly.

On the other hand, the same AI that is benefitting consumers online is a lot of work for people behind the scenes. Much of the AI that is marketed to us today is actually machine learning (ML). The machine has to know what to learn, meaning, experts have to program the proper algorithms to be worth the investment. 

Learning Opportunities

There are amazing AI developments, like programs that can write better than us and how it is saving lives in the medical field, from robots assisting in surgery to narrowing down diseases for researchers in a fraction of a time it would take a human could do. But we’re still a ways away from them becoming our overlords, or even covering for us during a long lunch break. (Unless they’re already our overlords, but I did try a karate kick before I wrote this to make sure, and I still didn’t know how to do it, so I don’t think we’re in the Matrix ....)

Related Article: Why AI Isn't Mainstream in the Workplace, Yet

Chatbots Become Integral

Chatbots are a great example of AI that people use daily. Chatbots have become an integral part of many websites. From an end-user’s perspective they are part of that seamless bit of technology I mentioned above. They help you get what you’re looking for without the hassle of dealing with a human. 

A good chatbot conversation is nothing to scoff at. I’ve had them go in a loop of unanswered questions, I’ve had them promise to transfer me to a human and never got the help promised and I’ve had humans take over the bot when they see the bot struggling. Of course, I’ve had very nice chatbot conversations, but we never seem to remember the flawless ones. 

As someone who uses a chatbot I know the complexity behind formulating a strategy with them. Considering the script we had to write, it’s hard to call it AI or even ML, but there are varying levels of chatbots and my experience is limited, having used only one chatbot. The hard work to route people properly has been well worth the effort and I’ll likely never go back to a non-chatbot life again. I think they are the perfect middle-ground between digital assistants and AI and the consumer and marketers.  

Related Article: A Good Chatbot Is Hard to Find

Change Is Coming, Just Not as Fast as You'd Think it Was

Undoubtedly, someday I will sit in my car and it will just take me to the grocery store. At first it will have to jockey with human drivers who refuse to give up control, but eventually, drivers will fade away and the streets will be free of traffic jams caused by humans on their AI-powered phones. 

Like all technology though, we’ll notice the first time we see a car without a driver, and maybe even the second time. But, like the flip phone, eventually the driver will become an anomaly. Just as we are beginning to take chatbots and voice technology for granted today, though, it will happen just as gradually and with less disruption than the tech world would have us believe.

About the author

Douglas Eldridge

Douglas Eldridge has worked in marketing/communications since 2003. He is the founder of Copilot Marketing, Content and SEO.