On the urgency of AI

I’ve had a number of conversations of late about the future of IT and about the post-pandemic world. One theme keeps coming up, the way Artificial Intelligence is going to transform our work and lives.

Oh sure, there’s some fear in those conversations. Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics often come up. I’m partial to Frank Herbert’s Dune and its concerns about how technology can limit humanity. I do think we need to be thoughtful about how and when we use AI, but I don’t think we need to be afraid of it.

I also get really excited when I see brilliance in automation such as displayed by Larry Ellison in his 2019 OracleWorld keynote (highly recommended: here). What they are doing to automate systems, security and databases is amazing.

More importantly, what we need to be doing is to get started. Today’s CIO2Do™ is about finding an AI project that can develop your team’s AI muscles. Unleash some skunkworks projects, challenge your student workers to create something, answer a random vendor email to see what they can offer. But do something. We have to get started on this because it is the future of IT.  I know most of my colleagues at larger schools probably have something going in the AI space.  If you do, that’s great.

I was privileged earlier in my career to work with a group of brilliant researchers at Tulane. Their director told me that they generated more data in a day than could be consumed in a lifetime. And that has stuck with me.  There is no other way to access and make use of all that valuable data except through machine mediated artificial intelligence.  They dreamed of not needing to do experiments because they had fifty years of experimental data they could use.  Likewise, IBM’s Watson is doing amazing things with cancer treatments after it digests treatment records at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  

This is much more important than just little chatbot projects at the Help Desk, but that’s an easy place to start.  As professionals who are lucky enough to work with astonishingly smart researchers generating mountains of great information, we need to rapidly become experts at delivering the AI technology that can sift through all of it, built models and make things better in our worlds though application of that information.