4 comments on “AI Phase Change?

  1. In the late nineties, the change in power of hypertext was immense. Apple’s Hypercard is an example of what was out there, as were various laserdisks full of linked text. The first versions of HTML and HTTP didn’t have much more ability to link text, but the network effects were astronomical. It seems mildly possible (definitely worth investigating anyway) that the network effects (or other causes of exponential take-off) of AI may be similar.

    At Xerox PARC, we definitely noticed a phase change after the introduction of the PC (and later Macintosh). Before that it was cost effective for a private lab to develop their own hardware in order to be ahead of the COTS marketplace, and investigate what would be possible in the future when people had access to more computation. After the PC, it was silly to develop purpose-built hardware. If it wasn’t going to hit commercial quantities, it wouldn’t be competitive after the first release. I think the same was true of graphics hardware when gaming took over. SGI was able to stay ahead of the curve for a long time, but when hardware graphics accelerators started taking off for gaming, they were never able to keep up.

    I think Cameras are right at the edge. Apparently there are enough camera buffs that it still makes sense to develop hardware for them, but my understanding is that the cameras included with smart phones have caught up, and the phone manufacturers have such volume, and enough drive to be competitive on the camera hardware that the camera form factor only holds on because of that niche market.

  2. Chris,
    Those PC and camera phase changes might be relevant if AI is taking off due to economies of scale. But I take Josh’s most important point to be that AI research incentives have shifted. Industry has more incentive than academia to focus on questions that matter. For computers and cameras, if their progress was ever dominated by academic research, the shift to research with better incentives happened well before we were born.

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