A few days ago, I went to an AI gathering and networking event in San Francisco. The room was packed with people passionate about AI. Most of the people I talked to have been working on self-driving cars, choosing and preparing hardware, collecting data, cleaning data, generating data for rare accident scenarios, or developing AI algorithms. In one of the small group conversations, people discussed if AI is revolutionary or evolutionary. And they had different opinions about it.
Let’s discuss it together. But before doing so, let’s define what evolutionary and revolutionary technological innovations are. An evolutionary innovation could be seen as a continuous improvement, optimizations, or exploiting existing business problems. Revolutionary innovation is a radical leap to completely new offerings, creating new business models.
So which camp does AI belong to?
The short answer is both. But why? Like a knife, AI is a tool that could be used to solve problems with minor or major impacts. You can use a knife to slice an apple (often minor impact), or if you are a surgeon, you can use it to save people’s life (often major impact). Similarly, you can leverage AI to develop evolutionary or revolutionary technological innovations to solve your business problems.
Let me explain this with an example from the car industry.
Think about windshield wipers. We’ve been using windshield wipers since their invention by Mary Anderson in 1903. They are pretty simple to use. You detect dirt or liquid on the windshield, adjust their frequency accordingly, pull the trigger, and they run. Only a few years back, Tesla announced that they created AI-powered windshield wipers that detect the amount of liquid on the windshield to calculate the optimal frequency of the wipers to run. This windshield wiper is a continuous improvement of the same part. Therefore, it’s an evolutionary technological innovation.
Does this AI feature cause a radical leap to an entirely new offering? I don’t think so.
Now let’s think about autonomous cars (Level 6 autonomy, when humans are no longer needed to drive, explained in more detail in Chapter 5 of “Augment It” book). How do fully autonomous cars impact our living experience? Here are a few scenarios:
- Ridesharing and delivery experience: your autonomous vehicle is parked in parking and picks up people who need a ride or delivers packages on its own.
- Infrastructure: cities offer new highways with narrow lanes, new signs, and new tools for fully autonomous cars,
- Car-making industry: car companies redesign the exterior and interior of their cars for a more relaxing experience, especially for those who want to live and work in their vehicles.
- Businesses: insurance companies reduce their premiums for autonomous cars.
Therefore, this technological innovation will be a radical leap to completely new offerings and services, changing the whole mobility industry. That’s why it is a revolutionary technological innovation.
Here is the point. AI is a generic technology, and depending on the use cases, it can be utilized in developing/creating evolutionary (e.g., the windshield wipers) or revolutionary (fully autonomous cars) technological innovations. Depending on the problem you choose in your projects, you can use it for continuous improvements (e.g., creating a surrogate model for energy simulation as explained in Chapter 6 of my book “Augment It“) or creating new offerings and generating new business models (e.g., augmenting sales and business growth case study in Part 4 of “Augment It“).
What are some examples of revolutionary or evolutionary AI use cases in your business?