The Explosion that (Re)Launched AI

September 14, 2023

I don’t know if you’re old enough (or geeky enough) to remember Star Trek. I’m talking about the original show back in the 1960s. When William Shatner was the Captain and all the alien women all seemed to wear short skirts.

Source: Wikimedia

It was a particularly exciting series because space flight had yet to become a reality. And as Captain Kirk said in the final line of his intro, we were going to “boldly go where no one has gone before!”

AI is a similar thing. For most of the last 80-plus years, it’s been a theory on a chalkboard. Like looking up at the stars and imagining space travel.

Well, it’s real now.

But what is it and how does it work and what’s actually made it possible today?

And what will it become in the future?

Well, much like the metaverse, what its future is, isn’t fully clear. (Maybe only AI can tell us that!)

But I can explain the other questions.

Let’s start with what’s made this whole revolution possible…

The Data Explosion

See if you can get your head around this…

Way back in 2010, then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt was quoted as saying:

“There was [sic] 5 exabytes of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003, but that much information is now created every 2 days, and the pace is increasing.”

A few months later, Robert Moore, CEO of RJ Metrics corrected that number in an article titled “Eric Schmidt’s “5 Exabytes” Quote is a Load of Crap.” In it he calculated that actually: 

“23 Exabytes of information was recorded and replicated in 2002. We now record and transfer that much information every 7 days.”

That’s about 6.5 exabytes every two days. To-may-to — To-mah-to.

Trying to envision an actual exabyte may well be impossible. But the bottom line is that over the last decade, the growth of digital data has been exponential. (And that’s not hyperbole!) So much so that today we’re living in something called the zettabyte era. (A zettabyte is roughly 1,000 exabytes. Get your head around that!)

Today everything produces data; from your social media account to your cell phone to your smart refrigerator to the engines on the plane you flew on your last vacation. Everything. And it’s produced 24/7. All this machine-to-machine generated data has been dubbed the internet of things (IoT). 

And the data that gets produced comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s “structured” data — things that you can fit into a database. It’s fairly straightforward to manage and mine. But there’s also “unstructured” data — things like images, audio files, videos and so on. 

The bottom line is, we’re swimming in a sea of data. Maybe a better metaphor is we’re now standing at an all-you-can–eat buffet of data… and are you gonna eat those fries?

What to Do With It All?

Feed it to AI.

Artificial intelligence is the processing brain for all this data. In fact it’s called “intelligence” only because of all the data we feed it. 

Without these mountains of data, the truth is, AI is useless (and pointless). Only AI can make sense of the massive flow of data.

So the explosion of big data has been one of the major factors contributing to AI’s rise.

But how does AI consume all that data? We’ll dive into that in your next letter…

Humbly yours,

Tim Collins
Editor, Streetlight Daily