Predicting the Future Using the Visible-Invisible Pattern

Predicting the future is difficult, but the Visible-Invisible pattern can help you peek ahead. Ideas transition from visible to invisible over time as they become deeply ingrained in our society. You can see it play out in religion, science, and technology. Let’s use AI to show how the pattern works.

There is invisible and visible AI. The former is changing the world while the latter encourages mockery. 

I didn’t always apply the pattern to AI. I have talked vehemently against AI in previous essays. There’s so much hype around this field that it can be challenging to sort through all the exaggerations. I had arguments for why self-driving cars weren’t as close as people thought or why machines beating humans at chess wasn’t that impressive.

I recently realized that I was only looking at the visible AI ideas. These ideas are showy and loud. On the other hand, invisible AI is discreet and quiet.

AI is one of many key technologies defining the future of companies, nations, and people. It is worth understanding, and the Visible-Invisible pattern is perfect for finding its essence.

Here’s an overview of what you will learn in this essay.

How Invisible AI is Changing the World

Why Visible AI Misleads Us

Predict the Future by Looking for the Invisible 

How Invisible AI is Changing the World

Invisible ideas have been absorbed by society and are taken for granted. We assume that this is just how things work.

To understand invisible AI, think of the Matrix. The digital world of the Matrix is composed of computer bits—1s and 0s—which come across as green code in special circumstances.

Matrix Green Code
Matrix Green Code

That’s how invisible AI works. You can’t always see it, but if you had some special “AI glasses,” you would see its influence. Let me show you all the AI around you.

Examples of Invisible AI Are All Around You

The most common form of invisible AI is in software apps like Google Maps. Every time it gives directions, it has optimized that route based on tons of factors like traffic, weather, preferences, and so forth. So AI is invisible to you but highly useful. 

We talk about apps like Siri, which transcribe your voice into text and then gives you a response. You can also think about products like Alexa or Google headphones, which do the same but for different languages.

Did you watch Avengers Endgame? Most of the characters in the big fight were created by an AI algorithm. The work is done by a New Zealand studio called WETA, which specializes in this work. It would be incredibly difficult to animate some of these scenes manually, and AI can do the heavy lifting.

Let’s look at the real world. AI is helping with the construction of buildings. A great example is the Morpheus Hotel in Macau. AI helped the architects define the structure and design of the building. The algorithm found the best way to support the weight of the building while allowing for as much internal space as possible. The inspiration was a honeycomb, as you can see from the outside lines.

In the world of marketing, you now have algorithm-driven attribution. Software tells you which campaigns are driving the most customers and how to optimize them for more results. If you run any ads on Facebook or Google, most of your optimization recommendations will be provided by an AI algorithm.

An AI algorithm likely formulates your product recommendations. Bought a recommended book from Amazon? Have you watched a highlighted movie from Netflix? Listened to a personalized playlist from Spotify? All done by AI algorithms.

Invisible ideas are everywhere. The common thread is that we don’t see the AI. Siri works. We are thankful for recommendations. Spotify playlists match our mood.

AI is helping us across so many fields, and we don’t even know it. That’s when you know an idea has gone invisible. 

The opposite of invisible ideas are the visible ones. Visible AI isn’t doing too well. 

Why Visible AI Misleads Us

Visible ideas stand out in society and lead to passionate disagreements. We don’t know if they will work or if we even support them. If a hypothesis survives the challenges, it will eventually become invisible. 

Everyone knows visible AI. It gets covered in the news and late-night TV shows. Think of the most prominent ideas around AI. Self-driving cars and facial recognition in apps like TikTok and IBM Watson.

Visible AI are projects that are supposed to showcase the life-changing magic of this technology. In most cases, it becomes the subject of jokes and eventually irrelevance. Visible AI suffers from unrealistic expectations.

AI and Unrealistic Expectations

Take self-driving cars, for example. An average human needs around 20 hours of driving time to learn it. Twenty hours is not a lot of time, but our human brains quickly learn driving mechanics. Over time, we will pick up other skills like dealing with wet ice or fog.

Self-driving cars like Waymo have logged millions of hours in mostly sunny weather, and they still aren’t ready for prime time. They get easily confused with “unusual” situations like a temporarily closed street due to construction or traffic cones.

I’m not knocking on the technology. It’s a complicated problem for machines to interpret and perhaps an unrealistic expectation. Machines can quickly sort through billions of data points but it is clear that driving requires more than just data sorting. It requires judgment and common sense—two distinct human qualities.

Another example of visible AI is IBM Watson. Originally designed for healthcare, it became famous after beating humans at Jeopardy. However, it’s not surprising that a machine can look up facts faster than a human.

IBM Watson was recently sold off for parts as it didn’t accomplish its original goal. It was meant to help doctors with their diagnoses, but it couldn’t handle the complexity of patient files. As a result, the IBM team spent $5 billion buying health data, and it still failed at its original goal.

Visible ideas like IBM Watson and self-driving cars can lead you to think that AI is falling. However, we just need to look at the invisible to know the truth.

The Visible-Invisible pattern can help you sort through the hype in the present and make the correct decisions for the future.

Predicting the Future by Looking for the Invisible

An idea has made when it goes from visible to invisible. Google Maps, Spotify, animation movies, and other examples from above are all “successful” examples of AI becoming invisible. 

The best analogy here is religion. Today we live in a predominantly secular world. Saying that you “organize your life around god” sounds unusual. That’s not saying that no one believes in god, but the default position for people is a secular one. 

However, even if you don’t consciously believe in God, religion has shaped your life. 

Humans rights were originally a Christian idea as everyone is equal under one benevolent god, and everyone has the opportunity for redemption. Capitalism was born on the Christian belief that God wants us to pursue our self-interest and market competiton has been divinely constructed.

Over time, religion faded away from view, but its influence is still felt today. Religion was once highly visible and led to countless wars throughout Europe. Religion today is invisible to many people, but that doesn’t make it any less influential. 

How AI Went from Visible to Invisible in Chess

One example of AI going from visible to invisible can be seen in chess. After an IBM supercomputer beat Garry Kasparov in 1997, chess players didn’t quit the game. Instead, they developed a new form of chess in which humans consult with computers before making moves. 

The current best chess player in the world—Magnus Carlsen—has an entire team around him that uses AI to study and prep for matches. They have special algorithms to explore millions of move combinations to find the optimal next move. Magnus then takes all of this information and uses it in his matches.

Magnus has found a way to merge human and machine. He will sometimes make the opposite move of what the algorithm recommends. He knows all chess players are using AI, and going against the machine is the best move. AI has gone from visible to invisible in the world of chess.

How to Use the Visible-Invisible Pattern

As an executive, you will benefit from looking for areas where ideas have gone invisible. For example, if you’re looking to buy marketing software, you should look for options that use invisible AI to optimize performance. You don’t need to know the details of the algorithm, and your team doesn’t even know that it is AI. The more invisible, the better.

An example here is Unbounce, a landing page building software. Their team spent three years building a machine learning model that can pick the best landing page automatically for you. To the end-user, the feature is called “Smart Traffic”. You enable it with a few clicks. It is powered by invisible AI.

Unbounce Smart Traffic

Conclusion

Invisible ideas are reshaping our world without us realizing it.  When I think about the future, I don’t try to imagine some abstract destination. I instead look for where the future is already happening, but it is invisible to most people.

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