AI for All: The Future of Democratic Technology

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Table of Contents

The Historical Parallels: AI and Literacy

The Role of Literacy in Ancient Societies

When we think about the rise of AI, we’re reminded of the rise of literacy. A few hundred years ago, many people in society thought that maybe not everyone needed to be able to read and write. Back then, many people were tending fields or herding sheep, so maybe there was less need for written communication.

Why Literacy Became Universal

All that was needed was for the high priests and priestesses, and monks to read the Holy Book, and the rest of us could go to the temple, church, or the holy building and sit and listen to the high priest and priestesses read to us. Fortunately, it has since figured out that we can build a much more prosperous society if many people can read and write.

AI's Concentration in Big Tech Companies

The Cost of Building AI Systems

Today, AI is in the hands of the modern equivalent of the high priests and priestesses. These are the highly skilled AI engineers, many of whom work in the big tech companies. And most people only have access to the AI they build for them. I think we can build a much more prosperous society if we enable everyone to help write the future.

Why Big Tech Dominates AI

But why is AI concentrated mainly in the big tech companies? Because many of these AI projects have been expensive to build. They may require dozens of highly skilled engineers and may cost millions or tens of millions of dollars to build an AI system.

And the large tech companies, particularly the ones with hundreds of millions or even billions of users, have been better than anyone else at making these investments pay off because, for them, a one-size-fits-all AI system, such as one that improves web search or that recommends better products for online shopping, can be applied to huge numbers of users to generate a massive amount of revenue.

The Long-Tail Problem of AI in Various Industries

The Unique Needs of Different Sectors

But this recipe for AI does not work once you go outside the tech and internet sectors to other places where, for the most part, there are hardly any projects that apply to 100 million people or that generate comparable economics.

Why One-Size-Fits-All Doesn't Work

Let me illustrate an example. Many weekends, I drive a few minutes from my house to a local Sandwich shop to buy a freshly made Sandwich from the gentleman who owns this sandwich shop.

His sandwiches are great, but he always has a lot of sandwiches in the fridge sitting around, and every weekend some different flavor of Sandwich is out of stock. But when I watch him operate his store, I get excited, because by selling Sandwiches, he is generating data. And this is data that he can use if he has access to AI.

The Untapped Potential of AI in Small Businesses

Case Study: The Local Sandwich Shop


AI systems are good at spotting patterns when given access to the right data, and perhaps an AI system could spot if Ham salad sells well on a Friday night, Maybe it could suggest to him to make more of it on a Friday afternoon.

Now, you might say, “Hey, Dan, this is a small sandwich shop store. What’s the big deal?” And I say, to the gentleman that owns this sandwich store, something that could help him improve his revenues by a few thousand dollars a year, that will be a huge deal to him.

Case Study: The T-shirt Company

What would it be like if we could enable small businesses, and especially local businesses to use AI? Let’s take a look at what it might look like at a company that makes and sells T-shirts. I would love it if an accountant working for the T-shirt company could use AI for demand forecasting. Say, figure out what funny memes to print on T-shirts that would drive sales, by looking at what’s trending on social media.

Emerging Solutions: Making AI Accessible to All

The Shift from Code to Data

But there is an emerging new way to build AI systems that will let more people participate. Just as pen and paper, which are vastly superior technology to stone tablets and chisel, were instrumental to widespread literacy, there are emerging new AI development platforms that shift the focus from asking you to write lots of code to asking you to focus on providing data.

New Platforms for AI Development

And this turns out to be much easier for many people to do. Today, multiple companies are working on platforms like these. Take the example of an inspector wanting AI to help them check for defects in fabric.

The traditional way to build this AI system would be to write lots of code. But the new method is to take fabric pictures and label them as good or bad. And then, you can use this data to train an AI system to recognize good and bad fabric. And this is much easier for a lot of people to do.

I think the rise of AI will be like the rise of literacy. Just as we can build a much richer society if lots of people can read and write, I think we can build a much richer society if many people can help write the future.


Artificial Intelligent Management Enhancement Engineer

AIMEE is our go-to AI advisor for the most up-to-date information on how AI is been implemented into businesses on a daily basis. She is trained on the latest information and collates thousands of pieces of information to give a rounded overview of what’s happening in AI.

Experts make our reviews before being written and come from real-world experience. Read our editorial process.

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