AI, Artificial Intelligence is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. AI can make processes more efficient by replacing or, more often, augmenting (helping) the people who conduct those processes to do them more efficiently. The ultimate goal of AI investments is to raise profits through those efficiency increments and to improve customer experiences. When Spotify uses AI to automate the provision of a music playlist including some songs you’ll love from bands you’ve never heard of, it’s done something that would have taken a human being hours to pull together and it’s provided you an experience so good, you’ll love Spotify for it.
AI is already a significant part of our lives. 85% of digital (online) interactions already involve AI and that number is rising quickly. Some technology which lies just around the corner is going to accelerate the number of AI solutions we see. What’s going to make the difference is 5G and it’s one of the factors which is driving a more worrying aspect of the trend – a global power shift in the world of technology.
What is 5G?
5G is the name for the new Generation of mobile data technology. It offers much faster data speeds than existing 4G networks but it also has power requirements that are much lower. Together, these two seemingly innocuous technology features are what will change the world and AI.
How 5G will fuel AI
Artificial intelligence relies on two things. First, it requires a lot of data. Second, it requires an algorithm which can be run upon the data to look for ‘fuzzy’ patterns. When the AI behind Spotify gives you that playlist, ‘it’ (the algorithm behind it) doesn’t know you’ll like the bands it’s suggesting, it just knows that, of the millions of people who use Spotify, the kind of people who liked music like yours also liked the bands its suggesting. Spotify has analyzed the data of millions of music lovers, including your own, to get to the point of song recommendation.
5G will fuel AI because it will provide a lot more data about the world, from two primary sources.
First, 5G will be the technology that connects even more phones to the internet in the next decade. In 2015, there were 2.6 billion smartphones in the world. Each is connected to the internet with a mobile phone plan with a data element. Once connected, all of them start gathering information on your behavior and movements including everything from how often you exercise to how often you check Facebook. By 2020, there will be more than twice that many phones.
Second, 5G’s low power requirements will underpin the rollout of the Internet Of Things (IoT.) Low power needs means batteries last longer. It’s estimated that the batteries in sensors will last up to 10 years when 5G comes out. That, and the ever decreasing cost of sensor technology means every device in the world, worth more than about $50 will be connected to the internet from streetlights, to park benches, to kids and cows. Each will generate data similar in nature to what your phone records about you, and all of that data will be sent, over 5G networks to the cloud.
So, who will win the AI race
In all likelihood, these trends play to the advantage of China. China already has more people connected to the internet through their phones than any other country in the world. The number of smartphones is still growing, too. China are also taking a more centralized view, of AI, with national targets and (what we might call) government ‘interference.’ (Oversight of private company activity that relates to AI.) They are also investing more money in to AI and publishing more research papers in to the algorithms that make it work. In simple terms, they have more data and are working on better algorithms in a more structured way.
5G is not just a recipe for faster mobile data, it’s a technology that will accelerate the most important element in the development of better AI solutions: The amount of data which is available for analysis. In so doing, it appears 5G could change the landscape of the technology world, drawing its locus away from California, towards the East.