Cyber-Philosophy: Foundational vs Revolutionary Technology

Note: These Cyber-Philosophy articles may be a bit random and jumpy and loaded with half thoughts, it’s mostly just the process of writing while considering the item at hand in its raw organic form.  Its my belief that there is even material to be gleaned in the halfs.

Just yesterday the CEO of Google issued a public interview stating that AI (artificial intelligence) will be a larger deal then fire or electricity.  My initial gut reaction is that indeed he could be right long term. But his announcement caused a little stir in my circles with many people challenging the fact that anything could be more foundationally important then Fire itself. While we could go back and look exactly at what Google’s CEO said and attempt to nitpick appart his semantics the intent and concept is clear that AI will be an important game changer. So what makes a technology revolutionary or foundational?

Perhaps the simplest place to start is where we didn’t wish to go, and that is semantics or the dictionary itself. defines both of these as…

Foundational [noun]:
the basis or groundwork of anything

Revolutionary [adjective]:
of, pertaining to, characterized by, or of the nature of a revolution, or a sudden complete, or marked change

With these definitions in hand we can start to make some concepts around how to judge if something is foundational, revolutionary, or both. Let’s start with some simple basics: fire, electricity, flight, AI, irrigation, radio, and optics.

Everyone one of these could be considered both at one point in time and that becomes a very key point; The ability to be revolutionary is linked to a point of time, and may become less revolutionary over the course of time as it becomes the norm but itself may become foundational during this time when initially it was not.  Fire was no doubt revolutionary initially but it became very foundational to our existence being required for all of the other items on this list. Even the clearing of farm fields for irrigation long ago was done by burning down the forests. Perhaps one could argue a test for Foundational items is how ignored by the civilization it is; fire continuing to be a prime example that civilization may not realize they are using at the base layers. While the more Revolutionary an item is is based on the current perception of how much change (operational gains or net new behavior) it will create and likely is highly visible to general civilization.

So if everything can become foundational by use how does one measure the importance of a foundational technology? Many metrics can be proposed but I mentally settled on: Other Technologies It Supports (dependencies), Operational Effect on Civilization (effect of gain/loss.) In the case of AI vs Fire one can easily say that AI today depends on Fire to make its chips to enable it to even exist, and as such every bit of AI operationalism is scoring points for Fire simultaneously.  The effect of losing Fire reduces civilization to rubble simply from the level of dependences attached. But Fire in its own right does nothing it requires people or some thing to make use of it operationally and this is were AI gets its points.

All technologies in the tree require someone to use it, someone to tell it exactly what to do and when. But with AI we find a technology that can use all other technologies.  No other tech has found its way into every single possible action of civilization and that is what the world of revolutionary ai promises as nirvana. A technology to use all technologies for us so we no longer have to operationalize the others in what to do, rather a single technology which orchestrates the others for us. AI creates operational gains for itself for every new tech built even if it didn’t need AI as a dependency. It can uniquely link itself to every other technology just like fire has done so but not as a dependency as operational use.

Fire, it runs itself now. AI, it’s in everything even the Fire.

PS – I had planned on making some diagrams but my cloud based charting software was down this morning, sorry.


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