The Rise of the Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence S Curve

One of the hot technology topics of discussion lately surrounds the question of when the Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence (ML/AI) 'singularity' will occur ... that is, when machine intelligence will evolve to equal human intelligence. Opinions run over a long time frame ... from as soon as 2029 (Ray Kurzweil) to around 2040-2050 (average of experts) to many decades from now.

Answering this question is linked to how rapidly one believes the ML/AI technology lifecycle S curve will rise. We do seem to have ML/AI S curve liftoff, as recent fundamental breakthrough developments in artificial neural networks, graphics processing units and other technologies have moved ML/AI from the laboratory to the field.

One perspective on the growth of ML/AI can be had by comparing ML/AI to the growth curves of previous major transformational information technology developments:

  • Mainframe & Centralized Computing
  • Personal & Distributed Computing
  • Internet & Mobile Computing

The chart below shows how the Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence curve would look if it grew at the same rate as these previous developments:

The result is an S curve that grows at a rate that would place the singularity at the earlier of the estimates. These S curves seem to share some characteristics:

  • They're spread out by about 20 years.
  • The rapid rise of the S curve takes about 20 years.
  • At the early part of the curve, there's skepticism that the technology will achieve rapid growth. You can see a timeline of machine learning here.
  • At the top of the S curve, the technology is viewed as a must have for corporate survival.
  • As one S curve peaks, another begins its entry into the rapid rise phase.
  • Companies that are late in recognizing the emergence of a new major transformational technology often pay a high price. Major transformational technologies outperform predecessor technologies by orders of magnitude, making it difficult to impossible for companies that are late in adopting the new technology to compete with companies that are early adopters. 

Is it possible there's a hidden law of major transformational technology lifecycle growth? That is, once liftoff is achieved, do market forces pour into the technology and push it rapidly up the S curve over a period of two decades. Personally, I think this is likely the case, and that the ML/AI curve will be no different than its predecessors. Time will tell the tale.