Frank Chen of Andreessen Horowitz suggests that while machine learning and AI are today’s new hotness, they’re bound to be the humdrum norm in just a few short years. Products that don’t have it baked in will seem oddly quaint:
Not having state-of-the-art AI techniques powering their software would be like not having a relational database in their tech stack in 1980 or not having a rich Windows client in 1987 or not having a Web-based front end in 1995 or not being cloud native in 2004 or not having a mobile app in 2009. In other words, in a small handful of years, software without AI will be unthinkable.
So ambitious founders will need to invest some other way to differentiate themselves from the crowd — and investors will be looking for other ways to decide whether to fund a startup. And investors will stop looking for AI-powered startups in exactly the same way they don’t look for database-inside or cloud-native or mobile-first startups anymore. All those things are just assumed.
As Chen says, this feels like mobile just a few years ago. Just as mobile was the oxygen feeding emerging interactions and capabilities, machine learning is doing the same now. All the new interactions, all the new digital superpowers, they’re all being fueled by machine learning and algorithms.
In 2012, I wrote a chapter for The Mobile Book, for which Jeremy Keith wrote a prescient foreword. “This book is an artefact of its time,” he wrote. “There will come a time when this book will no longer be necessary, when designing and developing for mobile will simply be part and parcel of every Web worker’s lot.”
Yep, five years later, mobile is an assumed part of the job. If you were writing a “Machine Learning Book” today, you could borrow the same observation for the foreword. It’s time to get your game on now, since this will be an assumed capability in short order.
If you’re a designer wondering how you fit into all of this, I have some ideas: Design in the era of the algorithm.