Rubin has a theory that humanity is on the cusp of a new computing age. Just as MS-DOS gave way to Macintosh and Windows, which gave way to the web, which gave way to smartphones, he thinks the forces are in place to begin a decades-long transition to the next great platform: artificial intelligence. ... Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have collectively spent billions to fund the development of neural networks that can understand human speech or recognize faces in photos. And over the next decade AI is bound to grow more powerful, capable of tasks we can’t imagine today. Soon, Rubin figures, it will be available as a cloud service, powering thousands of gadgets and machines. Just as practically every device today contains software of some kind, it could soon be nearly impossible to buy a device without some kind of AI inside. It’s hard to imagine precisely what that future will look like, but for a rough idea, think about the difference between your car and a self-driving car; now apply that difference to every object you own. ... Rubin wants Playground to become the factory that creates the standard building blocks—the basic quartermaster’s inventory of components—for the AI-infused future. And he wants to open up this platform of hardware and software tools so that anyone, not just the companies he works with directly, can create an intelligent device. If he’s successful, Playground stands to have the same kind of impact on smart machines that Android had on smartphones, providing the technological infrastructure for thousands of products and giving a generation of entrepreneurs the ability to build a smart drone. ... The fundamental idea, Rubin says, is to create what he calls an idea amplifier—a system that quickly turns concepts into products with maximum impact. ... For AI to reach its true potential, Rubin argues, we need to bring it into the physical world. And the way to do that is to create thousands of devices that pull information from their environment
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The so-called cognitive revolution started small, but as computers became standard equipment in psychology labs across the country, it gained broader acceptance. By the late 1970s, cognitive psychology had overthrown behaviorism, and with the new regime came a whole new language for talking about mental life. Psychologists began describing thoughts as programs, ordinary people talked about storing facts away in their memory banks, and business gurus fretted about the limits of mental bandwidth and processing power in the modern workplace. ... This story has repeated itself again and again. As the digital revolution wormed its way into every part of our lives, it also seeped into our language and our deep, basic theories about how things work. Technology always does this. During the Enlightenment, Newton and Descartes inspired people to think of the universe as an elaborate clock. In the industrial age, it was a machine with pistons. (Freud’s idea of psychodynamics borrowed from the thermodynamics of steam engines.) Now it’s a computer. Which is, when you think about it, a fundamentally empowering idea. Because if the world is a computer, then the world can be coded. ... Code is logical. Code is hackable. Code is destiny. These are the central tenets (and self-fulfilling prophecies) of life in the digital age. ... In this world, the ability to write code has become not just a desirable skill but a language that grants insider status to those who speak it. They have access to what in a more mechanical age would have been called the levers of power. ... whether you like this state of affairs or hate it—whether you’re a member of the coding elite or someone who barely feels competent to futz with the settings on your phone—don’t get used to it. Our machines are starting to speak a different language now, one that even the best coders can’t fully understand.