Six years ago, Fast Company‘s editorial team had an insight: that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google were increasingly expanding into contiguous businesses. Their competition, we believed, was pushing all of them to be even more ambitious—and pushing everyone else to innovate at a faster rate. We called this “The Great Tech War of 2012” in a cover story that set the framework for how a new wave of business activity would unfold.
Today, we are seeing a similar shift under way around artificial intelligence. As senior writer Harry McCracken reports in what we’re calling “The Great AI War of 2018,” the investment in and motivation behind AI is setting in motion yet another wave of change—one that spans all industries and again features Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google (now Alphabet).
With AI poised to affect not only businesses but also the everyday lives of people around the world, the intersection between tech and culture has never been more intense or more significant. You can see it in Netflix’s new clashes with Disney, in how cruise behemoth Carnival is experimenting with connected devices, in the introduction of clothing with conductive thread by Levi’s, and in Target’s support for a new product line inspired by app games. When the world’s premier basketball player is looking to learn from a 6-year-old YouTuber (“Kevin Durant’s Killer Crossover“) and a high-profile fashion designer is more excited about synthetic biology than style trends (“Stella McCartney Weaves a New Way Forward“), we can’t ignore that something different is going on. Even in the geopolitical realm—or perhaps especially there—the link between tech and culture has become inescapable, with the fight against ISIS increasingly pursued via social media and search engines (“The Other Jared“).
In this age of flux, how these developments evolve—from AI to entertainment—depend on myriad choices we make in design and implementation of new tools. In the Great Tech War of 2012, it was easier to be optimistic about it all; as complex as things were, it seems the world was a simpler place. Today, the stakes seem higher, yet the pace of change remains relentlessly fast. This puts a premium on the ethics we apply, the boundaries we set, the examples we present. As powerful as tech alone may be, it is culture that will ultimately define our future. And it is we, not the machines, who define that culture.