Analysis & Opinions - The Conversation

AI Could Improve Your Life by Removing Bottlenecks Between What You Want and What You Get

| Dec. 21, 2023

Artificial intelligence is poised to upend much of society, removing human limitations inherent in many systems. One such limitation is information and logistical bottlenecks in decision-making.

Traditionally, people have been forced to reduce complex choices to a small handful of options that don’t do justice to their true desires. Artificial intelligence has the potential to remove that limitation. And it has the potential to drastically change how democracy functions.

AI researcher Tantum Collins and I, a public-interest technology scholar, call this AI overcoming “lossy bottlenecks.” Lossy is a term from information theory that refers to imperfect communications channels – that is, channels that lose information.

Multiple-Choice Practicality

Imagine your next sit-down dinner and being able to have a long conversation with a chef about your meal. You could end up with a bespoke dinner based on your desires, the chef’s abilities and the available ingredients. This is possible if you are cooking at home or hosted by accommodating friends.

But it is infeasible at your average restaurant: The limitations of the kitchen, the way supplies have to be ordered and the realities of restaurant cooking make this kind of rich interaction between diner and chef impossible. You get a menu of a few dozen standardized options, with the possibility of some modifications around the edges.

That’s a lossy bottleneck. Your wants and desires are rich and multifaceted. The array of culinary outcomes are equally rich and multifaceted. But there’s no scalable way to connect the two. People are forced to use multiple-choice systems like menus to simplify decision-making, and they lose so much information in the process.

People are so used to these bottlenecks that we don’t even notice them. And when we do, we tend to assume they are the inevitable cost of scale and efficiency. And they are. Or, at least, they were.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Schneier, Bruce.“AI Could Improve Your Life by Removing Bottlenecks Between What You Want and What You Get.” The Conversation, December 21, 2023.

The Author