Disruptive Intelligent Machines

Intelligent machines are very likely to become as popular as smartphones. Still, the intelligence of a machine remains a debatable term and the first examples are as yet incipient prototypes. In truth it is difficult to conceive a technology more disruptive than truly intelligent machines.

In some years “intelligent personal assistants” such as Siri and the new Hound, will likely be seen as an archaic pre-intelligent form of technology.

According to Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, some innovations labelled as disruptive can significantly shape networks and markets through displacing older technologies. Christensen makes the industry his focus, speaking of disruption to markets, although of course we can see such technological paradigm shifts as socially and personally disruptive as well.

For example, personal computers replaced typewriters when they became widely available. They not only replaced the existing function of the previous technology but provided a range of entirely new functions such as fast digital text processing, integrated applications and computer programming.

We can see similar upheaval in the nature of the market and the nature of the use of disruptive tech in the replacement of traditional phones by mobiles.

Some authors challenge the notion that one wave of technology disrupts the last, arguing that it is a far more patchy process in which old technologies are not completely displaced by new ones but enhanced, shaped or transformed, continuing to exist in new forms of their own.

A fairly kitsch example of this can be seen in the form of the expensive but stylish USB Typewriter, attached to a monitor and or tablet, for those who still want to feel the click of those old fashioned keys as they write. In fact, old style handsets also exist for use with mobile phones.

Disruptive innovations can be seen across all fields where tech plays a role, such as education, medicine, law and so on, frequently raising ethical issues and question marks.

In the field of robotics and medicine, new discoveries in tele-surgery, virtual reality and surgical simulators might revolutionise the ways surgery is done and enable remote surgery to become a reality.

Truly intelligent machines might even revolutionise the justice system in time, when artificial intelligence (AI) is truly able to construct arguments based on efficient access to (and organisation of) information and is able to embark on a process of learning – one of the greatest challenges in the field of artificial intelligence research.

It is widely expected that in the future intelligent machines will replace the workforce across an increasing number of fields. Therefore their production is likely to become less costly, more efficient and more reliable, posing major challenges both for companies and for society at large.

In 1997 a computer beat a chess champion for the first time in the famous match Kasparov vs. Deep Blue. Computers have reigned supreme in chess ever since. In recent years scientists have taken some major strides closer to achieving artificial intelligence. The ultimate challenge of machine intelligence over human may not be as far into the distant future as we imagine.


Christensen, C. (1997) The Innovator´s Dilemma, USA: Harvard Business School Press.

Satava RM (2002). Disruptive visions. Surgical endoscopy, 16 (10), 1403-8 PMID: 12170350

Image via Luisma Tapia / Shutterstock.

Lorena Nessi, PhD, MA

Lorena Nessi PhD is an award winning journalist, researcher, and cultural sociologist. Her Bachelor's was in International Relations, Master’s degree in Globalization, Identity and Technology, and PhD in Communication, Sociology and Digital Cultures. She received the Avina scholarship for investigative journalism while working for the BBC. Her fields of interest include digital cultures, sociology, social media, technology and capitalism.
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