The importance of asking the right question – Douglas Adams' ultimate AI and why 42T is the answer
By Adam Robinson, Engineer & Senior Consultant at 42T
25 years ago, our founders set up 42 Technology in honour of Douglas Adams' series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the fictional supernatural computer, Deep Thought.
This ‘ultimate AI’ was programmed to solve the biggest question of them all: to find the answer to "The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything". But, as with any problem to be solved, is that the right question to ask?
After 7.5 million years of calculation, Deep Thought produced the answer: 42. To draw a parallel, our founders' aim was to be the ultimate consultancy with the answer to our clients' questions on how to improve the world using innovative technology.
We've been solving highly challenging problems for clients ever since. But to succeed, we've had to be more than just disruptive. We've had to think differently, both on the technical details - but also the question itself.
Image: Pexels - Felix Mittermeier
Modern AIs will also be disruptive, with ChatGPT becoming the most rapidly adopted service in history, reaching 100 million users faster than any other application before it, and starting a paradigm shift in how we view our work, across all industries. It will answer questions in more detail and more interactively than say, using a search engine.
In the world of research and development, it can be useful and quick in summarising large ranges of information sources, landscaping technologies, and much more.
When used in the right way, AI can help us to be more creative, extensive, and efficient, allowing more time to be focused on bigger questions, more iterations and exploring new options.
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It's not a tool to be afraid of, and it is part of a bigger trend that will come whether one group adopts it or not. The most effective companies now, and in the future, will be those that combine the benefits of humans and machine, not one or the other.
It will be a few years before we appreciate all the implications of such powerful tools and how they can be used most effectively for good while minimising side effects. This foresight and consideration for potential impacts, coupled with alignment on tackling the right issues, are core to what we do and should be too for all other innovators.
A key lesson from Hitchhiker's Guide, as well as the adoption of disruptive technology, is the importance of asking the right question. Too often we read the cautionary tales of large corporations spending millions developing breakthrough technologies, only for these to fail when reaching the marketplace.
Even on smaller scales, internal projects can be misguided whether from 'group think' or sunk costs. It is vital to iterate our understanding as new information arrives from testing, customers or market trends.
A constructively critical approach is required by harnessing a questioning mindset, as well as having the confidence and self-awareness to ask yourself "are we doing the right thing?"
Image: Pexels - Matheus Bertelli
Accelerating your innovation process
This approach will become ever more important in the coming years as we deal with more intelligent systems that we understand the workings of less and less.
Consider the adoption of simulation tools that can model stresses and fluid flows that would be impossible for us to do previously.
The quality of the output is dependent on the inputs, so experience and consideration for potential error sources are vital. Ultimately, no matter how sophisticated a tool is, the criteria for success should be the same.
By ensuring the right thing is measured and compared to the last design by following the scientific process, then - and only then - can we be satisfied with the outcome.
Why 42 is still the right answer
Today, 42T has grown to become a world-leading innovative engineering company that has solved some difficult challenges for companies all over the world.
We accelerate technologies from an idea, through the lab and into the market by augmenting customer teams in the most effective way. We don't just solve the unsolvable through good engineering practice, we challenge the norms and preconceptions to make sure we find the best answers to the right questions.
If you would like to find out about the technologies we've invented, the clients we have worked with and the problems we can solve for our clients, do get in touch.
We will be happy to demonstrate how we can bring your business goals that much closer.
More about us.
answers@42T.com | +44 (0)1480 302700 | LinkedIn: Adam
As a Senior Consultant at 42 Technology, Adam has a track record in leading the development of innovative technologies to accelerate commercialisation.
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We believe in asking the right questions to drive innovation; when we know the right questions, we generate the ideas to answer them.