Once upon a time, in the bustling streets of Pocatello, the rhythmic clatter of horse hooves on Yellowstone’s cobblestones echoed through the air, symbolizing progress and mobility. Yet, as the 20th century unfolded, a new revolution began, marked by the roar of the automobile. This transformation was not merely about replacing horse-drawn carriages with motor vehicles; it was a sign of a new era dawning.

Fast forward to the early 1900s, a young Clarence Garrett from Virginia, fueled by a simple yet profound realization over the cost of hauling his baggage, envisioned a future in transportation. This vision gave birth to Garrett Freightlines in Pocatello, starting with a humble one-cylinder truck and evolving into a fleet that connected the Pacific Northwest and beyond. 

Just as Clarence’s trucks replaced carriages, today’s AI, with its limitless potential, is poised to redefine how we live and work, sparking intrigue and excitement.

As engines ignited and cars rolled off the assembly lines, entire industries built around the care and keeping of horses and carriages began to fade into history. The blacksmiths, carriage makers, and stable hands, who were once indispensable, needed to adapt to an era where their skills were no longer in high demand. 

Similarly, today’s AI revolution is reshaping the workforce. Jobs that once required human hands and minds are increasingly delegated to machines that learn from us and then quickly surpass our speed and accuracy.

Like the automobile, AI is reshaping the workforce structurally, rendering some jobs obsolete while simultaneously creating new opportunities. Where blacksmiths and carriage makers once saw their livelihoods change, today’s data scientists, prompt engineers, biotech, and AI ethicists are emerging. These new roles, born from our era’s unique disruptions cultivating new challenges and opportunities, are akin to the mechanics and carriage engineers of the past.

The transformation carries an emotional weight, mixing nostalgia for what is passing with excitement for what will come. Just as cars changed the cultural fabric, enabling suburban lifestyles and new forms of leisure, AI too is altering our social structures, enhancing everything from medical diagnostics to global communication, instilling hope and optimism for a better future.

However, progress is not without its challenges. The automobile has brought safety issues and environmental impact; similarly, AI has introduced concerns about privacy, ethics, and social equality. Navigating this landscape requires wisdom and adaptation, ensuring that technology enhances rather than diminishes our humanity.

As time passes, which it shall, let us remember that the roads we pave with AI are as much about the journeys they enable as the destinations they promise. In the quiet moments, the distant echo of horse hooves reminds us that progress is continuous, a legacy from those like Clarence Garrett, whose early ventures on Pocatello’s streets laid the groundwork for the future.

In embracing AI, we draw inspiration from our city’s past- a testament to human ingenuity and the pursuit of progress. The future is here, and it is ours to shape with the same pioneering spirit that transformed Pocatello and the world beyond.

I have been involved in technology for over a decade. For some reason, I have always been lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time and with the right people. In the late 2000s, when the cloud was becoming a thing, I was a team lead building HIPAA-compliant mobile apps. Then I spent the last 10 years in cybersecurity and running the daily infrastructure that businesses use. For the last 4 years, I have been dumbfounded, intrigued, astonished, and even scared sometimes when I tried to understand AI and its capacity. I will take you through my story in technology some other time but, for now, my ask is simple: it’s time to pay attention as individuals, as organizations, as businesses, as governments, and as a nation. We don’t want to be the one bringing horse carriages to a NASCAR track.

Let me take the liberty and suppose that you are convinced this issue is far more serious. The difference between this evolution in history is that it is not only going to be about our tools, like from carriages to one-stroke trucks; it may also be about the evolution of humans to superhumans. The argument I raise is simply the fact that this is the only tool in human history that can scale human intellect. Therefore, to be successful as individuals and communities, we need to give it some thought and probably some effort. 

So what are the next steps?

Well, try it. Experience AI. It’s free. And please, it is ‘not’ a scam. Open your smartphone and download an app called PI AI. It’s the green one, yup. Install it and have a conversation with it. Yes, a conversation. You now have a personal assistant. And you are welcome. Ask your assistant any question you like. Personal or professional or help with solving problems or the stress you have been facing or thoughts in your head and see if you are intrigued. If nothing else, it will help you answer whether machines can ever be emotional.

I think that’s it for our big talk and significant message. In the next column, I will lay out a plan for how we will get through this life-changing moment. What’s new, cool, exciting, and scary? We will also talk about the opportunities for businesses and some practical steps that can be taken to increase efficiency and profits. Finally, my goal is to identify opportunities that are popping up in our community locally. I pray that you and I both are ready for it.

This article was originally published in the Idaho State Journal. Ali Khan is CEO of MOATiT, a local Pocatello-based technology company that serves as an IT department to many regional and national businesses and provides services including cybersecurity, business disaster recovery, IT support & help desk, phone services, software development, and AI services. Ali is a certified security compliance specialist, HIPAA privacy and policy expert, Applied AI engineer, cloud solutions architect, and a pilot.