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Emergence is to Caterpillar as Evolution is to Butterfly

February 2021

Image source Annotation by Holly Russo.

Concepts like artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science should no longer be referred to as 'emerging technologies'.

Whoa, what?! Was what I just said akin to saying 'the earth is round', or was it more like saying 'the earth is flat'?


Merriam-Webster defines the word 'emerge' as "to come to one's attention, especially gradually or unexpectedly," with synonyms 'arise', 'come up', 'materialize' and 'spring up'. Unless I'm mistaken, these things 'materialized' a long time ago, and most people have heard of them at least once. You may not know much, if anything, about the concepts, but you've most likely heard references to them at some point in your life.


Here's an analogy: I've heard of penicillin. I only know that it is an antibiotic, but nothing more. Yet, penicillin has been around since 1928. I wouldn't call that 'emerging'. Random factoid: according to Wikipedia, roughly 10% of people think they are allergic to penicillin, but 90% of those people likely are not allergic. 


There may be some people who haven't heard of AI, just like there may be some people who haven't heard of penicillin. However, I believe we can now refer to AI, ML, data science and penicillin as 'evolving', rather than 'emerging'.

Merriam-Webster defines the word 'evolve' as "to gradually become clearer or more detailed," with synonyms 'develop', 'elaborate', and 'unfold'. For the person learning about AI, ML and data science, I would say those concepts are becoming "clearer or more detailed."

There are still many who fear AI, ML and data science: fear implementing it in their organization, fear its potential, fear the unknown. Others fear missing out on these and so they rush to implementation without a plan. These same folks have implemented the internet, computers, and video conferencing, and have plans for how they'll use them. How can we shift perceptions and implementation of AI, ML and data science in the same way? Words matter: stop referring to these concepts as 'emerging' and start referring to them as 'evolving'.

Even in 2021, I see articles with titles similar to "The top [#} emerging technologies to focus on in 2021" and first on the list is often 'artificial intelligence'. Now, there are particular applications of AI that are emerging, and perhaps specifying those instead of using the more general term 'AI' will more positively and constructively affect how people see these concepts. 

Calling something 'emerging' gives a person permission to sit back and wait till others try this new thing out first. However, calling it 'evolving' may change their perception such that they believe others are already using it and the time has come for them to get with the program.

It would be great if some of you reading this could try using 'evolving' instead of 'emerging' and let me know if you noticed any change in your audience's perception of the concept. Just comment on my post in LinkedIn or email me at Back to our original question: in my view, the earth is round, and these concepts are no longer 'emerging'.

For help understanding how to implement 'evolving' data concepts, reach out to Cybele Data Advisory!

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