AI could improve your life by removing bottlenecks between what you want and what you get

A robot wearing a chef hat stands in front of a stainless-steel counter holding a ladle. Photo: Julia Garan/iStock via Getty Images

AI could improve your life by removing bottlenecks between what you want and what you get
The Conversation, December 21, 2023
Science + Tech
By Bruce Schneier

“Want to turn many experiences from the equivalent of ordering from a menu to getting a personalized meal? AI is poised to help.”


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.

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About the Author:

Bruce Schneier is an internationally renowned security technologist, called a “security guru” by The Economist. He is the author of 14 books — including the New York Times best-seller Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World — as well as hundreds of articles, essays, and academic papers. His influential newsletter “Crypto-Gram” and blog “Schneier on Security” are read by over 250,000 people. Schneier is a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, a fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Bruce Schneier is a public-interest technologist, working at the intersection of security, technology, and people. He’s been writing about security issues on his blog since 2004, and in his monthly newsletter since 1998. He’s a fellow and lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School, a board member of EFF, and the Chief of Security Architecture at Inrupt, Inc. His personal website expresses the opinions of none of those organizations. He publishes the monthly Crypto-Gram Newsletter.