Santa Cruz Works presents the first AI Horizons event on Nov. 8. Another AI event is set for Dec. 6 in Santa Cruz. (Santa Cruz Works)

In today’s news and on social media, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “The Genie is out of the Bottle,” referring to Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a “new” technology. But let’s take a step back in time. AI research dates back to the 1950s and 1960s, when it focused on symbolic reasoning and problem-solving. However, like a rollercoaster, funding and interest took a dip in the 1970s and 1980s.

Fast forward to the 1990s, and we saw the emergence of machine learning algorithms. These algorithms began gaining prominence, making us wonder if AI was more like a Phoenix than a Genie rising from its ashes.

Deep Learning

Now, let’s talk about “Deep Learning.” It sounds like a term from a sci-fi movie, but it’s a subset of machine learning that uses neural networks with many layers. By the 2010s, deep learning became the rockstar of AI, powering image recognition, language processing and speech recognition. It’s like AI got its groove back.

But here’s the deal: I’m no AI expert, just a curious soul trying to understand how AI changes life in Santa Cruz County. We’ve got our journey with this technological “Genie,” and it’s fascinating.

What’s made AI seem like a brand-new toy to the everyday person is its increased accessibility and integration into our daily lives. Siri and Alexa? Yep, AI, those algorithms that seem to know your every move on social media? So, why does AI feel so fresh and fast-moving? Well, let me break it down.

AI’s rapid progress isn’t just due to a few clever programmers in lab coats, it was propelled by advances in hardware, data availability, and some seriously mind-boggling algorithmic innovations. But what does all this mean for Small Town America?

Scotts Valley

That’s where my curiosity took me on a journey to talk to some local experts. Derek Timm, a Scotts Valley City Councilmember, and Doug Erickson, the CEO of Santa Cruz Works, shared their wisdom about how our community deals with this new tech Genie.

Derek, also a licensed broker and attorney, clarified how the City of Scotts Valley and San Lorenzo Valley are tackling the impact of AI’s technological leaps in city and local governments. They’re setting the stage for 2024. Yes, you heard that right: the future is calling.

“The city is very interested in AI and how to use it efficiently for local businesses and its citizens. We’ll be working on our policies, starting with the Strategic Planning process in January 2024,” Derek explained. The city is keen to adapt early, implement effectively, and help our community leverage the AI tools.

Santa Cruz County

And then there’s Santa Cruz County, also on the front lines. They’re busy shaping policies and procedures county-wide and how they all impact our San Lorenzo Valley community. Our five District Supervisors and their staff are working hard behind the scenes. I even got to chat briefly with Jason Borgen, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer of Santa Cruz County of Education. And, I’ll spill the beans on that conversation in Part Three.

Now, let’s bring in Doug Erickson, CEO of Santa Cruz Works (SCW). His nonprofit organization is the hub for business and executive networking, job referrals, skill building, and educational events. It’s where the tech-savvy and the tech-curious gather.

Each interview led me to another, unveiling a chain of articulate, talented, and dedicated individuals eager to learn about AI’s future, uses, policies and safety. I’m in a maze of possibilities.

AI Horizons

But here’s the fun part: on Dec. 6, AI Horizons Part 2 is happening. It’s a thought-provoking gathering where leading professionals will dive deep into the transformative impact of AI. Microsoft, NVIDIA, Amazon, Dall-e and more will be there to blow your mind at this event. You can register at bit.ly/aihorizons2 or visit santacruzworks.org for more details.

Santa Cruz Works has been in business for over 15 years, and Doug has been closely monitoring AI since 2022 (pun intended). Just check out SCW’s website, and you’ll see their board members and their vast community and county involvement.

Here’s a cool tidbit: Washington came calling to Santa Cruz County, specifically Supervisor Zach Friend. The reason? Biden’s executive order focuses on the potential risks of AI systems and requires developers of the most powerful AI systems to share their safety test results with the U.S. government. Why did they reach out to us? Because we’re a progressive County, paving the way.

Summary

In summary, Santa Cruz County and local cities aren’t sitting on their hands regarding AI. Some cities make their own rules, while others collaborate through county programs and departments. There are risks, sure. We’ve all dealt with spam calls, email hacks, etc. 

AI in the wrong hands could be concerning. That’s why all of us must pay attention to the policies our local, state and federal programs are putting in place. Get involved because this Genie isn’t going back in the bottle.

In our final series, I’ll share how some local business owners are using AI and addressing how our educational systems adapt to this brave new world. Stay tuned for the grand finale.


Janet Janssen is a Life in Business Coach, Trainer of Leadership and Mindset Patterns and Public Speaker. Contact her at [email protected] or go to janetjanssen.com.

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Janet Janssen is a Life in Business and Speaking Coach, Leadership Santa Cruz County board member, local Chamber member and Distinguished speaker with Toastmasters International. She provides individual and team-building workshops in leadership and public speaking. Currently, she is a volunteer coach for April’s TEDx Santa Cruz. Contact her at janetjanssen.com.

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