Will AI be the Most Revolutionary Technology Seen in Decades

From SIRI to self-driving cars, artificial intelligence (AI) is progressing rapidly. While science fiction often portrays AI as robots with human-like characteristics, AI can encompass anything from Google’s search algorithms to IBM’s Watson to autonomous weapons.

Artificial intelligence today is properly known as narrow AI (or weak AI), in that it is designed to perform a narrow task (e.g. only facial recognition or only internet searches or only driving a car). However, the long-term goal of many researchers is to create general AI (AGI or strong AI). While narrow AI may outperform humans at whatever its specific task is, like playing chess or solving equations, AGI would outperform humans at nearly every cognitive task.

Why research AI safety?

In the near term, the goal of keeping AI’s impact on society beneficial motivates research in many areas, from economics and law to technical topics such as verification, validity, security and control. Whereas it may be little more than a minor nuisance if your laptop crashes or gets hacked, it becomes all the more important that an AI system does what you want it to do if it controls your car, your airplane, your pacemaker, your automated trading system or your power grid. Another short-term challenge is preventing a devastating arms race in lethal autonomous weapons.

In the long term, an important question is what will happen if the quest for strong AI succeeds and an AI system becomes better than humans at all cognitive tasks. As pointed out by I.J. Good in 1965, designing smarter AI systems is itself a cognitive task. Such a system could potentially undergo recursive self-improvement, triggering an intelligence explosion leaving human intellect far behind. By inventing revolutionary new technologies, such a super intelligence might help us eradicate war, disease, and poverty, and so the creation of strong AI might be the biggest event in human history. Some experts have expressed concern, though, that it might also be the last, unless we learn to align the goals of the AI with ours before it becomes super intelligent.


Siri may get smarter. Apple has paid an undisclosed amount for startup Laserlike, which created a machine learning app that keeps people up to date on news and articles they’re interested in. Tech news site The Information reported that Laserlike, founded by ex-Google engineers, will add muscle to Apple’s A.I. group and could help improve Apple’s Siri digital assistant.

China to surpass the U.S. China will likely produce more high-quality A.I. research papers than the U.S. by 2020, according to the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. The non-profit’s analysis of over two million academic A.I. papers “shows a clear trend of Chinese ascendance in the field of A.I.”

Spending big bucks on data labeling. Australian data technology company Appen plans to buy startup Figure Eight for nearly $300 million, Appen said. Figure Eight, whose investors include Sales force Ventures and Trinity Ventures, helps companies label and annotate their data for deep learning projects.

Want free A.I. hardware blueprints?

Facebook has released free designs for a new server and specialized computer chips that are intended for tasks like speeding up data training for deep learning projects. The social networking giant typically open sources its data center hardware blueprints so that other companies can inspect and improve the designs.


Tell the truth. U.K.-based venture capital firm MMC Ventures analyzed 2,830 European “A.I.” startups and discovered that 40% of the companies don’t actually use machine learning in their products but instead use conventional data analytics technology.

Lower your expectations. Be skeptical of cyber security companies that promise A.I. that can “automatically detect unknown attacks” in corporate networks, according to trade publication Information-Age. Machine learning is good at helping security staff sift through lots of data in corporate networks to determine “signals” that could indicate a hack. But the article said that technology won’t replace a company’s security teams, who have the expertise to interpret the data.


Morgan Stanley A.I. researcher Sasha Luccioni has left the bank’s machine learning team in Montreal to become a postdoctoral researcher at The Mila-Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, founded by deep learning pioneer Yoshua Bengio.


Experts disagree on how A.I. will change our lives. Two recently published books based on interviews and essays from the world’s A.I. pioneers are frustrating because the experts often disagree about some of A.I.’s most important questions. Vox reviewed the books Possible Minds and Architects of Intelligence and found that they make for “gripping reading,” but they don’t provide a simple conclusion about how A.I. will transform society over the next few decades.

Among the disagreements:

Whether A.I. will experience another “winter” like during the early 1990s.
Whether neural networks will lead to more computer science breakthroughs or are just a fad.
When computers will truly reach a level of intelligence akin to human beings.

As Vox’s Kelsey Piper wrote, “The disagreements on display in these anthologies aren’t just charming intellectual spats  they’re essential to the policy decisions that we need to make today.”

Hearst Magazines named Mike Smith as the company’s chief data officer, a newly created role leading the company’s digital advertising and data operations. Smith was previously a vice president in Hearst’s digital unit in charge of revenue platforms and operations.

Boston’s mayor appointed Stefanie Costa Leabo as the city’s chief data officer, overseeing various data-related projects. She was previously Boston’s director of performance management.

The Interesting Controversies

Not wasting time on the above-mentioned misconceptions lets us focus on true and interesting controversies where even the experts disagree. What sort of future do you want? Should we develop lethal autonomous weapons? What would you like to happen with job automation? What career advice would you give today’s kids? Do you prefer new jobs replacing the old ones, or a jobless society where everyone enjoys a life of leisure and machine-produced wealth? Further down the road, would you like us to create super intelligent life and spread it through our cosmos? Will we control intelligent machines or will they control us? Will intelligent machines replace us, coexist with us, or merge with us? What will it mean to be human in the age of artificial intelligence? What would you like it to mean, and how can we make the future be that way? Please join the conversation!


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