AI Futures – Anthony Perera

Response number two to our AI: Futures discussion piece comes from Anthony Perera, a consultant at Manifesto.

“Artificial Intelligence is a set of computational technologies that are inspired by – but typically operate quite differently from – the ways people use their nervous systems and bodies to sense, learn, reason, and take action.”

We have just entered the golden age of AI. In every gold rush, it’s difficult to differentiate between hype and imminent reality, but in this case the hype is realised as the application of AI has come to actualisation. The world’s largest tech companies – Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon in the US and Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent in China have already implemented AI as a core part of their service. More and more companies are following suit, calling out AI as the catalyst to their future success.

Currently the AI we see around us – Pinterest’s visual recognition tools, Spotify’s Discover Weekly, Amazon’s Alexa, countless numbers of self-driving cars and chatbots are all examples of ‘Narrow AI’ – dedicated to assist with or take over specific tasks.

You and I are more sophisticated in the sense that we are able to learn new things from different domains and apply these learnings interoperably. How do we build algorithms and data structures that can be applied to different learning tasks and be successful at all of them like us humans? This is known as ‘General AI’, and is the holy grail. Currently, there isn’t a clear research agenda to get us there.

The fear brewing around us is in anticipation of ‘Super AI’ where the learning algorithms supersede our own abilities. These machines are an order of magnitude smarter than us. But until we are well on the path to General AI, most experts are taking an unguarded view. Why?
Despite dramatic predictions that are seen in popular media, most studies suggest that there is no imminent threat to mankind, rather far-reaching societal benefits which are likely to emerge over the next couple of decades.

However, with responsibility also comes recklessness. Recklessness in giving tech oligopolies more data, more knowledge, more power and more control. Recklessness in developing something truly horrific and unfathomable that changes our own existence. Being able to recognise positive and negative potential is the premonition that serves us warnings not lessons, one that can not be ignored or treated lightly.

Nonetheless, it is also important to realise that technology is not the singular element determining the course of AI, and equal weight must be given to economics, governmental policy and social attitudes. Decisions made in the near term are likely to have a longstanding impact on the direction of developments within the field. As such, AI researchers, computer engineers, social scientists, and policy makers need to work together to ensure that AI’s economic and social benefits are maximised and shared across our society that prolongs the development and evolution of human beings.

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