Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil popularized the Terminator-like moment he called the “singularity,” when artificial intelligence overtakes human thinking. While AI has been at the heart of many science fiction stories, a growing chorus of tech experts, including Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Gates, are warning this world-altering moment could occur in 50 years. So, where is AI today, and what happens between IBM’s Watson winning Jeopardy and a real world Westworld?
From concept to application
AI is rapidly evolving from a series of interesting concepts to present day applications, particularly in the area of machine algorithms and deep learning. Companies from IBM to Microsoft to Google are developing technologies that make sense of vast amounts of data, weave neural networks based on nonlinear thoughts, and operate much like the human mind … or perhaps better.
Take, for example, the growing wisdom of IBM’s Watson. Since winning Jeopardy, Watson has achieved multiple medical degrees and is currently assimilating drug trial, genomic, disease, and medical data along with expertise from the world’s top doctors. This example of AI is now augmenting the minds of cancer doctors worldwide and dramatically improving their ability to quickly diagnose and personalize patient therapies. In fact, Watson recently diagnosed a woman’s rare form of leukemia in 10 minutes, solving a medical mystery missed by her doctors for months.
From Alzheimer’s disease to autism, AI is transforming our resource-constrained medical industry. Even robot therapists, trained to recognize gestures and facial expressions, are having success with patients in need of psychological evaluations, one scenario where patients feel more comfortable opening up to a computer versus a human.
Another large leap for AI has occurred with speech and image recognition. This past October, Microsoft announced a major milestone in transcribing conversational speech equal to or better than trained humans. On the image front, pattern recognition tools cannot identify not only the face of terrorists but also pipeline repairs via self-flying drones. Very soon AI could even disrupt the need for sport referees. Imagine the ability to quickly assess multiple video angles and offer an accurate split-second decision without concerns over team bias.
AI is also leveling the playing field with language translation. Google Translate, which took 10 years to grow from supporting a few languages to over 103, recently implemented a new neural machine translation system. The result not only improved translation between languages like English to Japanese or Korean to English, but created an unexpected phenomenon named “zero-shot translation,” meaning the system taught itself to translate language pairs never previously connected, like Japanese to Korean.
Machine-learning algorithms are currently mining profile data to intelligently match and connect people on millions of areas for multiple situations beyond dating. Picture meeting exactly the right people at the right moments in your life or seamlessly directing intelligent devices to connect you to the most relevant content or personalized experiences.
AI’s future impact
While some view AI as the natural next chapter for technology, others view it as potentially the final chapter for mankind. Without question, the AI revolution will be disruptive, likely more so than the industrial revolution.
According to Gartner, 45 percent of the fastest-growing companies worldwide will have more smart machine and virtual assistant employees than people by 2018. By 2020, 85 percent of customer interactions will be managed without humans. As AI works its way into every sector of our economy, technology will migrate from replacing car and bus drivers to replacing pilots. Even one of the world’s largest hedge funds, Bridgewater Associates, is developing AI to remove emotions from decision making. Yet, without emotions, AI is capable of composing original works of beautiful music and art. In time, few professions will be immune from this technology tsunami.
Despite workforce disruptions, AI will bring enormous business profits, everyday life improvements, a safer society, and the tools to solve the world’s biggest challenges. Similar to the advent of electricity or the Internet, AI is the next platform from which new products, services, and opportunities we have yet to imagine will be built. So, how does something so helpful potentially be harmful?
If we have learned anything about human nature over this past century, it is that we have an insatiable curiosity for technological advancement. As a result, experts fear that as we improve AI, it will eventually have the intelligence to improve itself … potentially without human values or ethics. Therefore, as we reap the rewards of AI, we also need experts, educators, and policymakers with the integrity and wisdom to steer its course.
Advances in AI will create massive paradigm shifts. Expect countries with the largest number of skilled math students to be viewed as having greater resources than those with vast oil reserves. It’s a global race with catastrophic consequences for losers and enormous rewards for winners.
Anne A. Balduzzi is an early pioneer of the internet who held product development and marketing roles at Apple, Quantum Computer Services (later renamed AOL) and Viewtron, the first consumer online service in North America. She is currently a speaker and author on technology topics and the founder of SameGrain, where she holds a patent on data-match analysis.