Light My Fire

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By Glen Watson | Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai recently declared that artificial intelligence fuelled by powerful computers was more important to humanity than fire or electricity. Alibaba’s Jack Ma predicts AI robots will replace human CEOs within 30 years. Meanwhile, an Oxford-Yale survey of 352 machine learning experts predicted a 50 percent chance that AI will outperform humans in all tasks in just 45 years, and could take over all jobs by the end of the century. Machines are expected to excel humans in language translation by 2024, in writing high-school essays by 2026, in driving a truck by 2027, and working in retail service jobs by 2031, according to research by Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute and Yale University. By 2049, machines will be able to write a bestseller, and by 2053 they’ll be working as surgeons.

Yikes. I had trouble getting out of bed this morning and deciding what to eat for breakfast before work let alone worry about the impact AI is having on my life now, let alone in the future.

Face The Facts

Last year, Google’s AlphaGo beat Ke Jie in the game of GO. In January, AI created by Alibaba and Microsoft tied for first place on the Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SQuAD), beating the human score for Exact Match (providing exact answers to questions based on Wikipedia articles).

There’s no denying that AI is here, to stay. Whether the same can be said for humans remains to be seen.

Use It Wisely Most people would agree that using AI to help keep traffic and pedestrians moving smoothly and efficiently are good things. Fewer might agree on facial recognition software being utilized to monitor people, although being able to find someone who has committed a crime probably outweighs our right to privacy and other concerns.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced in her October policy address that the Hospital Authority, which manages the city’s public hospitals, would develop a big data system to identify useful patterns in the records to help shape policy and ease medical research.

Presumably, all of this data would remain anonymous. But maybe AI could decide on its own to name everyone with a certain very contagious disease, in the best interest of all the other people.

There are many concerns, as well as positives. All we can do is hope for the best, and possibly prepare for the worst.

The Kill Switch Being able to shut off AI once it is up and running is a massive task. Even if such a switch is included, the AI device or whatever might figure out how to disable it or otherwise function even if the plug gets pulled. Then we’re in a heap of trouble, as we’ve read in many books and seen in lots of scary movies about the future.

Man VS Machine Machine learning refers to using programs that learn and improve themselves using data, without human intervention. Let that sink in for a minute… without human intervention. If you have a child or pet dog, you know what can happen quickly when you’re not looking.

In the following articles, we offer a peek at what’s happening in AI and robotics around Asia. It’s by no means a complete picture, but it shows that our intentions are good, the potential is huge, many areas can benefit, and if all goes well this really could be more important to humanity than fire or electricity.

That said, people and property do sometimes burn and being electrocuted isn’t unheard of despite all the knowledge we have and precautions we take.

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