When 2001: A Space Odyssey came out in 1968, viewers around the world were incredibly fascinated by the potential of HAL, the on-board computer of the Discovery 1. Designed to be infallible, HAL commits its first mistake during the space mission, becoming suddenly unreliable. And it’s just when he discovers that the astronauts on board plan to disarm it that the Artificial Intelligence device begins to plan to eliminate the entire crew.
If Kubrik’s masterpiece was projected today, if 2001: A Space Odyssey suddenly became 2031: A Space Odyssey, the public’s reaction would be totally different.
Artificial Intelligence has become reality and has been recently the center of an intense debate involving important decision makers, scientists, philosophers, and innovators around themes such as ethics, progress, and (in the last instance) safeguard of the human race.
The debate about the consequences of this technology reignited last month when Facebook suddenly stopped an Artificial Intelligence experiment after discovering the robots had independently developed a brand-new language, unintelligible to humans. Researchers from the Facebook AI Research Lab (FAIR) had noticed that the machines were communicating in a totally unexpected way: an episode that emphasizes both the potentials and the most disturbing aspects of AI.
In spite of the incident, Zuckerberg is optimistic about AI, and in particular about the progress in basic research which, according to the CEO of Facebook, can improve systems in many different fields – from the diagnosis of illnesses to the use driverless-cars, from the improvement of virtual assistants to the optimization of search engines.
Elon Musk, CEO at Tesla, is not of the same opinion, and recently defined Artificial Intelligence as being more dangerous than North Korea. Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak have both repeatedly stressed how using this technology can lead to tragic and unexpected consequences.
In 2014, Stephen Hawking had already alerted the world and the scientific community on how AI could mean the end of mankind. Unlike man, which is limited by slow biological evolution, robots are able to reprogram and learn new languages at higher speeds, leading to the inevitable supremacy of machines, the scientist argued.
Google has also intervened several times in the public debate and has recently released a video highlighting the danger of using Artificial Intelligence in decision-making processes. According to the tech giant, computers find solutions by identifying patterns in large amounts of data, driving to think there is no bias in this operation. However, just because something is based on data doesn’t automatically make it neutral (read this article to learn more on the three categories of bias identified by Google).
The centrality of topics connected to Artificial Intelligence on the world agenda reflects the growing investments and commercial operations. In 2014, Google absorbed the startup DeepMind for a reported $400 million, one of the most significant acquisitions in the history of this industry. Spotify has also recently assimilated several companies with the goal of using technology to improve its content recommendations and advertisement targeting. Microsoft Ventures itself has launched a new investment fund for AI startups.
Artificial Intelligence has therefore become a central theme in any tech conference, festival or workshop. On November 9th and 10th, the most influential actors of emerging technologies will gather in Milan in a ‘two days’ of near future scenarios and practical demonstrations, sharing insights and solutions for the business of various industries, including retail, manufacturing, automotive, entertainment and media.
So the discussion around AI continues, and it will just become more intense.
What will make a difference is the ability (technical but especially strategic) of small startups (which are however likely to be acquired by tech giants) and large companies to control this technology and to quickly identify evolutions and applications that their competitors haven’t imagined yet.