At the end of last year I was in Lisbon accompanying the Web Summit, one of the biggest entrepreneurship events in Europe and the world. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a look at the video I made showing a little of what it was like.
The subject most discussed and commented upon both directly or indirectly was artificial intelligence. The event opened with a talk by Stephen Hawking about the impacts of this technology on society, its ethical – or otherwise – use, and what choices we should make and the care we should take in order not to create a monster.
But what the heck is artificial intelligence and why is it so important? Basically, artificial intelligence is the field of computation that studies how computers and electronic devices can emulate human intelligence by capturing information, analyzing it, making decisions, performing actions and, above all, acquiring one of the most valuable human skills: cognitive ability, in other words, the way in which are able to learn and evolve.
I’ll give you an example! One of the highlights of the Web Summit was the participation of two robots, Sophia and Einstein, who debated for a little over 20 minutes whether artificial intelligence would save us or destroy us. The point is that the conversation was not rehearsed and there was no script of what each one said. Each robot had to collect the spoken information, analyze it and form sentences that made sense in the conversation. Take a look at the conversation.
We’re teaching machines to think and it’s astonishing. As Robot Sophia said, they’re not going to devastate the world, but they are going to take our jobs, and perhaps this is one of the first major consequences of artificial intelligence. Let’s take the example of driverless automobiles, another topic that was also widely discussed at the event. The rapid development of sensors that can enable the car to “see” the road, people, other automobiles and the objects around it, allied with increased computing power that allows all this information to be processed and actions taken in real time to control the automobile, means that these vehicles are able to drive by themselves safely, without human interference; after all, machines don’t get stressed, don’t drink and don’t suffer from road rage. At the event, Uber, Google and Intel said that driverless automobiles should be commercially available by 2020, while Tesla announced the launch of its semi-autonomous truck a few weeks ago. Imagine the impact of driver obsolescence, not only on jobs, but on traffic, the economy and safety.
Artificial Intelligence is technology that has a huge potential for transforming people’s relationship with cities, companies and society. The speed with which it is advancing is exponential, thanks to computing power that obeys Moore’s Law, and the Internet. Imagine computers that have access to any content and all human knowledge and have the ability to process much more information than we do.
What’s going to be the limit?
You may think that this has nothing to do with you, but I’ll give you another example of AI that you’ve probably already witnessed if you use a social network or gmail (in other words, if you’re a living being!). A few days ago, I received an email from my wife asking me to evaluate a document from her studio. She literally wrote, “See if it’s all right and if you can understand it?” Imagine my surprise when just below the email three boxes appeared, each with a response option that Google had created for me:
- a) “I think it’s great.”
- b) “It was great, thank you!” (In Portuguese the computer mistook the writer’s gender).
- c) “Fantastic!”
Isn’t that just soooo scary!!! First of all, Google reads all my emails! Second, in addition to being really positive it used words I’d probably use. Third, and most surprising of all, I thought it was fantastic (!) despite the invasion of privacy. The same thing happens when I exchange messages on LinkedIn and other social networks. Any one of us who has used any electronic answering service can have a keyboard with a chatbot, as these artificial intelligence robots are called. Are you beginning to see the impact this can have on our lives, from privacy issues to reshaping service? Call centers are going to go through a tremendous revolution, as shown by the famous case of the startup Nama, which made the service chatbot for Poupa Tempo in Sao Paulo, and people didn’t realize they were talking to a robot. Proof of this is that the robot received more than 51,000 messages of thanks, such as: “God bless you” (You see? It’s not just me who likes robots!).
This type of startup is proliferating at an absurdly fast pace. There are already a few hundred of them in the world and many of them because of major companies, like IBM with Watson, the artificial intelligence service the company makes available for anyone to use; I said “anyone”. If you want to use Watson’s services with just few reais you can make your own bot.
Applications are countless, and even in our industry there are already driverless excavators that can be programmed to do excavation work, and drones that can calculate the volumes of piles of material and the best routes for trucks to take.
What are we going to do?
If AI is going to put an end to lots of jobs, what are we going to do? Well, some jobs will be eliminated, but others will be created. Just like us, machines can learn through trial and error. They’re going to learn according to the results of each experiment and iteration; what we call machine learning. The point is that machines don’t know what’s right and wrong and they often need someone to teach them, to tell them whether they are close to or far from the right answer. That’s why robot trainers are going to be created; people who are going to guide the robots through the learning process (see, compliance has never been so up-to-the-minute and important!) – at least for now. There’ll be a time when one machine can begin to teach another, or they think they no longer need our teaching. Just like the case that happened with the Facebook test.
I’m going to relate this case to end with. Facebook’s artificial intelligence research lab was training two chatbots to negotiate using machine learning. The goal was for the robots to try and negotiate an exchange of hats, balls, and books with each other, with each one having its own value. The problem is that after a few rounds they started talking in a language that only they understood. The robots created their own language to make communication easier between them. Facebook ended the experiment!
After that, all I can say is goodbye! If you liked this post, comment on it below. What do you think the future of your work is going to be like?
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