A big claim was made at a conference in London on Thursday.
Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer at Microsoft UK, told an audience of business leaders at an AI conference that AI is “the most important technology that anybody on the planet is working on today.”
Before we go any further, it’s worth putting that claim into perspective.
There are a number of consumer-facing AI products already out there on the market that are getting better all the time — Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri. But AI also has the potential to support crucial scientific research into everything from autonomous cars to cancer research. That’s probably why Coplin made his claim.
Coplin, who has worked in IT for over 25 years and authored two books about the future of technology, said: “This technology [AI] will change how we relate to technology. It will change how we relate to each other. I would argue that it will even change how we perceive what it means to be human.”
He highlighted that a plethora of companies are now doing their own research into AI. “It’s not just Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. We’re all at it because it will change everything.”
But Coplin argues that societies need to start paying more attention to who is developing AI as they can build it to behave how they want it to, which may not always be a good thing. “We’ve got to start to make some decisions about whether the right people are making these algorithms,” he said. “What biases will be inferred by those people, by those companies? These are things we don’t know about. This is new. We talk about unchartered territory.”
Developments in AI will bring a number of societal issues, according to Coplin. “We have to be ready to deal with them. We have to understand that they exist. We have to start being mindful about the processes we put in place.”
Scientists like Stephen Hawking and technology leaders like PayPal founder and Tesla CEO Elon Musk have warned that AI could pose a threat to humanity if it is developed in the wrong way, while Oxford professor Nick Bostrom believes superintelligent machines could turn against us if they outsmart us.
“The way in which we choose to use AI is a reflection of humans, the people, not the machines themselves,” Coplin said. “We are locked in this endless cycle of pointless rhetoric about humans vs machines. We are aware machines can beat us at chess. They can beat us at Jeopardy. Now they can beat us at Go. They’re going to steal our jobs. Hang on! Stop. When was this ever the dialogue for what we did with technology. Technology is here to augment what we do. Support us to extend our capability.”
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