Ever since Ken Jennings got toasted on Jeopardy by "IBM Watson" in 2011, a host of incredible things have been happening in the world of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and literally training super computers to learn. There have been a lot of "fits and starts" with artificial intelligence in the past 4 decades, but like it or not, it has only really arrived in the last 5 years. Computational power is off the charts compared to even a decade ago. Autonomous vehicles and robots did not exist on an actual road 5 years ago, with actual potential human driven cars; they were displayed in closely coordinated demonstrations, and up until last week, millions of miles were driven without a fatality. Bill Gates, who admittedly jumped the gun on AI in the 1990s, now believes, this is it in 2016.
At times, modern artificial intelligence still feels like science fiction. A few decades ago, the kind of AI programs of today would have seemed almost outrageous -- self-driving cars, systems that have mastered the most challenging game in the world, and even programs that could alert doctors to medical errors before they happen. Despite the incredible progress and potential, public opinion of AI remains rooted in science fiction -- evil entities, out to destroy mankind. The area gets a bad rap in the press, in Hollywood, and even from tech and science leaders like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk. Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) and longtime AI researcher, says this depiction of an "evil AI" is far off the mark from the reality of today's tech.
He is a German computer scientist and artist known for his work on machine learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI), artificial neural networks, digital physics, and low-complexity art. "We need to be super careful with artificial intelligence. It is potentially more dangerous than nukes." That was Elon Musk two years ago, on Twitter. What does it mean for a technology, when it faces serious doubts from a man who is passionate about creating a better world through innovation? Since its beginnings in the 1950s, artificial intelligence has been a favourite subject of science fiction. But now AI has entered the realm of fact: several studies predict that intelligent machines will have a big impact on how we work, how we move and even how wars are fought. Innovators and scientists around the world believe that now is the time to ensure that AI is beneficial above all for humans. And even if there are plausible reasons to be anxious about machines that could one day be more intelligent than we are, many scientists are ready to take up the challenge, as we explain in our feature on the following pages. Some people fret that artificial intelligence will end civilization as we know it. Others believe it can solve every problem.
On Wednesday, a Google deep-learning program beat the world's best player at Go -- an ancient Chinese game once considered too complex and nuanced for a computer to ever master. This game comes 20 years after IBM's Deep Blue computer first beat reigning world champion Garry Kasparow in a game of chess. Though pitting AIs against humans in games of strategy does offer some insight into how the field of machine learning is progressing, the increasing presence of AI in our daily lives shows that the technology is reaching a point where it will soon be hard to imagine what the world used to be like. Machine learning computers perform mundane tasks for us -- like completing our sentences, or finding the fastest route home. But they also do tasks we're incapable of doing, like sorting through and spotting patterns in incredibly large and complex data sets.
In the future, will artificial intelligence be so sophisticated that it will be able to tell when someone is trying to deceive it? A Carnegie Mellon University professor and his team is working on technology that could move this idea from the realm of science fiction to reality. Their work -- rooted in game theory and machine learning -- is part of a larger push for more advanced AI. As AI becomes more commonplace in the technology we use every day, detractors and supporters are becoming more vocal about its potential risks and benefits. For some, smarter AI sets up a dangerous precedent for a future too reliant on machines to make decisions about everything from medical diagnoses to the operation of self-driving cars.