Reflecting on a Panel Discussion: Artificial Intelligence Outlook 2019

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Kudos to the Polsky Exchange team for an amazing series. The last session of the series was Polsky Exchange Outlook: AI 2019. Unsurprisingly, “AI” drew a huge crowd; and the panelists delivered.

Let me first tell you about Julia Lane, the Executive Director of the Center for Data and Computing (CDAC) at the University of Chicago. Wow, what a skilled moderator! Despite a nebulous theme — AI — she skillfully led the discussion that was both informative and very engaging, from the basics to more intricate topics. She is clearly knowledgeable about AI, and was able to address a broad audience very effectively.

New technology and innovation rely on many stakeholders, including the Federal Government, technology providers, consumers, and let’s not forget, the technologists, those who pioneered these new technologies and the engineers who continue to work on the improvements. How these players work together will affect how AI becomes available to consumers and applicable to our daily lives. The panelists represent a few of these players, including researchers, investors, and entrepreneurs in this space.

Speaking of the Federal Government, the response of the panelists to the American AI Initiative seems lukewarm, despite the fact that the U.S. is going in an encouraging direction. The criticism is mainly due to the lack of details of the Executive Order. The lack of financial investment is also loud and clear.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the audience also asked about future job prospects in light of AI. In other words, would Cylons take over all of our jobs? (Wait, is not having a job a bad thing?) Of course, it was a rather lively discussion on this topic but I am afraid that we are a long way from not working, just chilling. One interesting comment from the panelists was that unlike today, there might be a high demand for philosophers in the future job market. Philosophers would have to come up with reasonings for making a decision over another while designing our future world. As an example, someone, perhaps a philosopher, would have to decide which object (living or non-living) to hit when an autonomous vehicle is faced with a possible collision with multiple objects. There was a stir in the room.

Another advancement that would put us out of our jobs is the development of General AI, as opposed to Narrow AI. Narrow AI is one task, one data set, one algorithm and one solution; you get the idea. General AI would have the ability to perform multiple task-solution pair concurrently and having some sort of cognitive function (to replace you and me) to perform like human brains, as much as possible. One day, we would be able to make Cylons. Fist pump!

I walked away from the discussion feeling rather positive about what AI could bring in the future. There are many complex issues to be figured out as a society, beyond the technologies. I am eager to see how this plays out in the coming years. I am going to sit back, relax, and watch how it all unfolds. Where is my popcorn?

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