Sightings from the Edge - April 29

April 29th, 2015 by Peter Xing | Centre for the EdgeDesignQA and EngineeringResearchWeb

Every month, Deloitte Centre for the Edge AU brings together a short collection of sightings from the edge of technology, business and society. In this special guest edition, Peter Xing has put together a post solely related to the topic of Artificial Intelligence. To learn more about the centre, follow us on Twitter.

So there have been quite few developments since our last blog focusing on AI.

At the end of 2014, Shivon Zilis from Bloomberg Beta put together a snapshot of the Machine Intelligence Landscape, where there has been an explosion of funding activity.

Despite the hype, there are definitely some real opportunities out there and many consider AI as almost ready for business. In addition, there are things that CEOs need to know to outwit the rise of AI. As discussed in Tech Trends 2015, Amplified Intelligence should play a dominant role in a post-Big Data world immersed by the Internet of Everything. However, emerging AI technologies will likely sit at the peak of inflated expectations in the next release of the Gartner Hype Cycle.

And so the AI arms race continues…

1. IBM
IBM acquired deep learning startup, AlchemyAPI for an undisclosed sum, adding 40,000 developers to its Bluemix platform. AlchemyAPI delivers a wide variety of text analysis and image recognition capabilities.

It will be interesting to see IBM’s response to the growing open source community as those deep learning projects begin to rival Watson’s capabilities. IBM’s $US 4 billion investment into cloud, big data/analytics, enterprise mobile/social and computer security does not take into account funding for further acquisitions. Meanwhile, startups like MetaMind continue to democratise the technology. MetaMind has been assembling quite the powerhouse team since it officially launched this year.

“Watson Health is our moonshot” – Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM.

IBM went on to announce its Watson Health vertical and acquired two healthcare analytics companies, leveraging its relationships with Memorial Sloan-Kettering, MD Anderson and Emory University as well as partnering with Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic and Apple. The new business unit will have “at least 2000 consultants, medical practitioners, clinicians, developers and researchers to design, develop and accelerate the adoption of the Watson Health capability”.

With the launch of Apple Watch, IBM will aim to merge its health data with Apple, applying Watson to give users insights and advice from personal health information gathered from fitness trackers, smartphones, implants or other devices.

IP Australia will also trial Watson with the aim of improving agency efficiencies and enhancing online service offerings for Australia’s innovators.

And why not a cookbook powered by Watson? Although the feedback has been mixed when it came to the Australian chocolate burrito

Watson was also used to deliver answers at the Australian Open, based on uploaded historical data provided by Tennis Australia. These NAO robots were powered by Watson and are each sold separately!

Even the Kickstarter community is getting in on cognitive computing, funding Cognitoys - the internet-connected smart toys that learn and grow with a child. Which begs us to wonder whether Google Panda, one of Google’s many April Fools pranks this year, was actually market testing a potential product?

2. Google

Google’s DeepMind revealed that it’s building a Neural Turing Machine. The result is a computer that mimics the short-term memory of the human brain.

More details surfaced from DeepMind’s work on an AI system that plays video games on its own.

“When the computers passed a level or racked up a high score, they were automatically rewarded with the digital equivalent of a dog treat. Google's AI system surpassed the performance of expert humans in 29 games, and outperformed the best-known algorithmic methods for completing games in 43 instances” - Demis Hassabis, DeepMind’s Co-Founder and VP of Engineering.

Hassabis said that the next step is to develop and train systems to navigate 3D worlds like in Tomb Raider. “If this can drive the car in a racing game, then potentially, with a few real tweaks, it should be able to drive a real car. That's the ultimate aim."

3. Baidu

“Whoever wins artificial intelligence will win the Internet in China and around the world. Baidu has the best shot to make it work.” - Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist at Baidu said to Bloomberg.

Andrew Ng was one of the many AI researchers who attended the Re-Work Deep Learning Summit in San Francisco and shared his thoughts on AI development in a fireside chat.

Baidu currently holds the record for image recognition, having fewer errors than Google and is close to human accuracy.

The Co-Founder and CEO of Baidu, Robin Li, has proposed a state-level project on AI - the “China Brain project” – and hopes to get support from the Chinese military. We’re in real arms race territory now!

4. Facebook

Facebook acquired Wit.ai to help its developers with speech recognition and voice interfaces.

AI is one of three technologies that Facebook will focus on in its ten year plan – the other two being virtual reality and drones.

Yann LeCunn explained how Facebook tags your photos and what the technology holds in the future.

5. Nvidia and Autonomous Vehicles

Nvidia is betting big on AI – deep learning in particular. As we’ve learned, GPUs are much better than CPUs for running  neural networks. CEO and Co-Founder of Nvidia, Jen-Hsun Huang appears to smile every time he hears more cameras will be installed in cars and pixels will be processed for autonomous vehicles during his interview with Elon Musk. It's been almost a decade since Nvidia began consciously pivoting away from its reputation as company that only makes products for PC gaming enthusiasts. It appears to be paying off in light of the slowdown in PC sales and growth in deep learning applications.

Check out the videos at NVIDIA’s conference for CES 2015 and you’ll see the role NVIDIA plays in the future of automotive technology and self-driving cars. There is an extensive pipeline for autonomous vehicles from all the major car companies. In this sense, self-driving cars are inevitable.

6. Other corporate AI developments

7. AI in the mainstream

2015 is set to be quite a year for AI in the mainstream, with quite a few recent and upcoming blockbusters relating to the theme…

AI and robots even got its own episode on SBS One’s Insight – where the issues arising from automation, abundance, as well as existential risks were discussed.

8. Intellectual debate

So what is a robot anyway? And how could robotics and AI reach a level that could pose a threat to humanity?

A group of scientists and entrepreneurs, including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, have signed an open letter promising to ensure AI research benefits humanity. Shortly after, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak joined Hawking and Musk in naming AI as one of humanity’s biggest existential risks.

If you’re still not sure what’s all the fuss – check out Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence, where Bostrom argues that if machine brains surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could replace humans as the dominant lifeform on Earth. Then there’s the realists working in the AI field who think those concerns should be left to Hollywood.

But rather than arguing whether to fear it or not, we should look at what advancements in AI mean for society, which is why Stanford University has launched a 100-year study on AI.

“AI today is advancing the diagnosis of disease, finding cures, developing renewable clean energy, helping to clean up the environment, providing high-­quality education to people all over the world, helping the disabled…and contributing in a myriad of other ways. We have the opportunity in the decades ahead to make major strides in addressing the grand challenges of humanity. AI will be the pivotal technology in achieving this progress. We have a moral imperative to realize this promise while controlling the peril. It won’t be the first time we’ve succeeded in doing this.”
- Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google said to Time.

Here’s that law of accelerating returns again from Ray Kurzweil.

The most immediate concern for society from AI, however, is job losses

9. Staying competitive through enhancement

Some experts are confident that technology will enhance people’s biological capabilities to stay competitive with AI and automation in the face of rising unemployment over the next two decades. Virtual reality and augmented reality already allow us to work remotely or immerse ourselves with additional relevant information. In a recent Ted Talk, David Eagleman asks how can we create new senses for humans.

From smart contact lenses to synthetic eyes, we should expect to see a growing market for human enhancement through technology.

And then there are the biohackers who gave themselves night vision through eye drops…

But what if people decided to replace their limbs with prosthetics that function better than a natural one? Or connect the neurons in their brains to the internet? What, in the end, makes us human? In Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, he famously predicted that in 2045, humankind will have its Terminator moment: The rise of computers will outpace our ability to control them. To keep up, we will radically transform our biology via nanobots and other machines that will enhance our anatomy and our DNA, changing everything about how we live and die.

10. Life-Extension Research

If you ask me today, is it possible to live to be 500? The answer is yes.” - Bill Marris, President and Managing Partner of Google Ventures.

In enhancing the human condition, Google Ventures appears to be on a search for immortality, backing research centres like Calico to study how to reverse aging.  And Google’s not alone, with some of the biggest tech titans working on projects that can defy death. In a SXSW keynote, Martine Rothblatt discusses AI, immortality and the future of selves.

But would you want to live forever? Provided you stayed healthy, had your organs 3D printed for replacement and conquered any neurodegenerative disorders? With the advancement in medical research and drugs that are tailored to each person’s DNA, the possibility of living forever is starting to become a reality.

11. Transhumanism

The media coverage on advancements in AI and interest from the tech titans on life-extension research has reinvigorated a movement coined in the 1950s as Transhumanism (or H+). Transhumanism is an international cultural and intellectual movement with an eventual goal of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.

There’s now a Transhumanist Party formed in the US, with its leader, Zoltan Istvan (author of The Transhumanist Wager) running for President at the next US election. There is also a Transhumanist Party in the UK, led by Amon Twyman, which has an independent running for the next UK election.

The transhumanist movement is picking up quite a bit of momentum and starting to have a strong physical presence around the world. The policies of the Transhumanist Parties in each country are based on transhumanist values, taking into account where technology and transhumanism might take us. With automation comes joblessness and wealth inequality, so a Universal Basic Income is a common core policy of the Transhumanist Parties until society enters an age of abundance. Nevertheless, the culture of Transhumanism is about self-improvement.

12. Closing thoughts

In outlining all this, my hope is that topics such as automation, artificial super intelligence, transhumanism, mind uploading and the creation of a cosmic consciousness might one day become a topic of mainstream discussion. Once exposed to these concepts, it’s hard to go back to watching ball sports and soap operas!

Follow me on Twitter @peterxing to stay posted on the latest AI developments.

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