Smells like tech spirit – Artificial Intelligence may be on its way to becoming the buzziest buzz-term in the buzzword laden history of the buzz-o-sphere. No prior trend has engendered the societal debate that AI has sparked. Scientists, billionaires, politicians, poets, priests, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers have all gotten into the game. Ok, the candlestick maker reference was hogwash but give that industry time … something will come up. Everybody has an opinion and the opinions are “all over the map”. Artificial intelligence will either be the recreation of Eden on Earth (without the troublesome snakes and apples) or the kind of zombie apocalypse that gives zombies nightmares. Either way. it seems clear that AI will have a profound effect on how we live, work and play in Virginia.
“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Concerns about computers getting too big for their britches go back a long way. Generation after generation had their fears of computer overlords generally mucking things up. The average American Baby Boomer first learned the perils of artificial intelligence in 1968 from HAL of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame. Thirty three years later everybody laughed when 2001 came and went without any psychotic computers in evidence (give or take the Apple Newton). But here we are 17 years later and there are some very serious people with some very serious concerns. Why did concerns about AI go from the realm of entertainment to a serious debate about the start of nirvana vs the end of mankind?
The winter of their discontent. AI has gone through a series of boom and bust cycles over the decades from the hype of the 1970s and 80s to the last of the so-called AI winters from about 1990 through 2011. In some ways the public’s fascination with AI elevated the highs and made the lows all that much lower. In 1981 Japan’s MITI funded the Fifth Generation Computer Systems project with $850M. The ambitious program would build a new generation of computers designed for AI along with the AI software needed to make the dream come true. An impressive list of goals was drawn up. Ten years later the goals had not been met. Twenty, even thirty years later many of the goals from 1981 were still elusive. Then, in 2011, came one of those bizarre occurrences that sort of change everything.
Your answer must be in the form of a question. In January 2011 IBM’s AI platform, named Watson, played Jeopardy! against the two best human Jeopardy! players in history and beat them soundly. The AI winter was over. In reality, AI research had been going on at IBM and elsewhere during the so-called AI winter but the Jeopardy! contest reawakened the public’s fascination with AI. AI research was often called something other than AI during the AI winter because of the stigma AI had developed. Kind of like the way liberals now call themselves progressives. There were neural networks, expert systems, knowledge engineering, etc. However, it was AI. The Watson Jeopardy! match put AI back in the public’s imagination and it’s been “off to the races” ever since.
The Last Question. Google followed IBM with a more impressive AI demonstration. In 2016, using its Deep Mind AI platform, Google defeated the reigning human Go master. Go is a 3,000 year old Chinese board game that has been notoriously hard for AI platforms to successfully play due to the mind-boggling number of possible moves. These advances, and many more, explain why the debate over AI and the future of mankind has reached such a fever pitch. It appears that this time … AI is finally real.
Come out Virginia. Don’t let ’em wait. You backward states start much too late. Ok, apologies to Billy Joel but Virginia has a long history of denying the present and ignoring the future. In a world where Russian bots already stand accused of meddling in American elections Virginia needs a frank discussion regarding the escalating capabilities of automation and AI. Will bots affect the 2019 Virginia elections? How will automation impact Virginia’s economy? Was it coincidence that Steve Haner’s by-line started appearing on BaconsRebellion about the same time that AI-powered bots began posting on social media?
— Don Rippert