Jun 18th 2016

The amazing artificial intelligence we were promised is coming, finally

We have been hearing predictions for decades of a takeover of the world by artificial intelligence. In 1957, Herbert A. Simon predicted that within 10 years a digital computer would be the world’s chess champion.  That didn’t happen until 1996.  And despite Marvin Minsky’s 1970 prediction that “in from three to eight years we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being,” we still consider that a feat of science fiction.

The pioneers of artificial intelligence were surely off on the timing, but they weren’t wrong; AI is coming.  It is going to be in our TV sets and driving our cars; it will be our friend and personal assistant; it will take the role of our doctor. There have been more advances in AI over the past three years than there were in the previous three decades.

Even technology leaders such as Apple have been caught off guard by the rapid evolution of machine learning, the technology that powers AI.  At its recent Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple opened up its AI systems so that independent developers could help it create technologies that rival what Google and Amazon have already built.  Apple is way behind.

The AI of the past used brute-force computing to analyze data and present them in a way that seemed human.  The programmer supplied the intelligence in the form of decision trees and algorithms.  Imagine that you were trying to build a machine that could play tic-tac-toe. You would give it specific rules on what move to make, and it would follow them. That is essentially how IBM’s Big Blue computer beat chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997, by using a supercomputer to calculate every possible move faster than he could.

Today’s AI uses machine learning in which you give it examples of previous games and let it learn from those examples. The computer is taught what to learn and how to learn and makes its own decisions.  What’s more, the new AIs are modeling the human mind itself using techniques similar to our learning processes.  Before, it could take millions of lines of computer code to perform tasks such as handwriting recognition. Now it can be done in hundreds of lines. What is required is a large number of examples so that the computer can teach itself.

The new programming techniques use neural networks — which are modeled on the human brain, in which information is processed in layers and the connections between these layers are strengthened based on what is learned. This is called deep learning because of the increasing numbers of layers of information that are processed by increasingly faster computers. These are enabling computers to recognize images, voice, and text — and to do human-like things.

Google searches used to use a technique called PageRank to come up with their results. Using rigid proprietary algorithms, they analyzed the text and links on Web pages to determine what was most relevant and important. Google is replacing this technique in searches and most of its other products with algorithms based on deep learning, the same technologies that it used to defeat a human player at the game Go. During that extremely complex game, observers were themselves confused as to why their computer had made the moves it had.

In the fields in which it is trained, AI is now exceeding the capabilities of humans.

AI has applications in every area in which data are processed and decisions required. Wired founding editor Kevin Kelly likened AI to electricity: a cheap, reliable, industrial-grade digital smartness running behind everything.  He said that it “will enliven inert objects, much as electricity did more than a century ago.  Everything that we formerly electrified we will now ‘cognitize.’  This new utilitarian AI will also augment us individually as people (deepening our memory, speeding our recognition) and collectively as a species. There is almost nothing we can think of that cannot be made new, different, or interesting by infusing it with some extra IQ.  In fact, the business plans of the next 10,000 start-ups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI  This is a big deal, and now it’s here.”

AI will soon be everywhere. Businesses are infusing AI into their products and helping them analyze the vast amounts of data they are gathering. Google, Amazon, and Apple are working on voice assistants for our homes that manage our lights, order our food, and schedule our meetings. Robotic assistants such as Rosie from “The Jetsons” and R2-D2 of Star Wars are about a decade away.

Do we need to be worried about the runaway “artificial general intelligence” that goes out of control and takes over the world?  Yes — but perhaps not for another 15 or 20 years. There are justified fears that rather than being told what to learn and complementing our capabilities, AIs will start learning everything there is to learn and know far more than we do. Though some people, such as futurist Ray Kurzweil, see us using AI to augment our capabilities and evolve together, others, such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, fear that AI will usurp us. We really don’t know where all this will go.

What is certain is that AI is here and making amazing things possible.



Vivek Wadhwa is a Fellow at Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance, Stanford University; Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering,  Duke University; and Distinguished Fellow at Singularity University. He is author of  “The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent”—which was named by The Economist as a Book of the Year of 2012, and ” Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology”—which documents the struggles and triumphs of women.  In 2012, the U.S. Government awarded Wadhwa distinguished recognition as an  “Outstanding American by Choice”— for his “commitment to this country and to the common civic values that unite us as Americans”. He was also named by Foreign Policy Magazine as Top 100 Global Thinker in 2012. In 2013, TIME Magazine listed him as one of The 40 Most Influential Minds in Tech.

Wadhwa oversees research at Singularity University, which educates a select group of leaders about the exponentially advancing technologies that are soon going to change our world.  These advances—in fields such as robotics, A.I., computing, synthetic biology, 3D printing, medicine, and nanomaterials—are making it possible for small teams to do what was once possible only for governments and large corporations to do: solve the grand challenges in education, water, food, shelter, health, and security.

In his roles at Stanford and  Duke, Wadhwa lectures in class on subjects such as entrepreneurship and public policy, helps prepare students for the real world, and leads groundbreaking research projects.  He is an advisor to several governments; mentors entrepreneurs; and is a regular columnist for The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal Accelerators, LinkedIn Influencers blog, Forbes, and the American Society of Engineering Education’s Prism magazine.  Prior to joining academia in 2005, Wadhwa founded two software companies.


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Jun 29th 2020
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Jun 27th 2020
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Jun 17th 2020
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Jun 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Bonhoeffer’s life holds an important lesson for us today, regardless of our religious affiliation or lack thereof. And simply put it is this: you are called upon; you are called on behalf of your neighbor. When you are called to be responsible that is not an obligation which you can decline, discharge or acquit yourself of – it is an infinite responsibility, a “forever commitment” as Charles Blow recently put it. And we all must be prepared to make any sacrifice necessary when we are called."
Jun 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "People differ substantially in how much they’re affected by experiences in their lives. Some people seem to be more affected by daily stress, or the loss of someone close to them. On the other hand, some people seem to get through the same experiences relatively unscathed. Similarly, some people benefit strongly from counselling, or having a support system of close family and friends. Others seem better able to manage on their own. But understanding why some people are more sensitive than others isn’t just a question of how they were raised, and the experiences they’ve been through. In fact, previous research has found that some people in general seem more sensitive to what they experience – and some are generally less sensitive."
Jun 7th 2020
EXTRACT: " The root causes of anthropogenic climate change – which has led to the endangering of countless species across the globe – cannot be adequately grasped in isolation from the technological application of modern science. While Swedish activist Greta Thunberg was certainly justified in calling upon American legislators to “unite behind the science,” neither can we overlook the culpability of science in bringing about the environmental crisis. "
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The QAnon movement began in 2017 after someone known only as Q posted a series of conspiracy theories about Trump on the internet forum 4chan. QAnon followers believe global elites are seeking to bring down Trump, whom they see as the world’s only hope to defeat the “deep state.” OKM is part of a network of independent congregations (or ekklesia) called Home Congregations Worldwide (HCW). The organization’s spiritual adviser is Mark Taylor, a self-proclaimed “Trump Prophet” and QAnon influencer with a large social media following on Twitter and YouTube."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The aim of my research for the Understanding Unbelief programme was to investigate the worldviews of non-believers, since little is known about the diversity of these non-religious beliefs, and what psychological functions they serve. I wanted to explore the idea that while non-believers may not hold religious beliefs, they still hold distinct ontological, epistemological and ethical beliefs about reality, and the idea that these secular beliefs and worldviews provide the non-religious with equivalent sources of meaning, or similar coping mechanisms, as the supernatural beliefs of religious individuals."
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Psalm 91, for example, reassures believers that God will protect them from “the pestilence that walketh in darkness… A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee”.............Luther was a devout believer but insisted that religious faith had to be joined with practical, physical defences against sickness. It was a good Christian’s duty to work to keep themselves and others safe, rather than relying solely on the protection of God. "
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Evidence from this study shows clearly that eating foods rich in flavonoids over your lifetime is significantly linked to reducing Alzheimer’s disease risk. However, their consumption will be even more beneficial alongside other lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, managing a healthy weight and exercising."
May 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "It’s possible that the answers to questions like, “how do I live a virtuous life?” or “how do we build a good society?” are not the same as they were a few weeks ago."
May 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Strangely, those with strong beliefs tend to be admired. The human mind hates uncertainty, so it is comforting to be told what to think, and to form settled opinions. But it is not rational. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Apr 21st 2020
Extract: "Humans, Boccaccio seems to be saying, can think of themselves as upstanding and moral – but unawares, they may show indifference to others. We see this in the 10 storytellers themselves: They make a pact to live virtuously in their well-appointed retreats. Yet while they pamper themselves, they indulge in some stories that illustrate brutality, betrayal and exploitation. Boccaccio wanted to challenge his readers, and make them think about their responsibilities to others. “The Decameron” raises the questions: How do the rich relate to the poor during times of widespread suffering? What is the value of a life? In our own pandemic, with millions unemployed due to a virus that has killed thousands, these issues are strikingly relevant.
Apr 20th 2020
Extract: "If we do not seize this crisis as a moment for transformation, then we will have lost the war. If doing so requires reviving notions of collective guilt and responsibility – including the admittedly uncomfortable view that every one of us is infinitely responsible, then so be it; as long we do not morally cop out by blaming some group as the true bearers of sin, guilt, and God’s heavy judgment. A pandemic clarifies the nature of action: that with our every act we answer to each other. In that light, we have a duty to seize this public crisis as an opportunity to reframe our mutual responsibility to one another and the world."
Apr 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Death is the common experience which can make all members of the human race feel their common bonds and their common humanity."