Why are companies spending billions on AI

Watching an ad for Microsoft AI on the telly made me ponder how much focus is on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning right now by the big guns in tech. It wasn’t an ad for just Microsoft but Microsoft AI. It is understood already that if businesses fail to adopt AI and Machine Learning going forward, they’ll run the risk of being left behind and perhaps even ceasing to exist. And hence, billions are being spent by companies on AI.

Will it be worth the billions?

I believe so and much much more because of this book I read nearly 20 years ago by Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil, a billionaire inventor and renowned futurist, wrote the book back in 1999 called The Age of the Spiritual Machines. He describes a world where we would be living amongst artificial life. Humans will have these chips implanted in them to enhance themselves as a being. Chips in your brain to make you process faster and better. Improved memory implants, like an episode of Black Mirror, where all your memory is recorded, and you can relive them whenever you please. Eyesight can be enhanced to an inconceivable level where one can switch easily between telescopic and microscopic vision. In some way you will be able to touch up all your senses. Eventually, the lines will become so blurred on who is completely human and who is completely enhanced. Completely enhanced meaning just pure AI.

Kurzweil has positioned himself at the forefront of the AI expedition. An exec at Google in fact, the Director of Engineering. And for those who didn’t know, Google isn’t just a search engine, it is Artificial Intelligence. It has already attempted to scan every book in the world and create a World Brain.

 “Supercomputers will achieve one human brain capacity by 2010, and personal computers will do so by about 2020.” – Ray Kurzweil


We’re at 2020 now, so, have our PCs and laptops reached the capacity of one human brain or even close to it?

For me, there are a few questions that this Kurzweil quote raises.

“How do we measure if it is the equivalent of a human brain?”
“Whose brain are we to compare it to?”
“What does it mean to have this capacity in a laptop now, what will it do for you?”

The last of these questions is what I feel is worth delving into right now.

“What will it do for you?”

Once we realise what it will do, I believe it will become obvious why so much capital is going on the race to build AI and machine learning. We can understand that it will do a lot of low-level menial tasks and that would lead to some of the population losing their jobs.  Understandably, this isn’t beneficial and will be a very difficult time for many. The shift from the Agrarian Age to the Industrial Age wasn’t painless and no doubt this one will be either. But people will eventually get back on their feet and new jobs will emerge.

What kind of jobs?  is like explaining to cattle farmers and land workers 100 years ago that their grandchildren will be working in website design and SEO. It will be difficult. Now though, it isn’t too difficult to fathom that we are not too far away from having parcels delivered by a droid or having it pour you a cup of coffee. But that isn’t the full capacity of one human brain. One of the breakthroughs in AI and machine learning will be its understanding of language and voice. We are surrounded by voice and language gobbling tech already. Amazons Alexa and Google Home. Apple CEO Tim Cook derided his competitors back in 2015 that.

“They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it,”

Elon Musk, known for the dramatic and loved by me for it, has said that he believes his friend, co-founder of Google Larry Page may end up summoning a “demon” in their pursuit of AI. I have always thought that Googles motto was baffling. “Don’t be evil”. However, they have changed this to “Do the right thing”.

The motto suggests that the intentions of what they are pursuing is good and not evil. What if regardless of their best intentions that something sinister does arise from it? That will be something to perplex over another night because we will be going off on a massive tangent, I can feel it. There are far too many rabbit holes.

Right now, we want clarity on what the equivalent of a human brain will be? Dr Stuart Russell is a Professor of Computer Science in The University of California. He is known for his contribution to AI. In a talk, last year he states

“There are still major breakthroughs that have to happen before we reach anything that resembles human-level AI,” Russell explained. “One example is the ability to really understand the content of language so we can translate between languages using machines… When humans do machine translation, they understand the content and then express it. And right now, machines are not very good at understanding the content of language. If that goal is reached, we would have systems that could then read and understand everything the human race has ever written, and this is something that a human being can’t do… Once we have that capability, you could then query all of human knowledge and it would be able to synthesize and integrate and answer questions that no human being has ever been able to answer because they haven’t read and been able to put together and join the dots between things that have remained separate throughout history.”

That last paragraph maybe worth reading again just so you fully comprehend the magnitude of the breakthrough Dr Russell is talking about. Something that knows EVERYTHING! Having access to that something, that technology, that AI will enhance your life in ways you cannot imagine. A superhuman assistant that will make you feel like you have a superpower.

It will be able to forecast things enabling you to make better decisions and smarter choices. For instance, I wake up today and the decision I need to make is whether I am going to the office or not. The forecast may be able to give me the percentage likelihood of whether I catch the coronavirus by doing the journey into London on public transport. These all-knowing algorithms will determine most decision made in the world. The advice and mentoring will hike up your lifestyle and career prospects. It won’t have emotions jarring its rational or logic and will have knowledge beyond the capacity of any human on earth!

Whether everyone will be onboard with having their life determined by AI is up for debate. However, I feel it will be like deciding to sit or stand in a football stadium, if everyone is standing and you decide to sit, you aren’t watching the game. Shunning the tech is running the risk of being left behind in the evolution of mankind.  My concern is whether everyone can access the evolutionary superpower. Kurzweil is quoted as saying.

“By the 2030s, the nonbiological portion of our intelligence will predominate.”

In his book Spiritual Machines Kurzweil states that we will be wearing computers and then implanting computers directly in ourselves. The difference between an enhanced human and a non-enhanced human (which is what me and you are) will be incomprehensibly vast. Moore’s Law which is used often in the book suggests that the capacity of a computer doubles every two years. Meaning that once a computer has reached the capabilities of one human brain it will accelerate past human intelligence voraciously fast after that.

The late Stephen Hawking’s famously said that when AI designs better AI than human programmers then we may have “machines whose intelligence exceeds ours by more than ours exceeds that of snails.” To conclude, I feel the arms race to build the best algorithms and AI is simply because whoever possesses the best AI will not only dominate the markets but perhaps the world. I have no doubt that Artificial Intelligence will enable us to do some of our best work. And it will probably be the last invention we need to make. It will be wise to enjoy its infancy, not rush and take care raising it.

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