Sunday, January 22, 2017

On the Disruption of Artificial Intelligence - Notes from Davos

  • Last week, the World Economic Forum released comments about artificial intelligence in “The Global Risks Report 2017” which included: “Every step forward in artificial intelligence (AI) challenges assumptions about what machines can do. Myriad opportunities for economic benefit have created a stable flow of investment into AI research and development, but with the opportunities come risks to decision-making, security and governance. Increasingly intelligent systems supplanting both blue- and white-collar employees are exposing the fault lines in our economic and social systems and requiring policy-makers to look for measures that will build resilience to the impact of automation … Tasks such as trading stocks, writing sports summaries, flying military planes and keeping a car within its lane on the highway are now all within the domain of [AI]. As [AI] applications expand, so do the risks of these applications operating in unforeseeable ways or outside the control of humans
  • Comments from attendees at the organization’s annual Davos gathering included:
  • CEO Marc Benioff - “I think now about how artificial intelligence will create digital refugees and how people will be displaced from jobs, tens of millions of people across the planet, because technology is moving forward so rapidly … This is the moment, I think, when we have the highest level of anxiety because we can see advances in AI that are beyond what we had expected … It’s happening at a rate and a capability that we are worrying about how it will impact the everyman, the broad range of workers around the world … There is no clear path forward”,
  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman -  "Jobs will be lost, jobs will evolve and this revolution is going to be ageless, it's going to be classless and it's going to affect everyone",
  • Procter & Gamble CEO  David Taylor -  "If we don't own responsibility (for the problem of displaced workers), it's only going to get bigger", 
  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella - “Is the surplus [benefit] that is going to be created because of breakthroughs in AI . . . only going to the few or is it going to be more inclusive growth? That is a very pressing challenge … I think we’ve got to talk about how the surplus is distributed.”

  • Regardless of the concerns shared by some Davos attendees, the use of AI will become more pervasive as businesses integrate it into various products and services to improve efficiency and lower costs.
  • Those hoping that populist-driven policy initiatives will address technology disruption will likely be disappointed.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

"Alexa, How was the Consumer Electronics Show?"

  • Last week, as thousands of companies displayed their latest products in Las Vegas, comments from media outlets included:
  • WIRED - “Alexa Just Conquered CES. The World Is Next – You can’t walk the sprawling floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center without tripping over a speakeran appliance , or even a robot or two that supports Alexa. Amazon’s voice assistant is clearly the darling of CES 2017.”
  • Wall Street Journal – “Amazon’s talking, helping, sometimes wisecracking virtual assistant became a hit in 2016, built into the company’s line of Echo countertop speakers. At the big CES electronics trade show in Las Vegas this week, she started taking over all kinds of other gadgets.”
  • Billboard - “Amazon's virtual assistant Alexa is shaping up to be a regular fixture at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), kicking off Thursday in Las Vegas, with the tech … in products ranging from power switches and vacuums to smart speakers for kids.”
  • Bloomberg - “Amazon has been partnering with prominent brands to rapidly expand Alexa’s reach. Echo users can order a pizza from Domino’s or check their balances on a Capital One credit card. In December, Wynn Las Vegas and Amazon announced plans to equip all 4,748 rooms in the resort with the Echo, enabling guests to control lightsroom temperaturedrapery and televisions via voice commands.”
  • Separately cover of The Economist stated “Now we’re talking – Voice computing Comes of Age”, with commentary including  ”Creative and truly conversational computers able to handle the unexpected are still far off. Artificial-intelligence (AI) researchers can only laugh when asked about the prospect of an intelligent HALTerminator or Rosie (the sassy robot housekeeper in “The Jetsons”). Yet although language technologies are nowhere near ready to replace human beings, except in a few highly routine tasks, they are at last about to become good enough to be taken seriously. They can help people spend more time doing interesting things that only humans can do. After six decades of work, much of it with disappointing outcomes, the past few years have produced results much closer to what early pioneers had hoped for.”

  • Alexa and other digital assistants, such as Microsoft CortanaApple Siri, and Google Assistant will facilitate the creation of new classes of applications in many markets. 
  • Concerns about the use of these services  include 1) increased exposure to cyber-crime, 2) erosion of privacy and 3) displacement of jobs.
  • As clever as these solutions seem, the market is still at an early stage of evolution.