OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — The race to develop the most sophisticated artificial intelligence will define geopolitics in the coming decades, much as oil and nuclear weapons defined the 20th century, angel investor Ian Hogarth said at VOICES, BoF’s annual gathering for big thinkers, in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate.
Machine learning has become so sophisticated that it’s spurring a “fundamental speedup” in scientific research and the development of new technology, Hogarth said. Today, that power is mainly being channelled into commercial efforts - think Facebook’s targeted ads, Google’s precise search results or Amazon’s automated warehouses, where humans and robots collaborate to spirit any of millions of items from a shelf into a shipping envelope within minutes.
But artificial intelligence is a growing priority for nations as well. Automated warehouses and self-driving cars have the potential to destroy millions of jobs, and governments want the companies engineering that disruption to be national champions rather than foreign interlopers. The military applications are also obvious, including cyber warfare and autonomous weaponry. And if a country is able to harness machine learning to research new technology faster than rivals, all bets are off, Hogarth said.
It’s an uncanny feeling you have when you see a system that has no human info fed into it being more competent.
“That could be the most profound source of instability,” he said. “You could end up with a state that has the first viable fusion reactor or technology we can’t even imagine today.”
Artificial intelligence refers to technology that can develop new skills and solutions by analysing massive data sets, without human input, a process known as machine learning. For example, Uber’s algorithms that pair riders and drivers constantly improve by incorporating each new journey.
In fashion, companies use artificial intelligence to predict demand and forecast trends, which can then help determine how many shirts or shoes to stock in a particular store or warehouse. Brands are also perfecting automated product recommendations based on consumers’ past purchases, as well as AI-powered chatbots to assist customers.
The pace of development is also accelerating, Hogarth said. IBM’s AlphaGo was the first computer to defeat a human champion at the game of Go in 2016, by first analysing 30 million moves made by human players. Just 18 months later, AlphaZero, which learned solely by playing itself, defeated AlphaGo.
“It’s an uncanny feeling you have when you see a system that has no human info fed into it being more competent,” Hogarth said.
Technology giants based in the US (Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook) and China (Baidu and Alibaba) have the lead in artificial intelligence, in large part because they have pumped orders of magnitude more money into research and development, he said. Governments are plotting to catch up, he added.
AI should be developed as a global public good accessible to all people in all countries.
The US took an early lead, but China is rapidly gaining ground, setting a goal of becoming the world’s artificial intelligence leader by 2030. Those efforts are starting to pay off: over the last decade, the share of papers submitted to top artificial intelligence conferences by Chinese researchers jumped from 5 percent to nearly 50 percent, Hogarth said.
South Korea, France, Germany and the UK are also in the AI race, setting official policies to promote its development and use, and devoting billions of dollars in funding. But they aren’t devoting enough attention to the technology, and spend too much effort competing with each other for AI supremacy rather than cooperating, Hogarth said.
His prescription: governments and companies should cooperate to fund AI research and steer its development toward uses that would benefit humanity as a whole, rather than individual nations or corporations. He compared this effort to a “cross between Wikipedia and the United Nations.”
“AI should be developed as a global public good accessible to all people in all countries,” he said.
To learn more about VOICES, BoF's annual gathering for big thinkers, visit our VOICES website, where you can find all the details on our invitation-only global gathering, in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate.