Andrew Ng says this time the hype around artificial intelligence is real

Posted: 7 March 2017 | By Darcie Thompson-Fields

Artificial intelligence has already been hailed as the fourth industrial revolution and is poised to shake up the global economy.

Baidu’s chief scientist, Andrew Ng, and chair of the artificial intelligence and robotics department at Silicon Valley think tank Singularity University, Neil Jacobstein sat down with The Wall Street Journal’s Scott Austin to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the technology.

Whilst many predict that AI will majorly affect the business world in the future, Ng thinks that we are seeing the effects now.  “AI is creating a lot of new opportunities. Just as about 100 years ago electrification changed every single major industry, I think we’re in the phase where AI will change pretty much every major industry.” He said.

Believe the hype

Citing the decades of hype surrounding artificial intelligence Ng said that it’s different this time.

“Modern industries go through winter, winter, winter, and then eternal spring. I do think we’re in the eternal spring phase of AI, because unlike the earlier waves of maybe overhype, today AI is creating tremendous value for firms like Baidu and Google.

This creates a very clear revenue stream with which to keep investing in and improving AI technology.”

The Baidu chief scientist stated that speech recognition technology has been a focus for the Chinese company. He believes that in a few years’ time we’ll forget what it’s like not to talk to computers.

“You’ll soon forget what it was like before you could talk to computers”

“The difference between speech recognition that is 95% accurate, which is where we were several years ago, versus 99% accuracy isn’t just an incremental improvement.” Said Ng.

It’s the difference between you barely using it, like a couple of years ago, versus you using it all the time and not even thinking about it. At Baidu we have passed the knee of that adoption curve. Over the past year, we’ve seen about 100% year-to-year growth in the daily active use of speech recognition across our assets, and we project that this will continue to grow.

In a few years, everyone will be using speech recognition. It will feel natural. You’ll soon forget what it was like before you could talk to computers.”

Both Ng and Jacobstein agreed that AI will need a lot of customisation for your business context. Due to the rapid development of the technology, Jacobstein stated the importance of having a team that can keep up.

“I believe in the power of small, interdisciplinary teams that have support high up in the corporation. It’s very important to match the speed of the technology with the nimbleness of the teams. And having a centralised AI guru at the top, where everybody has to ask questions of that person, is unlikely to be as fast and effective as having a decentralised organisation with powerful teams, with real talent.”

AI will create jobs we can’t even imagine yet 

Jacobstein thinks that people will be surprised by the pace of automation and job disruption caused by machine learning. He estimates that this transition will occur over the next 10 to 15 years.

“For that reason, we need to invest heavily in free education and explore various ways to provide a basic income [to those who are displaced].” He said.

But it’s not all bad news, just as AI will destroy jobs, it will create new jobs that we can’t yet imagine.

“The good news is that AI and robotics are going to generate massive amounts of new wealth. Our responsibility is to make sure that in addition to having our companies be successful, people who get displaced have a reasonable quality of life.”

“But the real question is, “What’s the ratio of jobs destroyed to new jobs?” I think at least in the short term, that could be an unfavourable ratio.”

You can watch the full interview below.



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