Over the past few decades, a group of smart guys have been building artificial intelligence systems that have had a profound impact on our daily lives. But do they – and their billionaire companies – have human intelligence to ensure the safety and ethics of artificial intelligence?
Questions like this are part of the history and overview of artificial intelligence in Cade Metz’s book “Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought AI to Google, Facebook, and the World”.
On Monday, January 17, Metz, technology correspondent for the New York Times and former senior editor of Wired magazine, is the lead speaker in the 2022 non-fiction writers series, sponsored by the nonprofit Friends of the Library of Collier County, which raises money for public library programs and resources.
Learn more about the series:Collier County Nonfiction Author Series slated for early 2022, will be in person
AND:Florida-based authors headline the Bonita Springs Library Friends Luncheon
The lecture series includes breakfast and this year will be held at a new venue, the Kensington Country Club in Naples. The series is sold out, but you can contact Friends to be put on a waiting list. (See the information box for more details.)
Metz grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, where his parents met while they both worked for IBM, so IT is in his blood. His father helped develop the Universal Product Code (UPC) – that ubiquitous bar code that is now found on absolutely everything. Metz attended Duke University as an IBM scholarship student, majoring in English and considering becoming a writer, while also working at IBM as a programmer.
“Genius Makers,” his first book, focused on technological advancements, but his real impetus was to write about the fascinating characters who developed these ideas and visions. The book focuses on two unusual men whose research in artificial intelligence has led to a technological arms race. And that raises intriguing questions, such as: what does it mean to be human?
Metz answered a few questions ahead of his speech in Naples.
Daily News from Naples: What are the most common everyday examples of how AI (artificial intelligence) has affected the world over the past 20 years?
Cade Metz: The best examples are talking digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, which have improved dramatically over the past decade. They can recognize spoken words with human precision. Their synthetic voices are more and more realistic. And although they haven’t yet reached the point where they can actually conduct a conversation – really understand the meaning of what they’re hearing and respond to it correctly – their language skills continue to improve.
Meanwhile, the fundamental concepts behind these digital assistants drive a wide range of other technologies, including online services like Google Translate that instantly translate between languages and warehouse robots that sort giant bins of random things.
NDN: The dream of self-driving cars is, for most people, the face of how AI could change our lives. How safe do you think a real self-driving car is in, say, the next decade?
CM: This technology continues to improve. But it is still far from everyday life. Only one company – a Google spin-off called Waymo – actually offers self-driving car service, and that’s in the suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, where the roads are wide, pedestrians are few, and the weather is fine. clement. When it rains, the company interrupts service and sometimes, when the cars are unable to navigate on their own, the company uses remote control software to restart them. This means that it will likely be a decade or more before these vehicles become mainstream.
NDN: It was such a wonderful phrase at the beginning of your book: “As an undergraduate student at Harvard (in the 1940s), using over three thousand vacuum tubes and a few parts from an old B- bomber. 52, (Marvin) Minsky built what could have been the first neural network. Is this kind of hobby science, built in a garage, still possible, given the speed of current innovation and the billions of dollars that are spent on development?
CM: It certainly is. It happens all the time, inside and outside universities. But in the AI arena, this has been overshadowed by the work of giant companies like Google and Facebook. This is one of the common threads of my book: Universities are struggling to keep up with the rapid pace of advancement in the tech industry. This is a real problem. Much of the talent goes to industry, leaving the cupboard empty at universities. Who will teach the next generation? Who will keep the big tech companies in check?
NDN: I was amused to see that Google and DeepMind have put together a team “dedicated to what they called ‘AI security’, an effort to ensure that the technologies in the lab do no harm.” My question is: who defines evil in this race to monetize new technologies? For example, isn’t the staggering amount of electrical energy used to operate these systems harmful to the world?
CM: I’m glad you had fun. These companies say we should trust them to keep AI “safe” and “ethical”, but the reality is that safety and ethics are in the eye of the beholder. They can give these terms whatever they want. Many of the AI researchers at the heart of my book are really concerned about how AI will be misused – how it will cause damage – but when they get into these big companies, they find their points of view conflict with the economic goals of these tech giants. .
NDN: Similarly, you discuss how neural networks “learn” by sucking data from the web. Given that much of what is on the web is false or misleading – sometimes inadvertently, sometimes on purpose – who is the gatekeeper to ensure that what is “learned” is correct? Even the word “correct” is often subjective now.
CM: A neural network – the idea at the heart of modern AI – is a mathematical system that learns tasks by analyzing data. By spotting patterns in thousands of cat photos, for example, a neural network can learn to identify a cat. It is the technology that allows Siri to recognize spoken words. It allows Google Translate and Skype to translate from one language to another. The problem is, this technology learns from huge amounts of data that we humans cannot fully understand. The designers of these systems cannot always see the false, misleading, or biased information that ultimately defines the behavior of the technology.
This is a huge problem for a new kind of system that learns language skills from all kinds of texts posted on the Internet. The internet, of course, is full of false and biased information – not to mention hate speech and so many other things that we don’t want our machines to learn about. What is and what is unbiased is subjective. In today’s world, what is and what is not false information is subjective. So, yes, who will be the keeper? Google? Facebook? Government regulators? We do not know.
NDN: Could you talk about gender and racial prejudice? This section of the book was fascinating, like the inability of the AI to differentiate black faces because the network had not seen enough blacks to learn.
CM: It is a very real problem. Researchers have shown that facial recognition systems, speech recognition systems, and the latest conversational systems can be biased against women and people of color. Often this is because the technology is built by white men who don’t realize that they are training these systems with data that only reflects a part of our society. The good news is that tech companies are waking up to the problem, and many activists and researchers are pushing for change. But sometimes it is a difficult problem to solve. And, yes, companies often have their own view of what is and what is unbiased.
The Nonfiction Author Series also announced its 2022 sponsors. Platinum sponsors are Bigham Jewelers, John R. Wood Properties, Stock Development and The Club at Olde Cypress; Gold sponsors are Books-a-Million, Gulf Coast International Properties, Naples MacFriends User Group and The Capital Grille; The silver sponsors are Tradewind Pools and Wynn’s Market.
Prior to each author’s presentation, there will be a raffle among ticket holders for a $ 250 gift certificate from Bigham Jewelers and a $ 100 gift card from The Capital Grille.
What: Author talks and breakfasts that are a major fundraiser for the Collier County public library system
Or: Kensington Country Club, 2700 Pine Ridge Road, Naples
When: Breakfast is served at 8:30 am; the authors speak at 9:15 am, followed by a book signing
Range of authors: Cade Metz, Monday January 17; Catherine Grace Katz, Monday February 14; Jared Diamond, Monday March 7; and Jonathan Kaufman, Monday March 28
COVID Precautions: The Kensington Country Club has a protocol based on CDC guidelines. On an honor basis, people who are sick or have symptoms should not attend; vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask; unvaccinated people should wear a mask until they are seated at their table; and people who have been ill can attend after five days of isolation if they are asymptomatic and wear a mask until they are seated at their tables.
Cost: $ 250 for all four events for Friends of the Collier County Library members, and $ 295 for non-members. Friends memberships start at $ 30 / year and offer access and discounts to other programs; register on collier-friends.org.
Tickets: The series is sold out but there is a waiting list. Email Marlene Haywood at [email protected] or call 239-262-8135.