How AI is changing our civilization

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How AI is changing our civilization

The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity by Amy Webb, PublicAffairs, US $27.00, Pp 324, March 2019, ISBN 978-1541773752

You may think that you are in control of the future of artificial intelligence (AI), you actually are not. The artificial intelligence may turn out to be smarter than its creators. When you order your iPhone Siri to perform a task, you are ordering someone you cannot see and touch. In The Big Nine, Amy Webb discusses how nine big tech corporations — Google, Amazon, Apple, IBM, Microsoft and Facebook in the United States and Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent in China — have emerged as the new gods of AI and changing how we live and think. Unlike many other scholars, Amy Webb argues that AI is a positive force, one that will elevate the next generations of humankind and help us to achieve our most idealistic visions of the future. Researchers working in the AI field and building the future of AI actually want to temper expectations. Most of these experts are building AI in order to usher in a better and brighter future for us all. They rarely share extreme apocalyptic or Utopian visions of the future we tend to hear about in the news.

Amy Webb believes that the leaders of these nine tech companies are driven by a profound sense of altruism and a desire to serve the greater good. However, she argues that the problem is that external forces are pressuring these nine big tech giants — and those working inside the ecosystem. These external forces are actually conspiring against their best intentions for our futures. In the US, relentless market demands and unrealistic expectations for new products and services have made long-term planning impossible. She writes, “We expect Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and IBM to make bold new AI product announcements at their annual conferences, as though R&D breakthroughs can be scheduled. If these companies don’t present us with shinier products than the previous year, we talk about them as if they’re failures.” We ask whether AI is over. Or we question their leadership. Not once have we given these companies a few years to hunker down and work without requiring them to dazzle us at regular intervals.

Amy says that the US government has no grand strategy for using AI for development. Amy explains that the United States governments have subjugated AI to the politics instead of coordinating national strategies to build organizational capacity inside the government, to build and strengthen our international alliances, and to prepare our military for the future of warfare. Instead of funding basic research into AI, the federal government has effectively outsourced R&D to the commercial sector and the whims of Wall Street. She argues that rather than treating AI as an opportunity for new job creation and growth, American lawmakers see only widespread technological unemployment. In turn, they blame US tech giants, when they could invite these companies to participate in the uppermost levels of strategic planning such as it exists within the government. Our AI pioneers have no choice but to constantly compete with each other for a trusted, direct connection with you, me, our school, our hospitals, our cities, and our businesses.

In China, AI’s development track is linked to the grand ambitions of the government. Amy says that China is laying the groundwork to become the world’s unchallenged AI hegemon. In July 2017, the Chinese government unveiled its Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan to become the global leader in AI by the year 2030 with a domestic industry worth at least $150 billion, which involved devoting part of its sovereign wealth fund to new labs and startups, as well as new schools launching specifically to train China’s next generation of AI talent. She says that the future of AL is currently moving along two developmental tracks that are often at odds with what’s best for humanity.

The Big Nine gives deep insights into the role AI is playing in our lives and the direction in which it is headed. Amy Webb adopts a futuristic approach to understand the humans behind AI. As nine tech companies have monopolized the development of AI, she explores if they are driven by altruistic motives or self-interest. She gives a very clear idea of how AI can benefit us and make our lives. But an optimistic future is not the only plausible outcome. The Sino-American rivalry over AI can have disastrous consequences. This meticulously researched book provokes you to think anew about AI. It is a must-read if you want to learn more about AI.

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