Artificial Intelligence — the future is already here

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Artificial Intelligence — the future is already here

T-Minus AI: Humanity’s Countdown to Artificial Intelligence and the New Pursuit of Global Power by Michael Kanaan, BenBella Books, $27.95, Pp 320, August 2020, ISBN 978-1948836944

On the first day of September 2017, which was also the first day of the new school year in Russia, President Vladimir Putin spoke to more than one million Russian schoolchildren from the city of Yaroslavl, northeast of Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin and advised them to study computer-based artificial intelligence (AI) because “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” However, he cautioned that it would be better to prevent any particular “pair of hands” from achieving a monopoly in the field. He also delivered a message to the world, “Artificial intelligence is the future not only of Russia but of all of mankind… There are huge opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to foresee today.” In T-Minus AI, Michael Kanaan says that Putin’s infamous words proved impactful across continents, industries, and governments. Within a few years, AI has become a dominant force of economic, political, and cultural influence and is poised to transform much of what we know and much of what we do. China, Russia, and others are utilizing AI in ways the world needs to recognize. That is not to say all efforts and iterations in the West are without criticism. They are not. But if this new technology causes a shift in power from the West to the East, everyone will be affected. Everything will change.

Kanaan says that everything about our world is defined and characterized by data, it always has been. More and more, our lives are becoming described and influenced by the creation, preservation, and exchange of digital data. We hear about the explosion and importance of it from everybody. Digital data is the single resource that enables all of AI. He says that most people confuse data with information that’s already been sorted and structured to one extent or another — like the formatted and categorized information presented on a spreadsheet. But it is actually much more than that. Data is the most elementary form of information possible, before it has been sorted, categorized, compared, or analyzed in any manner. He writes, “For everything that exists and for everything that happens in the physical and cultural world around us, the data that fundamentally defines ad describes it, at some point, likewise exists. Our ability to learn requires our capacity to acquire data and to analyze it. Without data, intelligence just isn’t possible, not at any level — and not in any animal, individual or computer.”

Digital data is now referred to as “the new oil.” Kanaan says that it may be a new cliché, but it is essentially true. He write, “Even before data is structure or manipulated in any way, the variety and amounts of it that we generate — about ourselves, our families, our communities and even our cultures — are of immense and powerful commercial and political value.” But, just like oil, it’s also spread unevenly across geographies and nations. An impressive 90 percent population is connected to the internet, which amounts to about 300 million people. By contrast, only 60 percent of china’s population is digitally connected (800 million). In fact, 49 percent of all people using internet are either Chinese or Southeast Asians. Only 17 percent are Europeans and 8 percent American. The value of the disproportionate amounts of data created by these populations, as it relates to AI and particularly as it relates to China will have far-reaching impact on our future.

T-Minus AI provides deep insight in the history and future of artificial intelligence (AI). It may appear a blessing but there are hidden social, military, and other threats which will surface in the future. Kanaan explores the development of AI from the beginning and tries to foresee its future role. As the first chairperson of artificial intelligence for the U.S. Air Force, and current Director of Operations for Air Force / MIT Artificial Intelligence, Michael Kanaan has the right credentials to write on this important subject. He provides a unique perspective on this new and little researched subject. He offers a very weighty argument that the development and growth of AI is likely to tip the balance of power from the West to the East. It is a very accessible and enjoyable read.

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