Before you start reading this, here’s a question. When it comes to AI, are you on the side of robots or humanity? If you’re one of the 34 workers at the Japan’s Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance who was made redundant directly as a result of AI, (AI will take over their jobs by calculating policy payouts), you might be on the side of humanity. Or, you might be that progressive in your thinking that you’re unemployed and still come out on the side of the robots.

However you feel about AI, it’s been brewing for a while now, and according to Fortune magazine, 2017 is ‘The Year of AI’. The Googles of this world would probably agree. Their CEO, Sundar Pichai has said several times that the Google of the future is going to be “AI first”.  So what will this mean for you, for us, for humanity?

Maybe it’s appropriate here to define AI. Broadly, AI is the ability of a computer to understand your question, to search its vast memory banks, and to give you the best, most accurate, answer. It’s the ability of a computer to process a vast amount of information for you, make decisions, and take (and/or advise you to take) appropriate action. In it’s more basic form, we are already exposed to AI. Love it or hate it, think Siri on your i-Phone or IBM Watson’s supercomputer.

Back to Google. Remember Google Translate? If you’ve used it in the past, it’s been a bit hit and miss. But late last year something extraordinary happened. Google had been working on it’s neural network development (machines and algorithms developed to behave like the human brain) and in September it put Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) online. It improves how Google Translate works by looking into entire sentences instead of words or short phrases. It uses this broader context to help it figure out the most relevant translation, which it then rearranges and adjusts to be more like a human speaking with proper grammar. Since it’s easier to understand each sentence, translated paragraphs and articles are a lot smoother and easier to read. And essentially, the system learns over time to create better, more natural translations. Pretty impressive right?

But, there’s more. The algorithm taught the neural network how to translate between Portuguese to English and English to Spanish for example. However, even without the transition between languages, the AI was able to translate Portuguese direct to Spanish, and it did it all by itself. The technique the AI used to do so was ‘invented’ by the AI on its own. It created its own language to translate between languages without it being taught how.


So if AI is able to do that on it’s own, what will it be able to do in the future? In theory, this means humanity will become more efficient and live better. We will have technology to analyse and interpret all of our data, including unstructured text, images, audio and video. So AI would be able to read large quantities of documents, aiding services ranging from healthcare to financial advice.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bit scary when you consider what the potential of AI could be. If I had to choose I’d take the side of the robots because ultimately the benefits will outweigh the risks / dangers, particularly when you think about how it could transform industries such as healthcare. For something artificial, it seems to be becoming very very real.



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