A final invention? How AI is changing the world
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Photo Credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / Flickr

We take a look at three industries where AI could become a game changer, as well as the best AI initiatives in those industries that are already seeing momentum

“In 1956, John McCarthy, called the ‘father’ of artificial intelligence (he coined the term) claimed the whole problem of AGI could be solved in six months.” – James Barrat (author of Our Final Invention)

While McCarthy’s vision has yet to be realized 57 years after he made the above statement, computers are getting smarter, and the way we use them continues to move forward at pace. Developments in machine learning and steps towards true artificial intelligence (AI) are at the most advanced point of their evolution to-date.

Before getting into details, here is a brief overview of artificial intelligence (AI) and its subdiscipline machine learning (ML).

Machine learning is a science that involves development of self-learning algorithms. These algorithms are more generic in nature and can be applied to various industry specific problems. Machine learning uses statistics (mostly inferential statistics) to develop self learning algorithms. A super simplistic example would be how the keyboard on your iPhone learns your commonly typed words and suggests them over time.

Artificial intelligence is machine learning plus seven other aspects that come together to create something sentient, that is not only able to recognize patterns, but also able to question those patterns and become better. AI mimics humanity and will one day (possibly) beat it at a multitude of tasks.

Here’s the simplistic list of all that makes up complete AI with a corresponding Wikipedia link if you want to do some extra research:

1. Reasoning

2. Knowledge representation

3. Automated planning and scheduling

4. Machine learning

5. Natural language processing

6. Computer vision

7. Robotics

8. General intelligence, or strong AI

Most references to AI in and before 2015 relate to machine learning and NLP. They are the parts of AI people are doing really well, and what you hear about most when tech companies speak of AI. All the others are coming along swiftly too, but to say we have cracked the full AI problem would be a lie.

“Google will fulfill its mission only when its search engine is AI-complete” Larry Page, founder of Google.

For those in the technology industry, AI has become a catchall for a multitude of computational achievements. It’s important to note that some of these ‘learning’ engines are more advanced than others. Below we take a look at three industries where AI could become a game changer, as well as the best AI initiatives in those industries that are already seeing momentum in bringing that change.

Hospitality: Welcome to a humanless check-in

The hospitality industry is highly labor intensive. Staff have to be employed to welcome guests, clean their rooms, serve them drinks, and open doors. It is an industry where robotics, natural language processing, machine learning, and computer vision can bring the most change.

Imagine a hotel where autonomous vacuum cleaners replace an army of maids, or where check-in is done from your watch without any human communication. That doesn’t sound too far fetched, right?

In the UK, one chain of hotels opened its doors this year with just that vision. Hub Hotels from family hotel giant Premier Inn launched with the features above, plus a lot more. While it isn’t quite a robot on reception, it isn’t a big stretch to get there.

Music: Hear Bach as played by the masters

Glenn Gould is regarded as one of the twentieth century’s greatest pianists, but having sadly died in 1982, the chance to hear a live version of his rendition of Bach’s Goldberg variations has long since passed … or so you might think.

One U.S. startup, which was recently acquired by Steinway Pianos, has recreated his and the keystrokes of many of his contemporaries in perfect accuracy using AI. Zenph Sound Innovations developed a software process that analyzes a recorded piano performance by separating its pianistic attributes from mechanical and environmental factors to an unprecedented degree of specificity and refinement.

Since acquisition, this technology has been integrated into Steinway’s flagship Spirio series of grand pianos, meaning that Gould’s recordings live on again like never before.

This is just step one. Could there be a future where operatic performances are accompanied by an orchestra of robots, offering the same immersive live performance without the skilled manpower needed today?

Translation and language: The fish that feeds on brainwaves

Now this is an area very close to my heart and one I have spent a great deal of my life studying: the future of language technology, and specifically how intelligent algorithms will enable cross-border, multi-language communications seamlessly.

For those still wondering about the subheading, it’s a reference to the brilliant book the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and one of its best contraptions, the Babel fish.

The Babel fish was a tiny leech-like creature that was placed in the ear to make understanding foreign language a thing of the past. This is the promise AI can offer language and translation. Global commerce, politics, and education rely on communication, and if language barriers are removed, we will all operate better.

Many are trying to make this future a reality (myself included) with giants like Google and Microsoft all using machine learning and NLP to create native language solutions to global problems.

Microsoft’s current focus shows some great promise. Their Skype Translator translates conversations on video calls in real-time. While still in a beta phase, this technology, given time, could usher in a new epoch in conversation across business and global communication.

Autonomous driving

This is probably the biggest change we will see in our lifetimes. AI enables cars to drive by themselves and the impact on society will be tremendous. We are constantly reading and hearing news about driverless cars from Google, Uber, Tesla, and Apple, and these advancements will affect us in a myriad of ways.

Three and a half million people work in the truck driving business, and by automating this industry, there will no longer be a need for human drivers, leading to mass unemployment in this sector. On the other hand, the gain will probably be a net positive. There will be a lot less cars on the road, and the ones that will remain will be more efficient and mostly electric. Additionally, there will be less fatalities due to car accidents, and congestion and idle commute time will be eliminated. However, the biggest gain of all will be that the amount of hours that will not be spent behind the wheel will create huge opportunities.

While all the above may sound idealistic, it is becoming more of a reality on a daily basis, and just like the 19th century Luddites that fought the rise of agricultural machinery, there will be fights over the jobs these computers replace.

The coming changes will also create new opportunities. Just like the industrial revolution created new job categories, having more time on our hands will shift what we value. Because humans devote themselves to what society values, we will see entirely new industries rise. Maybe the utopian future of a society of poets and artists is closer than we imagined. One thing humans are still unmatched in, and will be for a long time, is creativity. What’s more valuable than that?

It will be up to minds far greater than mine to decide which way the balance shifts, but I for one am excited to see our intelligence enabled future.

The views expressed are of the author.

Geektime invites global tech and startup professionals to share their opinions and expertise with our readers. If you would like to share your point of view, please contact us at [email protected]

Featured Image Credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / Flickr

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Vasco Pedro

About Vasco Pedro

Vasco Pedro is cofounder and CEO of Unbabel, the Y Combinator-backed startup that combines crowdsourced human translation and machine learning to deliver fast translation services to businesses with human tone and nuance. Vasco previously worked for Google helping to develop technology for data computation and language at scale, and served as a research faculty member at the Technical University of Lisbon. Vasco holds a PhD in Language Technologies from Carnegie Mellon University in the field of computational semantics. Additionally, Vasco is a Fulbright Scholar, mentor, and advisor to a number of startups on top of being a serial entrepreneur.

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