There is a television news show called “60 Minutes” that runs here in the US.  It runs after our Sunday football games.  I usually don’t watch the show, and rarely comment on media, but this week they had a segment on artificial intelligence.  The first part of the segment talked a lot about the history of the Watson technology, including the use of Watson on Jeopardy, and some of the different tasks that it has been put to.  There was a big emphasis on the work done around Watson for Oncology.    What they talked about a bit, but didn’t really show, was the many different ways that Watson and other artificial intelligence implementations are working in the world right now.  The first segment was pretty accurate, with only one big glaring error.  They keep referring to Watson as a “thing”, almost a single sentient being.  Watson is actually a collection of services that express various capabilities of artificial intelligence.  (Authors note: It was also really cool to see some of my Austin co-workers, like Rob High, on network television.)

The second part talks about the future of AI.  They spend a lot of time looking forward at what AI can become, and they begin to have a discussion about the ethics of artificial intelligence.  They mentioned the recent effort of the five industry leaders (Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, Facebook and Alphabet) in the ethics of artificial intelligence.  They didn’t get into anything resembling the deep conversations being held right now about displacement of workers, AI ethics, and the ultimate control of AI.  There are a lot of issues here, and they touched on some of the more “scary” scenarios, without going into any depth.

I will be interested to see what kind of feedback and reaction this gets from the “general public”.  The early reactions range from, “Do these guys understand the dangers?  Don’t they read Azimov or watch movies?” (yes – we’re extremely familiar with these things, we’re not one dimensional geeks), to people who know something about the subject wondering why they didn’t discuss neural nets and deep learning (because it’s a 30 minute show meant for public consumption).  It all comes down to educating the general public on exactly what AI does, what is doesn’t do, and what it is capable of.  That will be a long mission.  Computers and software have been around for roughly 70 years, and it’s only in the past 10 to 20 years that the general public has come to a general understanding of those.  We have a long way to go……

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