By Alan Murray
January 5, 2017

Good morning.

Clear some space in the C-suite; your company now needs a Chief AI Officer.

So says Andrew Ng, who spoke last night at Fortune’s annual Brainstorm Tech dinner at the CES show in Las Vegas. In an interview with Adam Lashinsky, Ng predicted that five years from now, big company CEOs will “wish they had started earlier thinking about their AI (artificial intelligence) strategies.” In his view, AI is the “new electricity” that will change the fundamental operations of every business.

Ng is chief scientist at Baidu, an adjunct professor at Stanford University, the co-founder of the education company Coursera, author of dozens of published papers on machine learning and artificial intelligence, and a seriously smart guy. He said he and his friends sometimes “play a game – we try and think of an industry that will not be transformed by AI.” The closest they’ve come is hairdressing; but even that, he believes, will ultimately be disrupted.

Ng doesn’t worry much about Elon Musk-like doomsday scenarios, in which AI matches or exceeds human intelligence. Today’s AI is mostly “supervised learning,” he says, in which computers consume vast amounts of data and learn to map inputs to a desired response. It works best in a controlled context, with defined – if massive – data sets.

“Human intelligence does so much more,” he says. “We have pretty much no idea how the human brain works,” and “there is no clear path” to matching it. Worrying about evil AI robots taking over is, in his view, “like worrying about overpopulating Mars.”

But he is concerned about the jobs that will be displaced by AI projects now underway – from truck driving to the factory floor to banking. Job displacement will be “a big challenge.”

I’ll be wandering the sprawling CES show here for the next two days, exploring the latest technological wizardry. Tomorrow, I’ll moderate a conversation with Ford Motor CEO Mark Fields, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, and Flex CEO Mike McNamara at a CES “supersession” on global innovation. Fortunately, AI hasn’t yet mastered the job of conducting interviews.

More news below.

Alan Murray


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