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By Jonathan Vanian
March 26, 2019

If you need convincing that artificial intelligence will transform the world, I’d like to take you on a trip to Mars.

Well, not the planet, but Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s annual invite-only MARS conference last week in Palm Springs that takes its name from its focus on machine learning, automation, robotics, and space. Over 200 of the world’s leading scientists and technologists gathered to discuss their latest far-out research, a nerve-racking experience for those who presented in front of Bezos himself.

A.I., and its ability to make sense of data, was a common theme. But while it’s easy to dream about the future of A.I., and all the benefits it will supposedly bring, our present day version has room for improvement.

Speakers covered topics like the future of personalized medicine, the use of drone sailboats to forecast catastrophic storms, and the possibility of sending humans to Mars. All of these scenarios depend on computers crunching enormous amounts of data.

As Daphne Koller, co-founder of online learning service Coursera, explained, the cutting-edge analysis used to parse data collected by computers and sensors will likely bleed further into other areas—in her case the biological sciences. This means breakthroughs in healthcare, finance, and any industry that’s informed by data, which is to say, every industry.

At least that’s the hope.

But many conference attendees, including A.I. researchers, executives, and even artists, told me they’re concerned about some of A.I.’s recent stumbles. Consider the problem of A.I. trained on datasets in which certain ethnic groups are underrepresented. This problem can lead to facial-recognition software that works better on people with lighter than darker skin.

While the conference clearly inspired the technologists and scientists to think big, their casual conversations on the sidelines revealed that they are still scratching their heads over many facets of artificial intelligence and the potential problems the technology creates. It’s a confusing, complicated world, and these top researchers are still as perplexed as many of us civilians about how to solve these riddles.

But ultimately, these top scientists, like many business leaders, are hopeful that A.I. will lead to a better future.

As the curator for Fortune’s new weekly Eye on A.I. newsletter, my goal is to give you an overarching view of artificial intelligence, showing you where it excels and where it fails. That includes all of its derivatives like machine learning, deep learning, and neural networks. Don’t worry, I’ll explain what they are and how they’re different from one another.

I’ve covered business and technology for nearly a decade, and am still learning new things every day about artificial intelligence. I’m looking forward to exploring and sharing this critical topic with you.

Please let me know what you want to hear about, what fascinates you, and what it is about A.I. that keeps you up at night. You can sign up for Eye on A.I. here.

Jonathan Vanian


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