Greetings from CES, the annual consumer electronics extravaganza in Las Vegas that began as an opportunity for retailers to see what gadgets they’d be buying to sell to their customers in the coming year and has evolved into a see-and-be-seen event for the technology industry’s elite.
I led a conversation with Andrew Ng, the leader of Chinese Internet giant Baidu’s artificial intelligence research unit. Ng is a Stanford professor who helped start Google Brain and co-founded online education firm Coursera. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on AI who speaks clearly about the complicated topic in terms businesspeople can relate to.
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Some highlights from our discussion:
* Ng believes every company needs a chief AI officer. AI will become so important and is so confusing to most businesspeople that only an expert can help business leaders make sense of it. Andrew Nusca wrote up in more detail Ng’s thoughts on the matter here.
* If a human can perform a mental task in less than a second, it’s likely a computer aided by AI can take over that task. Image recognition is an example of something computers already can do better than humans. Ng graciously said he thinks it will be a long, long time before a computer can conduct an entertaining onstage interview in front of an audience.
* The notion of evil machines is a silly one, he thinks. Machines are bad at context. Moreover, it’s inconceivable to Ng that computers can learn to think given how little we know about the human brain, which is much better at thinking than any computer.
* That said, AI will replace many jobs that humans currently do. Ng is optimistic that at the same time AI will unleash human creativity to figure out new forms of employment. In the meantime, he’s a fan of universal basic income—not so much so that people don’t have to work but so they can study to retrain themselves.
Ng has been quoted before saying that AI will become so central to our lives that it’s the new electricity. Hearing him talk, it’s easy to see why.