Data Sheet—Why We Can Stop Worrying About AI Taking Over

The machines are coming after us. Elon Musk repeatedly warns us to be very afraid. Masayoshi Son is so convinced of the coming “singularity” that he’s busy buying up stakes in companies with enough of the right data.

I recently met a super-smart scientist who is neither concerned about an AI takeover nor complacent about the meaningful changes artificial intelligence will bring. He is Richard Socher, chief scientist at software maker Salesforce and an adjunct professor of computer at Stanford. Socher founded a company called MetaMind that he sold to Salesforce last year. He’s busy integrating the fruits of his research—his field is “deep learning for natural language processing and computer vision”—into Salesforce’s products, specifically its Einstein-branded AI technology.

A 34-year-old German, Socher is having quite the career. He got into deep learning at just the right time, as algorithms became powerful enough to make the kind of advances that had eluded researchers for years. He’s applying his expertise to mundane but commercially powerful concepts, like letting a computer read customer emails to flag, for example, upset customers or those most likely to purchase. He also teaches a wildly popular course on natural language processing. More than 650 students enrolled the last time he taught it, and more watch on YouTube.

Socher is ideally positioned to resolve the debate between the humanists and the Terminators. He’s firmly in the humanist camp. “There’s no reason right now to be worried about self-conscious AI algorithms that set their own goals and go crazy,” he says. “It’s just that there’s no credible research path, currently, towards that. We’re making a huge amount of progress and we don’t need that kind of hype to be excited about current AI.”

Socher’s “no credible research path” is as strong a declaration as a scientist can make. He says, in fact, that the biases of human researchers and the diversity of humans building the AIs are more concerning than AIs taking over. “AI systems are only as good as the training data that they get,” he says. “So if your training data has certain biases, sexist or racist biases, your AI will pick those up.”

I’ll have more to share about Socher’s employer tomorrow, when we release a new issue of Fortune.


Still in the dark. The mysterious startup Magic Leap, thought to be developing an augmented reality device of some kind, raised over $500 million from investors including Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, Alibaba, and Singapore's state-owned investment company, Temasek Holding. The company has raised a total of nearly $2 billion as it develops a light-based computing technology known as silicon photonics.

Still shrinking. The less-mysterious, century-old tech giant IBM reported its 22nd consecutive quarter of lower revenue. But the stock is shooting up 6% in premarket trading on Wednesday thanks to some green shoots of growth in newer areas like cloud computing and big data analytics. While overall revenue dropped 0.4% to $19.2 billion, that was about $500 million more than analysts expected. The overflow was aided by the subset of so-called strategic imperative businesses, which grew 11% to $8.8 billion.

Still normalizing. After repeatedly being called on to rebuke President Trump's attacks on NBC News and other outlets, Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai came to the defense of the media, sort of. The Trump appointee did not mention Trump, but said his agency did not have the authority to follow the President's suggestion that a broadcaster should lose its license due to the content of a newscast. "The FCC under my leadership will stand for the First Amendment," Pai said.

Still no products. Regina Dugan, the head of Facebook’s secretive hardware unit known as Building 8, is stepping down to "focus on building and leading a new endeavor," which she didn't explain. A former top researcher for the military's DARPA lab and at Google, Dugan joined Facebook to start Building 8 in April, 2016.

Still too many trolls. Details of Twitter's latest efforts to combat abusive and inappropriate posts leaked to Wired on Tuesday. Instead of outright banning certain kinds of content or groups, the new effort focuses on better reporting by allowing people who witness abuse–not just victims–to report the misbehavior. Hate symbols may be hidden behind a "sensitive image" banner.

Still improving. It's been a big week for new hardware. Microsoft's Surface Book and Razer's Stealth laptops on Tuesday got updates that incorporated Intel's latest 8th generation mobile CPUs. HP created a new tablet with detachable keyboard it dubbed the ZBook X2 with a very powerful graphics card targeted at artists and designers. Chinese gadget maker ZTE introduced a new foldable smartphone with two screens called the Axon M. And Garmin debuted a smart speaker for the car connected to Amazon's Alexa platform.

Still on the desktop. Not wanting to be left out, Google followed up its recent hardware event with an overhaul of its calendar software. The redesign is meant to be more responsive and look better. New features include a conference room booker and file manager. The company also disclosed that its new Pixel 2 phones contain a Google-designed chip to aid image processing and photography.


The debate about Apple's direction since the death of Steve Jobs is a tired one. But regardless of who is running the company, questions persist about Apple's product innovations and designs. Criticism of the original Apple watch software, the current Apple TV remote, and many other small features could be simply a few mistakes in a long run of overall excellence or persistent signals of fading dominance in design.

Casey Johnston, an editor at the Wirecutter, has a long exploration of another recent misstep, the redesigned keyboard on the MacBook Pro. In a piece for The Outline, Johnston explains how the keyboard's flaws baffle Apple's Genius Bar staffers.

“Maybe it's a piece of dust,” the Genius had offered. The previous times I'd been to the Apple Store for the same computer with the same problem — a misbehaving keyboard — Geniuses had said to me these exact same nonchalant words, and I had been stunned into silence, the first time because it seemed so improbable to blame such a core problem on such a small thing, and the second time because I couldn't believe the first time I was hearing this line that it was not a fluke. But this time, the third time, I was ready. “Hold on,” I said. “If a single piece of dust lays the whole computer out, don't you think that's kind of a problem?”


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That yummy piece of sushi you ate last night might not have been as fresh as it seemed. Almost all fish served as sushi, even at higher-end restaurants, has been frozen at some point along the way from ocean to table, Medium reports. But fear not, other special techniques protect and enhance flavor.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.
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