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Artificial Intelligence Is Center Stage at Brainstorm Tech: Eye on A.I.

These days, executives at big companies come in two flavors, it seems: Those who have already invested in artificial intelligence to sift through their business data and those are considering investing.

That's why A.I. is a key theme at this year’s Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo., a three-day event that kicked off Monday. Our goal, and no doubt for attendees who are writing big checks for A.I., is to cut through the hype over the technology and hear some reality.

People who couldn't join us in the Rockies can watch the sessions through a livestream, including how several top companies are implementing A.I. Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford, for instance, will appear on a panel on Tuesday at 10:05 AM MT that is focused on how the agriculture industry is big on data crunching—highlighting that farmers aren’t tech Luddites.

Salesforce chief scientist Richard Socher and IBM Research executive Dario Gil will also speak at 9:15 AM on Tuesday about how companies can make sure that their A.I.-powered products don't cause unintentional harm. After all, most businesses don't want their chatbots to “learn” to curse from pranksters who feed trash talk to it while they use the technology.

And Joseph Van Valen, a White House Fellow of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, will discuss on Wednesday President Donald Trump’s plans for the future of transportation in the U.S. as it relates to policies touching commercial drones, civil supersonic flight, and self-driving cars. Clearly, A.I. is a thread that links some of these advanced capabilities together.

It should be notes that several analysts and A.I. researchers have criticized the White House’s A.I. plans, revealed in February, for a lack of specifics and money to support it.

So please join us. If you can't make it live, you can always watch archived video of the sessions here on YouTube.

Jonathan Vanian

Story updated Tuesday 5:00 PM PST to reflect updated Brainstorm Technology conference schedule.


Digital road races. Waymo, the autonomous car company that’s a subsidiary of Google-parent Alphabet, told tech news site TechCrunch that it’s gathered about 10 billion miles of computer-simulated autonomous driving data that will be useful to train its self-driving systems. That’s on top of the 10 million miles of real-world driving that the company’s self-driving vehicles have covered. 

You weren’t supposed to hear this. Belgian public broadcaster VRT obtained over a 1,000 recordings of people talking to Google’s voice-activated digital assistant, according to a Wired report. About 150 of those recordings were taken when the Google Assistant mistakenly heard the “wake word” that triggers Google Assistant to record audio. Google says that workers transcribe a small portion of audio recorded via the Google Assistant in order to train the company’s A.I.-powered voice technology.

Automation hits rural cities the hardest. McKinsey Global Institute released a study explaining that advanced automation technologies will negatively impact rural cities and counties, further exacerbating job-loss in those “already-distressed rural regions,” Axios reported. The Axios report said that “only the healthiest local economies will be able to successfully adapt to disruptions caused by the next wave of automation.”

Ford and Volkswagen step on the gas pedal. Volkswagen will invest about $2.6 billion into self-driving car startup Argo AI as part of an expanded partnership between Volkswagen and Ford, which is affiliated with Argo AI through a previous $1 billion investment. The Verge reported that Argo’s post-money valuation would be worth over $7 billion after the deal closes.


Hussein Mehanna, the A.I. chief for autonomous automobile company Cruise (a subsidiary of General Motors) talked to technology publication IEEE Spectrum about A.I.’s challenges: “I believe autonomous vehicle technologies is the most difficult AI problem out there. The magnitude of the challenge of these problems is 1000 times more than other problems. They aren’t as well understood yet, and they require far deeper technology. And also the quality at which they are expected to operate is off the roof.”


GlaxoSmithKline hired Kim Branson as part of the pharmaceutical giant’s efforts to build an A.I. team focused on drug research and development, Bloomberg News reported. Branson was previously an A.I. executive at Genentech.


Know when to fold ’em. Fortune’s Jeremy Kahn reported on a new paper by researchers from Facebook and Carnegie Mellon University detailing the A.I. system Pluribus that defeated six poker champions in a game of “six-player, no-limit Texas Hold ’em.

Khan writes: “Pluribus could achieve super-human performance by simply exploring the possibilities two or three rounds into the future and assuming the other players chose one of four possible strategies each round.”


Meet the Amazon Voice Designer Who Is the ‘Real Alexa’ – By Natallie Rocha

Artificial Intuition Wants to Guide Business Decisions. Can It Improve on ‘Going With Your Gut’? – By Alyssa Newcomb

Game, Set, Machine Learning: How IBM Is Fine-Tuning Its Wimbledon Tech –By Jeremy Kahn


China’s A.I. hits some speedbumps. The Financial Times examines China’s A.I. initiatives and determines that the country is experiencing some speedbumps, partly attributed to the problem of “hype getting ahead of itself.” One of China’s problems involves the country’s efforts to create the next-generation of semiconductors and data center hardware that powers A.I. software, an expensive and time-consuming task. The financial paper explains: “Huge government efforts, billions of dollars, and an accelerated drive to promote self sufficiency in the face of the escalating trade and tech wars, still left China importing more than $300bn of chips last year famously more than it spent importing oil.”