There were two conferences in San Francisco last week that featured some powerhouse speakers from the AI world, including leaders from Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, OpenAI, Uber and UC-Berkeley. VentureBeat was on the scene at both and reported on a few seemingly interesting talks, all of which I’ll link to below. The connecting theme, however, appears to be, as Google’s Fei-Fei Li put it, that we’re at “the end of the beginning” with AI.
What that means, essentially, is that there have been some major breakthroughs and there has been enough value created that investments in AI will continue for the foreseeable future. There won’t be another “AI winter,” where funding vanishes because the technology can’t deliver on promises to customers, CEOs or university president. If anything, it’s actually difficult to keep up with the pace of advances.
On the other hand, there’s presumably a big gap between the beginning and any sort of end point in AI. As the researchers all noted, AI is not yet “intelligent” in the same way that humans are intelligent, and it will likely be a long while before that happens. In the meantime, we still need to solve with very real practical problems, such as building systems with at least a working method of contextualizing environments, and establishing regulations around, say, how certain is certain enough for applications such as driverless cars.
These are the types of messages I wish most people would get about AI, rather than the fear-stoking pieces about job losses and existential threats, or the breathless puff pieces extolling how AI will completely transform business as we know and turn the citizenry into one big leisure class. Aside from being great clickbait, these actually are all important issues, but there also are lots of smart people already thinking about how to address them.
For everyday citizens and businesspeople, I think the bigger threat is actually believing the hype without having a real understanding of today’s reality (and what the term even means in most settings). It’s hard to see how we’ll be able to ride the AI wave smoothly—to take advantage of it meaningfully today and plan for a future where models might be much more powerful—when we’re drowning in a sea of hyperbole. At least the people actually working in the field seem grounded in reality.
Here are the writeups of those three conference sessions, which are short but good: