CES Panel Addresses the Myths and Realities of Today’s AI

Artificial intelligence is not particularly well understood, especially by consumers, suggested USA Today technology columnist Ed Baig, who moderated a CES panel on “Myth and Reality in Today’s AI.” One of the biggest myths addressed was that AI results in people losing their jobs. Foundation Capital partner Joanne Chen stated that, “nobody has lost their job due to AI.” Unity Technologies vice president of AI/machine learning Dr. Danny Lange agreed. “People will not lose their jobs but do other things,” he said.

Microsoft US financial services lead for data & AI Robert Fannon added that he thinks of AI as augmenting intelligence. “It’s not a sentient being, but an assistant,” he said. Chen noted that, after two AI “hype cycles” in the 1980s and 1990s, this go-around is different. She ticked off the evolution of algorithm research, infrastructure that has decreased in cost and increased in capability, and, last, the explosion of data.

“AI today is a machine that can do narrowly defined tasks,” she said. “It not the Terminator, but it still has massive implications.” She pointed out Mya, an AI-powered recruiting company that uses a bot to conduct initial interviews. “It replaces 70 percent of what a recruiter does,” she said.

Fannon brought up Robotic Process Automation (RPA) that will take over low-level jobs such as simple data processing. “That job [for humans] will go away,” he said. “But that person can be re-tasked to something that requires higher cognitive thinking.” He added that, “every company we deal with is looking to augment their employees.” “But there are still a lot of people behind the AI that make it smart,” he said.

Lange pointed out that, despite major breakthroughs in computer vision in the last year, groundbreaking technologies still have challenges. “Everyone thought we’d have self-driving cars by now,” he said. “We do if we’re only talking about strictly mechanical like reading signs. But we don’t have a self-driving car that can interact with a human being or deal with unplanned situations. It will happen but it will take awhile.”

Baig asked for panelists to discuss the potentially negative side of AI, and Chen mentioned unintended malicious applications that fall into the area of bias. “We need checks and balances to make sure we’re making the right decisions,” she said.

Lange and Fannon were especially optimistic about the future role of AI. “AI will make the world so much better than anything we can create through human engineering,” said Lange. Fannon noted that today’s AI focuses on IQ — “how smart can you make a toothbrush?” The future, he said, is EQ, or emotional intelligence, creating chatbots that can connect with humans.

Chen cautioned them to not forget the importance of the human touch in critical interactions, such as in the hospital. “What humans do will take a long time to be replaced by machines,” she said. Lange agreed: “[AI will push us to] be more human than we are today.”