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Exploring the future of Artificial Intelligence

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mcafeeAndrew McAfee, co-author of “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies,” said “We ain’t seen nothing yet” when it comes to rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and deep learning.

“The overwhelming conclusion in our research is, these are the warm-up acts,” McAfee, principal research scientist for MIT’s Center for Digital Business, said to a crowd on Nov. 5 at Dell World in Austin, Texas.

McAfee and his “Second Machine” co-author, Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Center for Digital Business, discussed how quickly the technology has evolved in just a few years, from Google’s autonomous vehicles that have driven thousands of miles to IBM’s Watson that was taught how to win “Jeopardy!”

“So what does this mean for the economy and the changing world?” Brynjolfsson said.

McAfee picked up from there, discussing potential benefits of AI, including its impact on people seeking mental health treatment. Ellie, a virtual therapist, has been particularly effective getting patients to open up, he pointed out.

“We learned that people are more likely to disclose sensitive information when talking to Ellie than when dealing with human therapist,” he said. “People are more likely to share personal uncomfortable stuff when it’s a piece of technology on the other end.”

At the same time, superintelligence has its limitations, which is why we shouldn’t worry about our jobs being replaced, Brynjolfsson said. Instead, people should focus on adapting to the new workforce, he said, predicting that we’ll see a new set of jobs in the next five to 10 years, the same way we have in recent years.

“It starts with education — as the machines are advancing, we need to be adjusting and flexible,” Brynjolfsson said.

And for young people who are growing up with artificial intelligence, plenty of resources are online to get them acquainted with the technology, McAfee said, adding that it’s important to teach young kids that “the world is a really interesting place and to go poke at it.”

So is it a positive thing that technology is innovating quickly, creating a new set of jobs and making life more convenient or a negative thing because it’s eliminating the jobs that we have?

McAfee sees it as a powerful tool and nothing more — it doesn’t make our lives better or worse.

“The mistake is calling technology destiny,” he said.

Rather, it’s best to focus on the ways we can leverage this technology to improve our lives and pursue our own business endeavors. Prior to their talk about the book, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian encouraged the crowd of tech-centric folks to find their inner creators, as he did with his first attempt at entrepreneurship, MMM, short for My Mobile Menu. MMM, his failed mobile app, allowed users to skip lines by ordering meals off their phones.

“We didn’t have the right timing, but we had the right idea,” he said.

Ohanian, co-founder of one of the most well-known websites with some 175 million users worldwide, said it didn’t stop him from continuing his entrepreneurship.

“All you need is an Internet connection and a laptop to get started,” he said. “Programming is the new wizardry; people with this literacy have the power to create.”

Ohanian emphasized that technology has affected every single industry, and “the more we think of ourselves as creators, the better off we’ll be.”

No matter what niche they’re pursuing, Ohania added, “we’re all here with front-row seats to this change,” and to push forward because “the opportunity is now.”


Megan Anderle

Megan Anderle

Megan Anderle is a journalist based in northern New Jersey who writes about technology, business, and sustainability. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Forbes, and The Record.

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