The Real Future of Artificial Intelligence

Last Tuesday, it was announced that Intel would be acquiring Nervana, a full-stack machine learning startup founded in 2014, for over $400M. This acquisition demonstrates the continued interest among both startups and big technology companies in artificial intelligence and machine learning. According to Pitchbook, AI M&A activity has blossomed from 6 acquisitions in 2013 to 19 in 2014 to 25 in 2015, an increase which “has the potential to fuel even more interest, as exit opportunities are among the major factors VCs consider when investing in a space or a company.”

Among this week’s articles, Steve Jurvetson of DFJ, an investor in Nervana, writes in his article Intelligence Inside that “machine learning […] is the most powerful advance in engineering since the Scientific Method. Machine learning allows us to build software solutions that exceed human understanding, and shows us how AI can innervate every industry.” This potential is explained more concretely by Ezra Galston in The Economics Underlying Chatbot Mania (an article we shared in April) via an example of how AI-based chatbots have the potential to create huge economic value for companies that rely on customer service agents — the business potential for such a relatively straightforward application of artificial intelligence is huge.

However, the full potential of AI lies not just in doing the same things more cheaply or quickly. As Jeff Hawkins, an artificial intelligence thought leader and co-founder of the machine intelligence company Numenta, explains in his book On Intelligence, “we would be foolish to think we can predict the revolutionary applications of brain-like memory systems. I fully expect these intelligent machines to improve life in all sorts of ways. We can be sure of it. But predicting the future of technology more than a few years out is impossible.” AI and machine learning are about much more than faster computations; they are about creating systems that can literally learn as humans do, thus changing their behaviors over time to achieve better and better results. In conjunction with the fundamental strengths of computers (computing speed, memory capacity, etc.) and the potential to provide an AI system with more inputs than a human could ever perceive, we can be sure to see some truly amazing and as-yet unimaginable applications that will truly reshape the world and help us address our biggest challenges.

Elon Musk has called AI humanity’s “biggest existential threat,” but also concedes that “It’s definitely going to happen. So if it’s going to happen, what’s the best way for it to happen?” This is an excellent question indeed, and as the generation that is sitting on the cusp of a new wave of AI, it’s worthwhile for us to help answer the question. As a start, I would highly recommend reading Jeff’s book (Amazon, PDF) and watching this AI primer by Andreesen Horowitz Partner Frank Chen.

-Teddy Lee, Contributing Editor

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