Opinion column by CALUM CHACE


Best-selling Author on Artificial Intelligence


Chairman of the conference


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AI : Stay alert to the technological singularity


In the next few decades, life for most people is going to change in extraordinary ways and at an extraordinary rate.  The reason, as usual, is technology.  When a cluster of related technological innovations come along together they can create sufficient change to merit the title of a revolution.  This has happened twice before in human history, with the agricultural and the industrial revolutions, and we are now in the middle of a third: the information revolution.


At the heart of the information revolution lies artificial intelligence.  In the course of this century, this technology, already remarkable, is going to produce two changes in our societies and our lives so profound that they deserve to be called singularities.  (The term “singularity” is borrowed from maths and physics, where it means a point at which a variable becomes infinite. The usual example is the centre of a black hole, where matter becomes infinitely dense.)


The technological singularity is most commonly defined as what happens when the first artificial general intelligence (AGI) is created – a machine which can perform any intellectual task that an adult human can.  It continues to improve its capabilities and becomes a superintelligence, much smarter than any human.  It then introduces change to this planet on a scale and at a speed which un-augmented humans cannot comprehend.


The technological singularity will probably not happen until the second half of this century (and of course there are some who say it will happen much later, or never).  But the economic singularity is not so distant. There is a lot of talk in the media at the moment about automation, and the prospect of many people becoming unemployed because machines can do any job that they could do, and do it cheaper, faster and better.  There is widespread disagreement about whether this is happening already, whether it will happen in the future, and whether it is a good or a bad thing.  My judgement is that it is not happening yet (or at least, not much), but that it will happen in the next few decades.


Both the technological and the economic singularities can produce very good outcomes indeed - if we prepare for them, and manage the transitions successfully.


In the meantime, the rapid development of artificial intelligence throws up all sorts of opportunities and threats for people running businesses.  Industries are being disrupted and revenue models being turned on their heads.  It is an exciting time to be alive, and an exciting time to be in business.  Those who keep themselves informed and stay alert will thrive, but those who remain complacent in the face of rapid and accelerating change may not.



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