Rapid developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI), especially the sub domains of Reinforcement Learning and Machine Learning are high on the agendas of government policy makers in many countries. Last year the US Government* issued comprehensive reports on AI and its possible benefits and impact on society, likewise the European Union and other agencies are also active in reviewing policies on AI, Robotics and associated technology. As recent as one week ago the UK government initiated a new request for comments to its AI subcommittee – What are the implications of Artificial Intelligence?
On the back of the high level of interest from governments and policy makers around the world a new study, Artificial Intelligence and National Security, by researchers at the Harvard Kennedy Center on behalf of the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) recommends three goals for developing future policy on AI and national security
- Preserving U.S. technological leadership,
- Supporting peaceful and commercial use, and
- Mitigating catastrophic risk
The authors say their goals for developing policy are developed by lessons learned in nuclear, aerospace, cyber, and biotech and that Advances in AI will affect national security by driving change in three areas: military superiority, information superiority, and economic superiority.
Setting out their position the authors make the case that existing AI developments “have significant potential for national security.”
Existing machine learning technology could enable high degrees of automation in labor-intensive activities such as satellite imagery analysis and cyber defense.
They further emphasize that AI has the potential to be as transformative as other major technologies, stating that future progress in AI has the potential to be a transformative national security technology, on a par with nuclear weapons, aircraft, computers, and biotech.
The changes they see in military superiority, information superiority, and economic superiority are outlined below:
For military superiority, they write progress in AI will both enable new capabilities and make existing capabilities affordable to a broader range of actors.
For example, commercially available, AI-enabled technology (such as long-range drone package delivery) may give weak states and non-state actors access to a type of long-range precision strike capability.
In the cyber domain, activities that currently require lots of high-skill labor, such as Advanced Persistent Threat operations, may in the future be largely automated and easily available on the black market.
For information superiority, they say AI will dramatically enhance capabilities for the collection and analysis of data, and also the creation of data.
In intelligence operations, this will mean that there are more sources than ever from which to discern the truth. However, it will also be much easier to lie persuasively.
AI-enhanced forgery of audio and video media is rapidly improving in quality and decreasing in cost. In the future, AI-generated forgeries will challenge the basis of trust across many institutions.
For economic superiority, they find that advances in AI could result in a new industrial revolution.
Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has predicted that advances in AI and related technologies will lead to a dramatic decline in demand for labor such that the United States “may have a third of men between the ages of 25 and 54 not working by the end of this half century.”
Like the first industrial revolution, this will reshape the relationship between capital and labor in economies around the world. Growing levels of labor automation might lead developed countries to experience a scenario similar to the “resource curse.”
Also like the first industrial revolution, population size will become less important for national power. Small countries that develop a significant edge in AI technology will punch far above their weight.
Due to the significant impacts they see from AI they say that Government must formalize goals for technology safety and provide adequate resources, that government should both support and restrain commercial activity of AI and governments should provide more investment and oversight into the long term-focused strategic analyses on AI technology and its implications.
Noting that we are at an inflection point in Artificial Intelligence and autonomy, the researchers outline multiple areas they believe AI driven technologies will disrupt military capabilities – capabilities, which they say, will have far reaching consequences in warfare.
Policy makers around the world would do well to consider carefully the scenarios outlined in the study to ensure that AI technologies are adequately governed to provide assurances to citizens and ultimately to ensure that AI technologies benefit humanity.
*US Government and Agencies recent papers
June 2016—Defense Science Board: “Summer Study on Autonomy”
July 2016—Department of Defense Office of Net Assessment: “Summer Study: (Artificial) Intelligence: What questions should DoD be asking”
October 2016—National Science and Technology Council: “The National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan”
October 2016—National Science and Technology Council: “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence”
December 2016—Executive Office of the President: “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy”
January 2017—JASON: “Perspectives on Research in Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence Relevant to DoD
In a wonderfully titled report, Creating Shareholder Value with AI? Not so Elementary, My Dear Watson, the Equity Research company, Jefferies, LLC, take a hard look at IBM’s bet on cognitive computing, or Artificial Intelligence (AI). The 53 page report is well worth reading to understand why the research analysts consider IBM, despite significant investment in to their cognitive computing platform, Watson is losing the opportunity in AI and hence the authors consider IBM stock to under perform.
On a positive note for AI researchers they do acknowledge there is serious business and economic interest in AI, citing Andrew Ng’s Stanford talk on AI as the new Electricity:
AI is the New Electricity….Our checks confirm that a wide range of organizations are exploring incorporating AI in their business, mostly using Machine and Deep Learning for speech and image recognition applications.
And that IBM has an advantage in terms of technology:
IBM’s Watson platform remains one of the most complete cognitive platforms available in the marketplace today.
But IBM fall flat due to hefty service charges and the inability to attract AI talent:
The hefty services component of many AI deployments will be a hindrance to adoption. We also believe IBM appears outgunned in the war for AI talent and will likely see increasing competition.
I’m never a fan of forecasts for market share, forecasts in Robotics have shown how wide off the mark the industrial robotics landscape is from where it was forecast to be, nevertheless the Jefferies numbers are worth looking at, even if much of AI will be in house in organisations such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc. Jeffery’s seem to think the value of the market, shown in the chart below, is underestimated “we think these forecasts are unlikely to fully capture the value created by internal use of AI applications such as machine learning. For example, Facebook and Amazon are aggressively using machine learning to improve their offerings, make operations more efficient, and create new embedded services.”
The analysts do note that the singularity is not near and provide an interesting chart depicting the areas they see growth… interestingly they see a large percentage of growth in algorithmic trading strategies, equivalent to 17% of the market! Yet strangely indicate health care spend will be slightly less, and driverless AI even less, despite this being where much of AI is heading today.
Many AI Apps Will Take Time to Emerge; The Singularity Is Not Near While we are big believers in the long term potential of AI and see rapid adoption of machine learning in the near term, our checks convince us that many AI methods and applications will take time to be adopted.
The analysts emphasise how IBM is losing the talent war and also has less access to the rich data of Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon. Talent will be a major game changer in AI.
The report also does a good job of showing the current flow of investment by major corporations, in terms of acquisitions, and also investment into AI start-ups. Overall the analysis, except the forecasts, gives a fair overview of the AI market, but omits the major $’s flowing into Academic research and the costs of employing and training AI researchers, which is likely already in the early billions… I do however agree that IBM’s Watson risks not capturing the markets share its technology richly deserves – maybe IBM will end up capitalising by its patent’s as it so often has.
Take a look at the report and judge for yourself (PDF).
Robots are everywhere in the media again. In February 2017 The New York Times Magazine published an article titled, “Learning to Love Our Robot Co-workers” (Tingley 2017). An article in The Washington Post in March 2017 warned, “We’re So Unprepared for the Robot Apocalypse” (Guo 2017). And, in The Atlantic Derek Thompson (2015, 2016) paved the way in the summer of 2015 with “A World without Work,” followed in October 2016 with an article asking, “When Will Robots Take All the Jobs?”
The automation narrative told by these articles and other coverage is a story in which the inevitable march of technology is destroying jobs and suppressing wages and essentially making large swaths of workers obsolete.
What is remarkable about the automation narrative is that any research on robots or technology feeds fear, even if the bottom-line findings of the research do not validate any part of it.
There are some good new research papers and essays that seek to dismantle the claim of a world without work. One such paper is highlighted below.
In a June 2017 paper, titled: “Does Productivity Growth Threaten Employment?” together with a talk at the European Central Bank (ECB) – “Robocalypse Now?”, co-researchers, David Autor and Anna Salomons, set out 200 years of fears of mass unemployment driven by automation.
Autor and Salomon sought to test for evidence of employment-reducing technological progress. Harnessing data from 19 countries over 37 years, they characterize how productivity growth — an omnibus measure of technological progress — affects employment across industries and countries and, specifically, whether rising productivity ultimately diminishes employment, numerically or as a share of working-age population. They focus on overall productivity growth rather than specific technological innovations because (a) heterogeneity in innovations defies consistent classification and comprehensive measurement, and (b), because productivity growth arguably provides an inclusive measure of technological progress: The findings:
In brief, over the 35+ years of data that we study, we find that productivity growth has been employment-augmenting rather than employment-reducing; that is, it has not threatened employment.
Another way to consider the robots taking all the jobs, at least in the short term, is summed up by the outgoing Chief Executive of General Electric, Jeff Immelt who did not mince words regarding his feelings about the impending automation take over. Speaking at the Viva Teach conference in Paris, Immelt said:
I think this notion that we are all going to be in a room full of robots in five years … and that everything is going to be automated, it’s just BS. It’s not the way the world is going to work.