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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
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.
With the first ever documented observation of the self-healing phenomena of graphene, researchers hint at future applications for its use in artificial skin.
Graphene, which is, in simple terms, a sheet of pure carbon atoms and currently the world’s strongest material, is one million times thinner than paper; so thin that it is actually considered two dimensional. Notwithstanding its hefty price, graphene has quickly become among the most promising nanomaterials due to its unique properties and versatile prospective applications.
The paper published in Open Physics refers to an extraordinary yet previously undocumented self-healing property of graphene’s, which could lead to the development of flexible sensors that mimic the self-healing properties of human skin.
The largest organ in the human body, skin has been known for its fascinating self-healing ability – but until now, emulating this mechanism proved too much of a challenge as manmade materials lack this aptitude. Due to unprecedented stretching, bending and incidental scratches, artificial skin used in robots is extremely susceptible to ruptures and fissures. The study offers a novel solution where a sub-nano sensor uses graphene to sense a crack as soon as it starts nucleation, and surprisingly, even after the crack has spread a certain distance. According to the authors, this technology could quickly become viable for use in the next generation of electronics.
According to Dr. Swati Ghosh Acharyya, one of the researchers.
We wanted to observe the self-healing behavior of both pristine and defected single layer graphene and its application in sub-nano sensors for crack spotting by using molecular dynamic simulation. We were able to document the self-healing of cracks in graphene without the presence of any external stimulus and at room temperature.
The results revealed that self-healing occurred by spontaneous recombination of the dangling bonds whenever within the limit of critical crack opening displacement.
The researchers subjected single layer graphene containing various defects like pre-existing holes and differently oriented pre-existing cracks to uniaxial tensile loading till fracture. Interestingly enough, once the load was relaxed, the graphene started to heal and the self-healing continued irrespective of the nature of pre-existing defects in the graphene sheet. No matter what length of the crack, the authors say they all healed, provided the critical crack opening distance lied within 0.3 – 0.5 nm for both the pristine sheet as well as for the sheet with pre-existing defects.
Simulating self-healing in artificial skin will open the way to a variety of daily life applications ranging from sensors, through to mobile devices and ultracapacitors. In case of the latter, graphene-based devices would have an advantage of the large surface of graphene to provide increase in the electrical power by storing electrons on graphene sheets. Apparently such supercapacitors would have as much electrical storage capacity as lithium-ion batteries but could be recharged in minutes instead of hours.
The original article is fully open access and available on De Gruyter Online.
A new report released by the Whitehouse indicates that accelerating Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities will enable automation of some tasks that have long required human labor. The report authors indicate that these transformations will open up new opportunities for individuals, the economy, and society, but they will also disrupt the current livelihoods of millions of Americans. At a minimum, some occupations such as drivers and cashiers are likely to face displacement from or a restructuring of their current jobs.
The challenge for policymakers will be to update, strengthen, and adapt policies to respond to the economic effects of AI.
Although it is difficult to predict these economic effects precisely, the report suggests that policymakers should prepare for five primary economic effects:
- Positive contributions to aggregate productivity growth;
- Changes in the skills demanded by the job market, including greater demand for higher-level technical skills;
- Uneven distribution of impact, across sectors, wage levels, education levels, job types, and locations;
- Churning of the job market as some jobs disappear while others are created; and
- The loss of jobs for some workers in the short-run, and possibly longer depending on policy responses.
More generally, the report suggests three broad strategies for addressing the impacts of AI-driven automation across the whole U.S. economy:
- Invest in and develop AI for its many benefits;
- Educate and train Americans for jobs of the future; and
- Aid workers in the transition and empower workers to ensure broadly shared growth.
Key points from the report
The authors state it is unlikely that machines will exhibit broadly-applicable intelligence comparable to or exceeding that of humans in the next 20 years, it is to be expected that machines will continue to reach and exceed human performance on more and more tasks.
AI should be welcomed for its potential economic benefits. However there will be changes in the skills that workers need to succeed in the economy, and structural changes in the economy. Aggressive policy action will be needed to help Americans who are disadvantaged by these changes and to ensure that the enormous benefits of AI and automation are developed by and available to all.
Today, it may be challenging to predict exactly which jobs will be most immediately affected by AI-driven automation. Because AI is not a single technology, but rather a collection of technologies that are applied to specific tasks, the effects of AI will be felt unevenly through the economy. Some tasks will be more easily automated than others, and some jobs will be affected more than others—both negatively and positively. Some jobs may be automated away, while for others, AI-driven automation will make many workers more productive and increase demand for certain skills. Finally, new jobs are likely to be directly created in areas such as the development and supervision of AI as well as indirectly created in a range of areas throughout the economy as higher incomes lead to expanded demand.
Strategy #1: Invest in and develop AI for its many benefits. If care is taken to responsibly maximize its development, AI will make important, positive contributions to aggregate productivity growth, and advances in AI technology hold incredible potential to help the United States stay on the cutting edge of innovation. Government has an important role to play in advancing the AI field by investing in research and development. Among the areas for advancement in AI are cyberdefense and the detection of fraudulent transactions and messages. In addition, the rapid growth of AI has also dramatically increased the need for people with relevant skills from all backgrounds to support and advance the field. Prioritizing diversity and inclusion in STEM fields and in the AI community specifically, in addition to other possible policy responses, is a key part in addressing potential barriers stemming from algorithmic bias. Competition from new and existing firms, and the development of sound pro-competition policies, will increasingly play an important role in the creation and adoption of new technologies and innovations related to AI.
Strategy #2: Educate and train Americans for jobs of the future. As AI changes the nature of work and the skills demanded by the labor market, American workers will need to be prepared with the education and training that can help them continue to succeed. Delivering this education and training will require significant investments. This starts with providing all children with access to high-quality early education so that all families can prepare their students for continued education, as well as investing in graduating all students from high school college- and career- ready, and ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable post-secondary education. Assisting U.S. workers in successfully navigating job transitions will also become increasingly important; this includes expanding the availability of job-driven training and opportunities for lifelong learning, as well as providing workers with improved guidance to navigate job transitions.
Strategy #3: Aid workers in the transition and empower workers to ensure broadly shared growth. Policymakers should ensure that workers and job seekers are both able to pursue the job opportunities for which they are best qualified and best positioned to ensure they receive an appropriate return for their work in the form of rising wages. This includes steps to modernize the social safety net, including exploring strengthening critical supports such as unemployment insurance, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and putting in place new programs such as wage insurance and emergency aid for families in crisis. Worker empowerment also includes bolstering critical safeguards for workers and families in need, building a 21st century retirement system, and expanding healthcare access. Increasing wages, competition, and worker bargaining power, as well as modernizing tax policy and pursuing strategies to address differential geographic impact, will be important aspects of supporting workers and addressing concerns related to displacement amid shifts in the labor market.
Finally, if a significant proportion of Americans are affected in the short- and medium-term by AI-driven job displacements, US policymakers will need to consider more robust interventions, such as further strengthening the unemployment insurance system and countervailing job creation strategies, to smooth the transition.
I will add detailed comments and my thoughts as I digest the full report in the coming days.
Buckminster Fuller said: “We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” Here are some things I think will probably be true:
It’s probably a good time to invest in robot courier services
- Fleets of self-driving trucks will be on the roads worldwide by 2020
- Those same trucks will have a ‘delivery driver’ inside the cabin for at least another 10 years
- By 2030 all sales of new trucks will be self-driving
- From 2030 onwards a robot such as the latest generation Atlas will be in the cabin to handle deliveries
- By 2050 very few, if any, human couriers will be used, instead people will have new jobs coordinating the self-driving trucks, delivery robots and facilitation depots
Update – 10th May 2016. DHL recently hosted journalists, customers, and experts in the field of robotics at “Robotics Day” in their DHL Innovation Center in Troisdorf, Germany. The company says “Robots will be part of the future of logistics, and we’re excited to be on the ground floor of what that future cooperation will be like.” See the video here for more information…
By 2020 Sales of co-bots (smaller industrial robots) will explode
- By 2020 Co-bots will reach sales exceeding half a million units
- By 2030 most manufacturers will use co-bots to perform some tasks
- Co-bots, together with 3d printers will be decisive tools in bringing manufacturing local
- Co-bots will start to handle many of the tasks performed by larger ‘caged’ robots
- Co-bots will contribute to significant declines in manufacturing personnel, but productivity and profit gains will lead to manufacturers increasing headcount of personnel in other parts of the organizations, sales, marketing, data analytics, IT support, etc.
Military robots will be used extensively on the battlefield
- By 2025 major world militaries will use driverless tanks, driverless armored cars and other driverless vehicles
- This will free up military personnel to conduct reconnaissance and attack missions from behind a ‘safe zone’
- By 2020 smaller more advanced hand held drones will be used extensively on reconnaissance missions inside buildings
- Soldiers will be kitted out with lightweight exoskeleton suits to give them extra strength, agility and protection
- By 2025 Atlas style robots will be used on the battlefield as ground forces
And a bonus — one thing I think is highly probable although not robot related
By 2050 gas stations will disappear to be replaced by electric charging stations
Picture credit, screenshot of Rolls-Royce Future Control Centre
Drone Traffic Management
This is actually quite a big deal – could new jobs be created in Drone Traffic Control?
NASA recently successfully demonstrated rural operations of its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) traffic management (UTM) concept, integrating operator platforms, vehicle performance and ground infrastructure.
With continued development, the Technical Capability Level One system would enable UAS operators to file flight plans reserving airspace for their operations and provide situational awareness about other operations planned in the area. (NASA Ames Research Center)
Bookshelf: Here Come the Robots
Just when I’ve been thinking about creating a robot book for children along come three!
Heavy construction machinery — bulldozers, diggers, tractors and the like — seem to have cornered the market when it comes to mechanical objects that can be made into emotionally responsive, strikingly human characters in children’s books. But what about the robots? Here in the 21st century, when our vacuums are de facto robots and our cars may well soon be too, when certain parents are as likely to dream of their child learning to code as they are to dream of their child learning Mandarin, shouldn’t robots be getting more picture-book love? (New York Times)
Opening Pandora’s AI Box in Oxford
About three months ago, Dr Simon Stringer, a leading scientist in the field of artificial intelligence at the Oxford centre for theoretical neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence, fell down some stairs and broke his leg.
The convalescence period proved unexpectedly fruitful.
Freed from the daily rigmarole of academic life, you see, Dr Stringer’s mind was able to wander. And so it was, when he least expected it, that the solution to one of the biggest challenges in artificial intelligence — the so-called binding problem — struck him out of the blue. (Iza Kaminska at FT Alphaville)
Will artificial intelligence bring us utopia or destruction?
An interesting (long read) discussion featuring Nick Bostrom’s work on AI and SuperIntelligence.
Can a digital god really be contained?
He (Bostrom) imagines machines so intelligent that merely by inspecting their own code they can extrapolate the nature of the universe and of human society, and in this way outsmart any effort to contain them. “Is it possible to build machines that are not like agents—goal-pursuing, autonomous, artificial intelligences?” he asked me. “Maybe you can design something more like an oracle that can only answer yes or no. Would that be safer? It is not so clear. There might be agent-like processes within it.” Asking a simple question—“Is it possible to convert a DeLorean into a time machine and travel to 1955?”—might trigger a cascade of action as the device tests hypotheses. What if, working through a police computer, it impounds a DeLorean that happens to be convenient to a clock tower? “In fairy tales, you have genies who grant wishes,” Bostrom said. “Almost universally, the moral of those is that if you are not extremely careful what you wish for, then what seems like it should be a great blessing turns out to be a curse.” (New Yorker)
How Artificial Intelligence Will Revolutionize Our Lives
On one hand, it may help cure cancer and let robots rather than humans fight wars; on the other, doctors and lawyers may be out of a job. (National Geographic)
Interview with LinkedIn founder touches on A.I. and basic income
“We cannot ignore this problem. Right now, everybody’s punting. We know the share of income that goes to wages is a declining portion, compared with capital expenditures. What does that mean for jobs? Entrepreneurship is part of the answer. Mass-scale entrepreneurship. Before you even get to A.I.” (The New Yorker)
Are We Approaching an Economic Singularity?
Information Technology and the Future of Economic Growth — The idea here is that rapid growth in computation and artificial intelligence will cross some boundary or Singularity, after which economic growth will accelerate sharply as an ever-increasing pace of improvements cascade through the economy. (William D. Nordhaus NBER Working Paper)
The Future of Work: The Three Dimensions of Artificial Intelligence
What worries you most — and/or excites you most — about the future of work and workers? Put another way: What will be the most consequential changes in the world of work and workers, and what anxieties and possibilities will they produce?
“In periods of technology diffusion including the current period, the future of work and workers depends as much on how we deal with the technology as on the technology itself. It is time we corrected AI’s third dimension so we can return to the job of building the future of work.” (Pacific Standard)
Rodney Brooks warns that technologists must consider how advances in robotics and AI will eradicate jobs.
Brooks admitted he was sometimes guilty of focusing on technological innovation rather than its social implications himself. But he added that it was increasingly clear that this needs to be part of the debate. “Technological innovations can have severe impacts on society,” he said. (MIT Technology Review)