Leaders in Davos acknowledge AI’s potential for good, but point to unanswered questions

Global leaders discussed the transformative capabilities of artificial intelligence during the second-last day of the World Economic Forum in Davos. But it came with a grain of salt.

During a panel about rogue technologies, the director of the humans and autonomy lab at Duke University acknowledged the power of AI, but said the world must be careful of adopting such a powerful technology because there are many variables that haven’t been fully realized.

“Yes there are some [AI] applications that can be good, but it turns out for driverless cars, for example, one of the things that was just recently discovered in the last six months, is that using very easy passive hacking techniques like putting a few stickers on a stop sign can trick a computer vision from seeing a stop sign to seeing a 45 mph sign,” explained Mary Cummings.

Many companies are quick to roll out new technologies that are unproven in many circumstances, she added. Further collaboration between tech innovators, companies and governments is needed to determine which technologies are ready for wide-scale adoption and which are still experimental, Cummings said.

Ursula Burns, VEON’s chairman of the supervisory board, echoed those thoughts during a separate panel about tech’s potential impacts to society.

“We actually have to start working together, and by the way, we just don’t,” she said. Burns emphasized how AI and automation are going to pose problems in the near future for the workforce, and organizations and governments have to be much more upfront with how they’re going to address this.

A force for good

But the conversation eventually steered towards how AI will positively impact industries across the globe. Ya-Qin Zhang, president of Baidu Inc. stressed the fact that AI is here to stay, and suggested AI won’t destroy jobs, but rather displace them and generate more creative ones. He admitted, however, he wasn’t sure exactly what those jobs are going to look like.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com Inc., couldn’t help but shed some light by referring to his company’s AI platform, Einstein, when talking about how AI will likely be used as a partner in the workforce. Einstein now has a spot at the table during weekly executive meetings, he said, and it gives him a non-biased verdict on that day’s meeting.

“Now that I’ve been using this technology for well over a year, each and every time I ask it something, it always has some insight about an executive, territory or product that I could have never seen,” he said.

Trudeau and Nadella

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella yesterday to discuss the company’s plans for the expansion of Montreal’s AI applications and its research lab. Microsoft appointed Carnegie Mellon University machine learning professor Geoffrey Gordon as the Montreal’s AI research lab’s new research director on Wednesday, and announced it plans to double its size within two years.

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Alex Coop
Alex Coophttp://www.itwc.ca
Former Editorial Director for IT World Canada and its sister publications.

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