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What it’s about: If you’ve been looking for the latest indicator that machine learning and AI are about to burst out of the lab and into the mainstream, look no further: Rolling Stone, not exactly a must-read in the tech industry, is serving up a big two-part feature on “the artificial intelligence revolution.” Part one went online this week, and it’s well worth the read. Author Jeff Goodell dispenses with some of the entertainment and media tropes around AI—bow down before your robot overlords, and so on—in favor of what AI, like so much of modern software, is really all about: Algorithms. “Algorithms are to the 21st Century what coal was to the 19th Century: the engine of our economy and the fuel of our modern lives,” Goodell writes. “In the world of AI, the Holy Grail is to discover the single algorithm that will allow machines to understand the world—the digital equivalent of the Standard Model that lets physicists explain the operations of the universe.” Of course, no one’s found that yet, and true AI isn’t actually here yet: “AIs are nowhere near as smart as a rat,” Facebook director of AI research Yann LeCun tells Goodell. But that may changing faster than many people realize.
Why you should care: Part one of Goodell’s piece offers a thorough look at the current state of machine learning and AI research. It also explores the enormous questions and issues that AI raises—and that very much remain to be answered. Stephen Hawking, for one, has noted that AI doesn’t actually need to turn evil to wreak havoc. “The real risk with AI isn’t malice but competence. A superintelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren’t aligned with ours, we’re in trouble,” Hawking said recently. Moreover, Hollywood’s vision of AI is dangerous for a different reason: “The problem with the hyperbole about killer robots is that it masks the real risks that we face from the rise of smart machines—job losses due to workers being replaced by robots, the escalation of autonomous weapons in warfare, and the simple fact that the more we depend on machines, the more we are at risk when something goes wrong, whether it’s from a technical glitch or a Chinese hacker,” Goodell writes. Part II of Goodell’s piece goes live on March 9.
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