Thursday, October 14, 2021

Interview with David Asch Offers Insights On A.I.

In September my review of Kazuo Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun was published by the Medium publication Age of Awareness. What I especially like about the Medium community is the readiness to comment on stories, often adding new insights to something we initiated.

Though I only received one comment on my review I found it exceptionally insightful. Klara and the Sun is about A.I. and David Asch's review demonstrated his deeper understanding of the current status of Artificial Intelligence and where it is headed. I asked permission to pick his brain on this topic and he graciously accepted.

EN: What is your background and how did you come to take an interest in AI?

David Asch: I've had a long career as a software developer and as a leader of technology companies. In the late '80's, I worked for a government contractor alongside a team of Natural Language Processing (NLP) linguists and computer scientists. They worked on a DoD project trying to identify the few messages of concern from a plethora of communications they monitored. The NLP team was as arrogant as they were unsuccessful. It wasn't until the last ten years or so that Machine Learning using neural networks has enabled language processing and image processing to start living up to its vaunted potential. 

EN:  We’ve grown up in a world where “intelligent machines” keep getting smarter. Computers are everywhere. What is the difference between computers as we know them and AI?

DA: Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), the ability for a machine to learn any task as well as a human, has been the stuff of science fiction for a long time. Ray Kurzweil coined the term "the Singularity" as the point at which artificial intelligence becomes smarter than humans.  We're nowhere close to that point yet. Much of the AI-inspired smartness we see in our devices today are based on pattern and image recognition - like facial identification in lieu of a password or the leaps we've seen in machine language translation and voice recognition. 

EN: You mention the concern that AI will replace jobs. How do you see this playing out?

David Asch

DA: If you visit a factory today you'll often see more robots than humans. These robots aren't particularly intelligent but are a harbinger of the future.  AI will replace jobs that don't require humanity - the ability to interact with other humans. We already see the likelihood of AI replacing taxi and bus drivers in our lifetimes and possibly replacing us as drivers. AI is already used to help doctors identify cancerous tissue because it's better at it than humans. The immediate future will result in some job loss and some job modification to take advantage of AI. For example, AI technology may be used to drive a truck cross country, but a human may be needed to drive the final mile and will definitely be needed to handle the transfer of goods and bills of lading where people need to interact. Cardiologists may not need to develop the same expertise in reading EKGs because they'll have an AI assist; this may free them to spend more time interacting with patients.

EN: The Terminator films are based upon a future when the machines turn on the humans. It seems like the Internet-of-Things and global interconnectivity could make a malevolent AI a challenging and very real threat. Is this too far out to really happen?

DA: Elon Musk has sounded this alarm about the danger of malevolent machines. I agree that it's a danger, but it's so far away we'd do better to worry about imminent dangers like climate change. Ultimately, the builders of new AI technologies will be forced to self-govern and control the technology, like the scientists who created RNA sequencing technology. Otherwise, the government will step in and force regulation. 

It does seem that foot soldiers may become one of the jobs AI bots replace. The calculus of war will change when troops aren't on the ground fighting. 

EN:  Or equally disconcerting, a foreign power that uses AI to dismantle our power grids, Wall Street, health care and government systems….

DA: Big time. We're already seeing the beginnings of this with ransomware attacks on utilities. Cybersecurity is becoming a big business because so many systems are vulnerable to attack. There's no question that AI-fueled attacks will become a threat vector in the future.

Although it's interesting to focus on the negative effects of new technologies, it's also important to realize that the responsible deployment of these technologies will almost certainly improve our safety and health. 

EN: Thank you, David.

You can follow David Asch on Medium HERE:

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Related Links

The Importance of Klara and the Sun For Data Science Workers

Surviving AI by Calum Chace Is a Must Read for Those Who Plan to Be Here in the Future

A Visit with Futurist Calum Chace on his new book The Economic Singularity

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