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Microsoft: 'AI is the most important technology on the planet... it will change everything'

Artificial intelligence (AI) is something of a buzz-phrase across the tech industry these days - but Microsoft's Dave Coplin says that it will come to have a profound impact on society as we know it. In his words, AI "will change everything".

Coplin, the company's chief envisioning officer in the UK, was speaking a few days ago at an AI conference in London, where he described it as "the most important technology that anybody on the planet is working on today."

"This technology will change how we relate to technology," he said. "It will change how we relate to each other. I would argue that it will even change how we perceive what it means to be human."

AI is a broad term covering a wide range of technologies, but the most recognizable examples for many users are digital assistants such as Apple's Siri and Microsoft's own Cortana. But the reach of AI extends far deeper than just these interfaces, encompassing technologies such as natural language processing, along with machine learning capabilities that can be applied to everything from product personalization and preventing cyber-attacks, to medical research, and even predicting the future.

When viewed in this broader context, it's not hard to understand Coplin's vision when he paints such an extraordinary picture of the future that AI has in store for us.

But as Business Insider notes, Coplin also sounded a note of caution:

We've got to start to make decisions about whether the right people are making these algorithms. What biases will be inferred by those people, by those companies? These are things we don't know about. This is new. We talk about uncharted territory.

And after pointing out that AI will raise fresh issues and concerns for humanity, he added: "We have to be ready to deal with them. We have to understand that they exist. We have to start being mindful about the processes we put in place."

Microsoft's 'Tay' chatbot

A recent AI experiment by Microsoft went badly wrong, when the company launched its 'Tay' chatbot on Twitter. The bot was quickly taken offline after it ended up spouting shocking and deeply offensive statements. Microsoft later apologized for the situation, but blamed it on "a coordinated attack by a subset of people [who] exploited a vulnerability" in the chatbot.

That incident seems particularly relevant to a further observation from Coplin: "The way in which we choose to use AI is a reflection of humans, the people, not the machines themselves."

He continued:

We are locked in this endless cycle of pointless rhetoric about humans vs machines. We are aware machines can beat us at chess. They can beat us at Jeopardy. Now they can beat us at Go. They’re going to steal our jobs. Hang on! Stop. When was this ever the dialogue for what we did with technology. Technology is here to augment what we do. Support us to extend our capability.

If AI is indeed to have such a massive impact, there are clearly many issues that will need to be carefully considered - and there's no time to waste. As Coplin pointed out, this is where the whole technology industry is now heading, and there's no stopping it. "It's not just Microsoft, Google and Facebook," he said. "We're all at it because it will change everything."

Source: Business Insider

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