Is This The Revival Of Artificial Technology? Some big firms are stepping up their AI game.

By Ritu Kochar

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"Once the machine thinking method has started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers," Alan Turing said in 1951 at a talk entitled "Intelligent Machinery: A heretical theory," presented at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. "At some stage therefore we should have to expect the machines to take control." Little did he know that this statement would haunt humans for years to come.

Every five to six years, artificial intelligence undergoes a revival. Given that this time is AI's third or fourth coming, we wait to see if it surpasses where it lacks every time – acceptance.

Every two years or so, computer speed and memory capacity doubles. With unflagging consistency, engineers have been adding ample transistors to computer, regularly halving the size of transistors. Computers with more transistors can perform more computations per second (because there are more transistors available for firing), and are therefore more powerful. The doubling of computing power every two years is known as "Moore's law," after Gordon Moore, the Intel engineer who first noticed the trend in 1965.

The debate of machines taking over humans seem to be reaching no end. The discourse re-kindles every time again when renowned scientists like Stephen Hawking voice caution saying, "Computers are likely to overtake humans in intelligence at some point in the next 100 years."

This time it has resurfaced when Google's artificial intelligence system is set to take on the world champion of "Go", Lee Se-dol, in South Korea today. To be live streamed on YouTube, this five-day battle between man and machine will be the determinant of a prize of about $1m (£700,000), and of course, supremacy.

A 3,000-year-old Chinese board game, Go is a game with trillions of possible moves. It pits two players against each other. The players take turns placing black or white stones on a grid, to dominating the board by surrounding the other player's pieces. The stones can't be moved unless they are surrounded or are captured by the other player.

The championship gained attention when in October 2015 AlphaGo beat the European Go champion, Fan Hui. Said to be the most complex game ever designed, with an incomputable number of move options, Go requires human-like "intuition" to prevail.

"If the machine wins, it will be an important symbolic moment," AI expert Jean-Gabriel Ganascia of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris told AFP. "Until now, the game of Go has been problematic for computers as there are too many possible moves to develop an all-encompassing database of possibilities, as for chess."

Go reputedly has more possible board configurations than there are atoms in the Universe. "AlphaGo is really more interesting than either Deep Blue or Watson, because the algorithms it uses are potentially more general-purpose," said Nick Bostrom of Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute.

Creating "general" or multi-purpose, rather than "narrow", task-specific intelligence, is the ultimate goal in AI -- something resembling human reasoning based on a variety of inputs.

To prevail in Go, a computer must be capable of human-like "intuition'. Given that intuition comes from an idea or inkling towards a particular feeling, things get tough when you're up against a machine that lacks emotions. "Playing against a machine is very different from an actual human opponent," Mr Lee told the BBC ahead of the match. "Normally, you can sense your opponent's breathing, their energy. And lots of times you make decisions which are dependent on the physical reactions of the person you're playing against. With a machine, you can't do that."

Facebook plans to build its own Artificial Intelligence mapping app.

Facebook is exploring ways to enter the artificial intelligence technology and build its own maps. The social media company seeks to create "much more accurate population maps" across 21.6 million square kilometers of Earth compared to traditional population maps.

This will help the social network better understand where to send its solar-powered planes to beam down internet access.

In a post on Facebook, the company's CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, "This is an impressive project from our team developing solar-powered planes for beaming down internet connectivity and our AI research team. Many people live in remote communities and accurate data on where people live doesn't always exist. We can't beam internet connectivity to people if we don't know where communities are, so we built AI technology to analyze 15.6 billion satellite images to create much more accurate population maps across 21.6 million square kilometers of Earth. We will share these maps openly with the community so other organizations can use them too. This should help with planning energy, health and transport infrastructure, as well as assisting people who need help in disasters."

A video showing "how these AI enhanced maps compare with current state of the art population maps," was also shared by him. Previously in March 2014, Facebook launched Connectivity Lab to make internet accessible to the entire world. With AI, the company plans to use solar-powered drones to transmit the internet to suburban area. An announcement made by Facebook also stated its efforts in accelerating research in artificial intelligence and machine learning, starting in Germany.

Other firms like Apple and IBM are also stepping into the realm of artificial technology. The long term consequences of artificial intelligence might be debatable, but in the face of technological advancement, firms are less likely to stop and think about it. Call it competition or call it progress, these firms have proves that the economic impact of AI will be enormous.

Ritu Kochar

Former Staff, Entrepreneur India

Ritu used to work as a Feature writer for Entrepreneur India.

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