There have been many companies and individuals involved in the research and development of AI since its creation. Companies such as IBM with their Deep Blue AI system designed specifically for playing chess, Boston Dynamics and their various robots, or Amazon, Apple and Google with many different existing and potential uses for AI, involving huge investments in its development, have been pioneers on the market for years. But with so many actors in this field today, who can navigate what’s important or who to follow? Here are a few important names to get you started:
We can’t talk about AI without first mentioning Turing and his many contributions to AI development. In the mid-20th century, Alan Mathison Turing was one of the first people to consider the question of computer intelligence and machines that can learn from experience. He envisioned a hypothetical computing device which would consist of limitless memory and a scanner moving through the memory reading and writing symbols guided by a program of instructions. Such a device is now known as the Turing machine, and it became a model for all later digital computers. Turing’s way of envisioning this machine was important because it assumed the possibility of a machine modifying and improving its own program. He suggested that humans use available information as well as reason in order to solve problems and make decisions, so why can’t machines do the same thing?
Turing introduced many concepts central to the world of AI today and laid the theoretical foundations of computer science. In 1950 he came up with the Turing test, a practical test for computer intelligence widely used today. The test includes a computer, a human interrogator and a human subject, and takes place over a keyboard and display screen. The goal is for the interrogator to ask many different questions in order to try and distinguish the human from the computer. If the computer can successfully carry a dialogue and the interrogator isn’t able to tell the human from the computer, then the computer has passed the test and is considered an intelligent, “thinking” entity.
Turing did many things and is credited with a number of ideas and inventions, but one very interesting fact should also be mentioned: in 1945 he predicted that one day computers would play chess maybe even better than humans. A little over 50 years later, the previously mentioned IBM chess computer named Deep Blue succeeded in beating Garry Kasparov, the reigning world champion. This was the first documented case of AI competing and winning against humans in a contest of any sort.
Luciano Floridi is Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford, and the Chair of the Data Ethics Group of the Alan Turing Institute. He is an expert in the fields of digital ethics, the philosophy of information, and the philosophy of technology. He has written several books related to the issue of ethics within AI and the digital revolution, and has been an important voice in this field.
In his article “What the Near Future of Artificial Intelligence Could Be”, he discusses the different definitions and ways of understanding and defining AI, the way how AI functions and handles different tasks based on their complexity and their difficulty, as well as the possibilities of how AI could develop, what the likely scenarios are and what are the human biases on doomsday scenarios that are not actually likely to happen. In other written pieces and presentations he talks more about the different dilemmas that currently exist around AI’s complexity, autonomy, ability to interact, help, and much more. As a professor of ethics, he naturally points to the importance of sufficient research and work to develop AI in the right direction.
Floridi recognizes the possibilities of AI to help our lives and how the digital economy can complement our analogue economy, but he also mentions the potential issues of such new technologies and the unequal distribution of benefits coming from the wide development of the AI revolution. Some of his thoughts on different issues and possibilities of AI can be seen in the following interview given in 2018:
Even though she is not a person, Sophia is important to mention as Hanson Robotics’ most advanced human-like robot, who is among the most sophisticated robots currently in existence. Sophia 2020 includes facial expressions, gestural arms and hands, autonomous social interactions, an integrated software development kit, and a choice of mobility bases, including a self-navigating option.
It’s important to mention that there are more sophisticated robots than Sophia, and more important ones as well. From robots that can dance and move very similarly to humans, to snake-like and other animal-shaped robots being created for tasks ranging from entertainment to important search and rescue operations, there are many advancements in this field every year. But Sophia still serves as a great example of how advanced different uses of AI are getting. If you’re interested in seeing Sophia talk and interact, there are many videos of her in various situations interacting with others, such as in this video where she is introduced to Jack, Audi’s self-driving car:
A computer able to interact with humans, participate in dialogue, walk, gesture and even show facial expressions, while at the same time being able to solve many tasks and problems more efficiently than humans is a big step forward from Turing and his then hypothetical intelligent computer. All of this has happened in only around 70 years, and growth with computer intelligence and computing power usually happens exponentially, so a world with even more sophisticated robots with many different uses isn’t far. It is on us to make sure that, going forward, we move in the right direction, and with the right intentions for the future.