Is AI as important a breakthrough as electricity? No, it’s much more

14 Jul 2017

David Moloney, director, machine vision, Intel New Technology Group. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

At Inspirefest 2017, Intel’s David Moloney spoke of how AI will spark a revolution like no other, but humans pose the biggest risk to its future.

One of Ireland’s brightest stars in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) took to the stage at Inspirefest 2017 to offer a prophetic vision of an incredible future, but one that could also easily go wrong if we, as a society, don’t get a few things right first.

It has been a year since David Moloney, co-founder of Movidius, joined Intel following the Silicon Valley giant’s acquisition of the Irish company, whose chips powered many of Google’s AI technologies.

Speaking on stage, Moloney paraphrased one of the world’s leading AI researchers, Andrew Ng, who said that AI will bring a revolution in society as great as the introduction of electricity in the latter half of the 19th century.

“To be honest, he’s not exaggerating, but I think it’s far more important than that,” Moloney said.

“They say that if technology is sufficiently advanced, it should be indistinguishable from magic.”

‘Magical’ technologies

One of these ‘magical’ technologies he cited was the growth of drones powered by AI developed at DJI, which could – at a bit of a stretch – draw a comparison with the visual trickery of levitation.

Unlike the drones popular today and over the past few years, DJI’s models are able to effectively manage their own movement without needing any input from a human pilot below, something Moloney said was an example of the “harbinger to come”.

However, underneath the many benefits AI brings lies the fear that it will be poorly led by the humans that create it – a fear readers would have heard before from researchers such as Barry O’Sullivan and Andrew Moore.

While it is supposed to be a clean slate, AI still needs to be programmed to churn through data in a particular way, and sometimes this process can be unintentionally skewed, leading to the “coded gaze” coined by programmer Joy Buolamwini.

People are scarier than robots

For Moloney, the ‘robot takeover’ commonly referred to is not his biggest concern.

“What scares me is not robots, what scares me is people,” he said.

“The real [purpose] for all of us, in terms of creating machines and systems to serve us better, is to eliminate bias.” He later added that it poses the “single greatest challenge facing us”, with diversity as an ally.

As he went on to explain, AI at this point in time is a simple entity where data is inputted and outputted in the same way, and will repeat mistakes built into its programming. These errors could not only hurt a company, but also damage people’s lives if they occur in a system such as healthcare.

Despite these challenges, Moloney thinks AI offers the best chance for people from diverse backgrounds to get ahead of the bell curve when it comes to the latest technology, and joining now will help us sow the seeds for a brighter future.

“AI is going to affect everything,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for people who maybe haven’t been in the workforce … as there are a huge number of resources available online on deep learning and there’s even talk of an AI master’s degree online for those currently in a job.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic