A.I. Enablers Gear Up to Assault Intellect

This is your brain on bits
Image from "Golden Retrievers, Terriers, and Artificial Neural Networks," posted by Egey Yalcinbas, March 31, 2017 at neurwitesd.org

Perhaps you haven’t noticed the investor class getting all gung-ho these days over Artificial Intelligence (AI). Only a couple of decades ago, these same people dismissed AI because it wasn’t very useful yet. But that’s all changed due to advances in machine vision and learning, and now VCs, hedge funds, and most of the rest of the usual big-money suspects are salivating over prospects of automating most of the rest of the economy, even including agriculture.

Thanks to its clot of institutions of higher learning, Boston—my fair city—is littered with tech startups and factories that churn them out. They and the Hub’s cloud of serial investors have created a knot of compressed energy, the nexus of which one can find at a suite in Kendall Square—epicenter of Boston’s tech scene, featuring outposts of Google, Oracle, Facebook and Amazon, pharma firms like Merck and Novartis and a host of biotechy startups fed by MIT’s biomedical research complex, augmented by its AI and Media Labs—where every Thursday evening prime movers get together for suds and savvy strategizing at private oasis called Venture Café.  Even when I was searching for a job in high tech, I couldn’t bring myself to show up at a Café Night—an obvious venue for me to press flesh—fearing I would barf my beer after hearing one too many starry-eyed kids pitch bagmen to rain on their laundry concierge app startup. But I keep reading about their antics and viewing their video tips and testimonials just to keep abreast of this solipsistic scene, marveling how these whiz kids and their big daddies never seem to grasp the consequences of that to which they so earnestly aspire.

Venture Café’s latest offensive concerns ways and means of exploiting AI. They pitch it this way:

According to to CB Insights, investors have invested $22B in artificial intelligence (AI) startups over the last 5 years and a host of traditional and non-traditional firms are getting in on the game. Just this week, IBM announced a $240M investment in the MIT AI Lab. If you need to get up to speed on who and what’s shaping this exciting space, we will pull back the curtains to reveal the mysteries of robotics and AI later this month with Robotics Connect. We are bringing in IBM, Mintz Levin, Neurala, Inc., Lola Travel, Dragon Innovation, Draper, Mass Robotics, and others to talk about the latest developments that will shape generations to come.

In case you might want to sign up, this is what’s supposed to happen at Robotics Connect 2017:

Save the date for Venture Cafe’s Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) mini-conference, “Building Markets for Artificial Intelligence”, taking place on September 28, 2017.

From ground, sea, and air, explore Boston firms solving real world challenges and developing the robotics market. This special ‘conference night’ event seeks to bring together the brightest minds who are building, funding, and innovating in the Greater Boston area’s robotics and AI communities.

Come prepared to not only hear the best ideas and see the latest technologies but also to participate in building Boston’s robotics innovation.

Oh, the urgency, the agency! Take a bunch of artful geeks, hypercompetitive entrepreneurs, tech-biz mentors, and a sprinkling of VCs, and shake well with Silicon Valley envy and craft beer in fervent hope of eventually sluicing half the country’s workforce into unemployment offices (not including themselves, of course). As numbly noted by the referenced CB Insights article (actually from Inc 9/11/17), an op-ed by Lisa Calhoun, a partner at Valor Ventures:

Tech Isn’t the Biggest Driver of Artificial Intelligence Acquisitions. This Is.

Up top we read:

Last week, for example, agriculture leader John Deere offered $305 million to acquire a 60 person AI startup that sprays herbicide. … This summer, companies like Lyft, Hubspot, NASDAQ, Qualcomm, Workday, Meltwater, and ServiceNow bolted on new AI companies.

Scan the headings and you’ll see what’s involved in shoving AI down our throats:

The soaring price of proven AI talent

It’s not just the tech, but also the talent, that’s driving deals. … 

People still solve problems, even artificial intelligence problems.

Companies are also using AI acquisitions to help research extending their core business. …

…Finishing with (emphasis mine):

  It’s just the beginning of the artificial intelligence funding wars.

There are several fronts. In recruitment, the top 20 AI recruiters already spend upwards of $650 million a year looking for AI talent, according to recruiter Paysa. In finance, there is almost $700 million invested in undeployed private equity scheduled to be invested in the next handful of years, much of it trained on strategic tech acquisitions, according to Pitchbook. In politics and economics, Vanguard’s chief global economist Joe Davis recently predicted 47% of jobs will be automated away . Governments are grappling with protecting workforces and GDP even as some top global economists are saying automation makes GDP irrelevant.

Only thing is certain: before many of the promises of artificial intelligence are realized, more heroic sums will be spent paving the way and hopefully, protecting the many whose jobs are directly affected .

Sweet that a venture vulture worries about the poor workers, apparently expecting government to wipe them off the pavement after capital sweeps them out the door. Because it’s inevitable that AI will take over all sectors of the economy. And robots too, with nobody at fault for the foreseeable losses of livelihood. Aren’t VC’s supposedly job creators?

Inevitable in the sweep of history or inevitable because all that matters is financial ROI? As smart as these people are, they seem oblivious to their Pavlovian response to innovation investors. Having been conditioned to salivate at the smell of deals dangled before them, they become addicted to serial entrepreneurship and high-tech huckstering. Their boosting and boasting flim-flams the media and market- and decision-makers, who in turn brainwash we the peeps into believing this is good for us, that we truly should look forward to having our jobs and brain functions rendered redundant as soon as in/humanly possible.

Clearly, people cannot compete with the speed with which the engines work to mine and analyze data, and few could even understand how they operate and make decisions. Take the software automatons installed at social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to identify terrorist rhetoric and hate speech. They’re fairly inept at that nasty task, so the companies have to employ people to vet posts robot readers finger, lest they be false positives.

It takes a lot of eyeball time to do that and costs money, so when hard-to-decipher sentiments turn up, the companies are happy to turn them over to grateful national security agencies eager to expand their watch lists. None of those parties disclose the algorithms that either their software or human agents use to determine outcomes. But even if they published their decision-making rules, who among us would be able to consistently apply them to big data? Robot readers enable free speech to be scrutinized to a degree never possible before, in ways that empower malevolent forces within an administration to censor and target dissidents. And AI’s genius enablers are happy to help.

Whenever “productivity” AI bots boot up, they can put skilled workers’ jobs at risk, workers who may even be called upon to train the robots to make decent decisions and weed out bugs—and are then let go. Not that all of their jobs were pure joy to begin with, but where does this lead? Perhaps some will end up retraining to be robot coaches (a role called “knowledge engineer” back in the day). Regardless, one place this leads is to mounting opacity about how organizations do business, how decisions that affect lives get made, and who takes responsibility for any untoward technoquences, as we like to say.

Given that AI is already going viral, we need to protect ourselves. Why doesn’t civil society have an autoimmune reaction to the software phages capital is incubating to eat out our brains? Why isn’t AI classified as a dangerous zombifying drug? Won’t any innovators develop antibodies to make us resistant, or at least an app for that? Will any step up to say “I am not Big Brother’s keeper”? Where are the Zombies for AI memes and bumper stickers? Oh the humanity!

Earlier versions of this post appeared in Linked In and CounterPunch.

Author: admin

I'm an ex-this-and-that, including software developer, computer graphics researcher, geospatial analyst, market manager, and technical writer, who now writes full-time when not reading, running a household, foraging for edible mushrooms, pushing progressive politics, or volunteering fsomewhere. I live near Boston with my wife, daughter, two cats and two old cars.