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Artificial Intelligence: A challenge to human supremacy?

Beyond the horizon

Artificial Intelligence: A challenge to human supremacy?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the branch of computer science concerned with making computers behave like humans. It includes mostly some major areas of specialisation:  (i) Expert systems: programming computers to make decisions in real-life situations (for example, some expert systems help doctors diagnose diseases based on symptoms); (ii) Natural language: programming computers to understand natural human languages; (iii) Neural networks: systems that simulate intelligence by attempting to reproduce the types of physical connections that occur in animal brains; (iv) Games playing: programming computers to play games against human opponents; and, (v) Robotics: programming computers to see and hear and react to other sensory stimulations. Probably Hollywood’s action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator” had created the apprehension among many millions of people that human civilization would be destabilized by robots of the future. The “I, Robot” featured by Will Smith was another movie that created fear how artificial intelligence could try to win over human supremacy, using superb artificial intelligence. On the contrary, in the field of robotics, computer aided tools are mostly used in assembly plants in reality. Nevertheless, these are capable only of very limited tasks. Robots have great difficulty in identifying objects based on appearance or feel, and they still move and handle objects clumsily. A question that goes on millions of mind is: Can computers exhibit full artificial intelligence? The answer is negative; no computers exhibit full AI which is capable of exhibiting full human behaviour, yet. Artificial Intelligence has flirted with games since its beginnings, because only smart humans excel. In early stage of AI developments, critics said chess was beyond computing capability because it needed human intuition and creativity. But the world was astonished (if not shocked) in May, 1997 when an IBM super-computer, named Deep Blue defeated world chess champion Gary Kasparov. But Deep Blue was not the human-like intelligence that the founding fathers of AI had hoped for. It won by brute force by searching through millions of moves in seconds. Humans have limited memory and need brilliant pattern perception and creative strategies to win. So the critics turned to Go as the impossible. The ancient game, Go has been popular in the region of China, Korea, Japan for several thousand years. Using black-and-white stones on a grid, players gain the upper hand by surrounding their opponents’ pieces with their own. The rules are simpler than those of chess, but a player typically has a choice of 200 moves, compared with about 20 in chess; there are more possible positions in Go than atoms in the universe, as per Google. Even with today’s vast computer memories and incredibly fast processors, this ancient game is not easy to play with artificial intelligence. AlphaGo is a computer program developed by Google DeepMind to play the ancient but most complicated board game, Go. Very recently, it beat Korea’s super master Lee Sedol.  It has won three straight matches out of five, against the 9-dan professional, the highest possible ranked Go player. However, it lost to Lee in the fourth game on March 13 but Korean super master lost again to AlphaGo on March 15 making the game 4-1, in favour of computer program.   To beat one of the world’s top players, Deep Mind used a mixture of clever strategies to make the search much smaller. The version of AlphaGo playing against Lee uses 1,920 CPUs and 280 GPUs. Google trained their machine on 30 million expert moves to start with, and then the learning machine played against itself millions of times. It worked – the holy grail is in the bag and the goal posts can shift no further. AlphaGo’s March 2016 victory was a major milestone in AI research. Go had previously been regarded as a hard problem in machine learning that was expected to be out of reach for the technology of the time. Most experts thought a Go program as powerful as AlphaGo was at least five years away; some experts thought that it would take at least another decade before computers would beat Go champions. Most observers at the beginning of the 2016 matches expected Lee to beat AlphaGo, and even the designers of the program were surprised by its success: Google DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis said he was “stunned and speechless”. Lee apologized for his defeat, stating that “I misjudged the capabilities of AlphaGo and felt powerless.” He emphasized that the defeat was “Lee Sedol’s defeat” and “not a defeat of (all) human beings,” and pointed out that the program does have weaknesses. Lee said his eventual loss to a machine was “inevitable” but stated that “robots will never understand the beauty of the game the same way that we humans do.” Some analysts believe AlphaGo’s victory is a good opportunity to start discussing preparations for the possible future impact of machines with general purpose intelligence. Some scholars, such as Stephen Hawking, warn that some future self-improving AI could gain actual general intelligence, leading to an unexpected AI takeover; other scholars disagree. Computer scientist Richard Sutton said “I don’t think people should be scared… but I do think people should be paying attention.” Note that AlphaGo itself only knows how to play Go, and doesn’t possess general purpose intelligence: AlphaGo will not wake up one morning and decide it wants to learn how to use firearms. AlphaGo doesn’t care if it wins or loses. It doesn’t even care if it plays and it certainly couldn’t make you a cup of tea after the game. Does it mean that AI will soon take away our jobs? Possibly we should be more worried about that since using the artificial intelligence, many of human-controlled jobs could be done and thus the challenge seems inevitable. Human supremacy in various kinds of work would be challenged in coming days and we need to be prepared accordingly. In response to the success of AlphaGo, South Korea which has world’s one of the most advanced capabilities, announced on March 17 that it would invest US$ 863 million (1.0 trillion Korean won) in artificial intelligence research over the next five years. Thanks to the ‘AlphaGo shock’, Korean government has initiated this project to explore AI scopes before it is too late. The defeat of Lee Sedol was a shock to the Korean public and generated widespread concern over the capabilities of artificial intelligence. Public criticism that South Korea was falling behind in a crucial growth industry, influenced Korean government’s announcement within 2.0 days of Lee’s defeat. It is expected that the fund would help to establish high-profile, public-private research centre with participation from several Korean conglomerates, including Samsung, LG Electronics and Hyundai Motor, as well as the technology firm Naver. Though Bangladesh is far behind in the area of AI studies, the government should take initiatives to bring global companies in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI) where Bangladeshi geniuses would have chance to work in the field of artificial intelligence, the science of the future. Korea is the largest FDI partner in the Export Processing Zones (EPZ) of Bangladesh. Country’s first and only private EPZ namely Korean EPZ is a venture of Korean company, Youngone.  If necessary initiatives are taken to resolve the problems that Korea and other countries face in making investments in the country, brilliant Bangladeshi professionals will get the scope to join the AI race through working in their firms.

The writer is CEO & Chief Consultant, Best Sourcing Business Advisory Services. mehdi.mahbub@bestsourcing.biz