Many books proclaim that true artificial intelligence is on the horizon, and this expert overview makes a convincing case that genuine AI is…on the horizon.
New York Times technology correspondent Metz tells his engrossing story through the lives of a dozen geniuses, scores of brilliant men (mostly), and an ongoing, cutthroat industrial and academic arms race. He begins with a history of neural networks, an idea developed in the 1950s when it became clear that sheer calculating speed would never produce a smart computer. A neural network is an engineering system modeled on the web of neurons in the brain. Such systems can be “trained” by passing signals back and forth through multiple layers without being programmed with specific rules. Vastly overhyped, the concept led to few accomplishments—until the 21st century, when massive computer power and breakthroughs by Metz’s heroes have produced spectacular achievements. As the author astutely points out, calling it “artificial intelligence” may be a mistake. Today’s neural nets capable of “deep learning” don’t think, but they’re superb at pattern recognition. They can identify photographs and handwriting and respond with modest sophistication to verbal commands (Siri and Alexa). A computer employing deep learning is not a brain; it requires access to a titanic database and accomplishes a single task. The unbeatable chess player can’t play Jeopardy! That requires a different computer. Despite massive challenges, a handful of mega-companies (Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon) and one mega-nation (China) have no doubts. For Elon Musk, “it was all wrapped up in the same technological trend. First image recognition. Then translation. Then driverless cars.” Then AI. Metz expresses optimism for the next decade but does not pin his hopes on the U.S. The Trump administration’s clampdown on immigration has diverted foreign talent and American investment elsewhere. Meanwhile, China has “built a domestic industry worth more than $150 billion…treating artificial intelligence like its own Apollo program.”
A must-read, fully-up-to-date report on the holy grail of computing.