Seeking to outsmart US, China races ahead on artificial intelligence

Chinese students work on the Ares, a humanoid bipedal robot designed by them with funding from a Shanghai investment company, displayed during the World Robot Conference in Beijing on Oct. 21, 2016. China’s goal is to transform the country into a global leader in artificial intelligence in just over a decade. (Ng Han Guan AP)

 

When a Google computer program beat the world’s best player of an ancient Chinese board game last May, it might have seemed like an incremental milestone.

But for some, the success of the program known as AlphaGo marked more than a man vs. machine clash. It set up a broader race between China and the United States over artificial intelligence, a competition that could mold the future of humankind just as the widespread arrival of electricity did in the last century.

The Go tournament took place in Wuzhen, a city of canals that is more than 1,300 years old, a fitting venue for a competition involving the strategy board game Go that has been played for several thousand years. Go is renowned for its complexity, and it is said that there are more variations to the game than there are atoms in the universe.

Perhaps it was a coincidence of timing, but the AlphaGo competition kicked off events that demonstrated China’s resolve to close the gap with — and quickly surpass — the United States in deploying artificial intelligence, or AI. Goals Chinese authorities announced last July are ambitious: Reach parity with the United States by 2020, achieve major breakthroughs by 2025, and “occupy the commanding heights of AI technology by 2030” as the world’s undisputed leader.

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Automatic Job Storm Coming

 

Almost every weekday, some arm of the US government issues some sort of economic statistic. News media and financial analysts review and report it. Then 99.9% of the adult population, and probably 90% of the financial industry, forget all about it. And they’re probably right to do so.

The monthly jobs report isn’t like that. Yes, any single month doesn’t tell us much. Yes, the Labor Department’s methodology has some flaws, both major and minor. But imperfect as it is, the jobs report is our best look at the economy’s pulse. Jobs matter in a visceral way to almost all of us, as you know well if you’ve ever lost one. Almost any survey that asked questions around employment would reveal the angst that many Americans feel about the possibility of losing their jobs.

Right now, automation tops the list of things that might threaten our jobs. Artificial intelligence and robotics technology are rapidly learning to do what human workers do, but better, faster, and cheaper. Continue reading

Tech leaders warn against ‘Pandora’s box’ of robotic weapons

 

Elon Musk is leading demands for a global ban on killer robots, warning technological advances could revolutionise warfare and create new “weapons of terror” that target innocent people.

The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX joined more than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence entrepreneurs in signing a letter to the United Nations calling for action to prevent the development of autonomous weapons. Continue reading