Should we be afraid of artificial intelligence?

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It’s difficult to overstate the speed of technological progress, and equally difficult to comprehend the extent of its sophistication and efficiency. In a single day, we now process as much data as we did in a month only a decade ago. With a revolution unfolding at such a breakneck pace, questions have naturally arisen as to how technology, especially artificial intelligence (AI), will affect the workplace – and our way of life. If it can impact everyone from taxi drivers to attorneys, what sort of world will we see, even in just a few years? Do we need to fear AI?

No, according to Geoff Hinton, the emeritus University of Toronto professor who’s often called “The Godfather of Artificial Intelligence.”  At a recent Reuters Newsmaker event held during the Thomson Reuters Financial & Risk Summit in Toronto, Hinton acknowledged we’re well into an era of great change, but said we shouldn’t meet it with instinctive trepidation.

A leap forward

Hinton, who is also an engineering fellow at Google, is vaunted among his peers for his work with multi-layer neural networks and deep learning. His research has helped connect previously separate realms of thinking and, in doing so, has propelled society toward goals once thought to be unachievable.

In his question-and-answer session with Reuters Global Technology Editor Jonathan Weber, Hinton described how AI – “Things a machine does that would make a person seem intelligent if a person did them,” as he defined it – made a great stride forward around 2012. That was when neural networks reached a point of sophistication at recognizing images and patterns that allowed them to take on more complex problems and “learn” for themselves. Previously, they had acted on sets of commands. That watershed moment marked the point where machines could “think” like never before, and made it possible for them to efficiently handle many tasks we’d previously thought only people could do.

Artificial intelligence pioneer Geoff Hinton speaks at the Thomson Reuters Newsmaker event in Toronto. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Reason for pause?

For some, the recent speed at which technology has launched forward has been intimidating. During his presentation, for example, Hinton quipped that he isn’t a favorite of doctors because he believes AI, with its ability to digest thousands of studies and images, might soon be better than human doctors at recognizing things like certain types of eye ailment and skin cancer.

Concerns about AI may be natural, but aren’t something Hinton himself shares. He used the analogy of trusting AI the way a passenger must trust a taxi driver.

“I think we’re going to have to treat it the same as we do with people,” he told Weber. “Most people who get into taxis get home safely. So, when you’re evaluating whether it’s a good idea to get into a taxi, you look at statistics and you look at patterns and you decide what’s sensible. You decide if you trust the driver.”

Thomson Reuters CEO Jim Smith, who introduced Hinton, said he was looking forward to what the future holds.

“I’ve never been more excited about the potential technology holds to transform our business than I am today,” he said.   “I believe, after our last couple of years of experimentation, that we are on the cusp of the greatest innovation in technological change that we will have seen. The potential of cognitive computing, AI, deep learning is indeed profound and will reshape the way we do business.”

Artificial intelligence pioneer Geoffrey Hinton (R) speaks at the Thomson Reuters Financial and Risk Summit in Toronto, December 4, 2017, as Jonathan Weber, Global Technology Editor, Reuters, looks on. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
Artificial intelligence pioneer Geoff Hinton (R) speaks during a Reuters Newsmaker event held during the Thomson Reuters Financial and Risk Summit in Toronto. Jonathan Weber, Global Technology Editor, Reuters, looks on. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Learn more

Watch the full video of the Reuters Newsmaker event with Geoffrey Hinton.

Our latest feature, Are you ready for blockchain?, explores what technology has in store for professionals across a range of industries.



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