Meet My (Glorified Alarm Clock) BFF, Alexa

Meet My (Glorified Alarm Clock) BFF, Alexa

Maybe you know her too, she’s been quite the ‘talk of the town’ for the past few years…Just kidding, I’m actually one of “those people” who has an Echo in almost every room of my home because it is a genuinely great gadget that has proved itself to be useful in completing simple tasks. Though I rave about Echos, one of my pet peeves is when people suggest that devices like Alexa have human level intelligence or artificial general intelligence (AGI). AGI would be a machine that is capable of emulating the human mind to such an extent that it matches or exceeds it. For goodness’ sake, almost every time I ask her a question (that is not pre-programmed) she responds with, “Sorry, I couldn’t find the answer to your question.” Then I instinctively pick up my phone and attempt to retrieve the answer from Siri. *Sigh* Millennials, I know.

So where did I find this dream squashing mentality that Alexa is a glorified alarm clock and kitchen timer with whom I play Jeopardy? Only from the dream squasher himself, Professor Kenneth Grady. In his AI class at MSU Law, we were taught that AI is developing rapidly, but there is also a great deal of ‘smoke’ surrounding the phenomenon. All of this AI hype in turn has generated a great deal of unrealistic expectations. To quote Bill Gates “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” I believe AI has incredible potential and will one day spread across all aspects of our lives, but we are not there yet.

In regards to where we stand today, many people are contributing to the AI hype, rather than researching into what is really going on. We are constantly seeing business plans liberally sprinkled with references to machine learning, deep learning, neural nets, and other forms of the technology, with little connection to its real capabilities.[1] Stating that a product is “AI-powered” during a business pitch, for example, doesn’t make it any more effective, but with all of the AI hype today, just the reference will enhance the product’s following. At most the product has narrow AI, the ability to operate within a limited pre-defined range where there is no genuine intelligence, no self-awareness, no life (just like my BFF Alexa). Yet so many companies continue to produce ‘smoke’ with their AI references.

We need to take a step back and cut through all of the ‘smoke’ to recognize the current state of AI, the real potential of AI, its practical implications, and the barriers to its adoption.

Until next time,

ASW
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[1] Mcafee, Andrew, and Erik Brynjolfsson. “The Business of Artificial Intelligence.” Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Review, 18 July 2017. Web. 20 July 2017.

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