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article imageMicrosoft: AI 'is the most important technology on the planet'

By James Walker     May 9, 2016 in Technology
A Microsoft executive has claimed artificial intelligence is "the most important technology on the planet" while talking to business leaders at a conference in the UK. Microsoft is investing heavily in AI, viewed as the next frontier of computing.
Business Insider reports that Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer at Microsoft UK, made the comments at a conference last week. The leader said AI "is the most important technology that anybody on the planet is working on today" and something that has the ability to "change how we perceive what it means to be human."
Coplin discussed how the rise of artificial intelligence will affect society and human roles. "We've got to start to make some decisions about whether the right people are making these algorithms," he said. "What biases will be inferred by those people, by those companies? These are things we don't know about. This is new. We talk about unchartered territory."
Artificial intelligence is already being used in a variety of different scenarios. From digital assistants such as Google Now, Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana to supercomputers crunching datasets for scientific research, AI is already here. New systems are being built faster than ever by all the major tech companies, ranging from Microsoft to social media sites such as Facebook and entertainment providers like Netflix.
The computers have the potential to dramatically change society, taking control of mundane tasks that humans don't want to complete and those that are too complex for the human mind to undertake. Coplin warned this "will change how we relate to each other" as the meaning of humanity begins to shift.
"We have to be ready to deal with them," he said. "We have to understand that they exist. We have to start being mindful about the processes we put in place."
Whether an AI can really "exist" is still a point of contention. Identifying when an AI becomes self-aware and conscious of itself will be a turning point in the development of artificial intelligences. At some point, turning a computer's power off may be viewed as unethical and a kind of death.
Coplin said we need to view artificial intelligence as an aid rather an enemy. Humanity should be ready to accept the abilities of artificial intelligence and use the benefits to its advantage, viewing AI positively rather than fearfully. "The way in which we choose to use AI is a reflection of humans, the people, not the machines themselves," the Microsoft executive told the audience.
"We are locked in this endless cycle of pointless rhetoric about humans vs machines. We are aware machines can beat us at chess. They can beat us at Jeopardy. Now they can beat us at Go. They’re going to steal our jobs. Hang on! Stop, When was this ever the dialogue for what we did with technology? Technology is here to augment what we do. Support us to extend our capability."
Although technology companies are rapidly developing AI systems, some leaders have warned against the wisdom in building intelligent machines. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has joined figures including Stephen Hawking as sceptics of AI, questioning whether the benefits really outweigh the potential risks.
A recent Microsoft AI experiment went horribly wrong, demonstrating what can happen when poorly designed AIs are released to the world. The firm's Tay chatbot had to be pulled offline after a day when users turned it into a Hitler-supporting racist. The company blamed the attitude of users for the disaster, linking to Coplin's message on how humans should treat AI.
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