Columbus could be center of artificial intelligence advances

By David Staley For The Columbus Dispatch

A number of very serious people are anticipating a world in the near future when our machines will have advanced to the point where they will perform many tasks once thought only possible to be done by humans.

David Staley is a futurist and an associate professor of history, design and educational studies at Ohio State University. [ BrookeLaValley/Dispatch ]
Stephen Hawking predicted that the “rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative, or supervisory roles remaining.” It has been true since the first Industrial Revolution in the 1800s that machines would replace some human labor. Until now, such technological replacement has largely involved jobs requiring physical labor. What seems possible now is that machines will be replacing jobs that require advanced cognitive abilities.

While the effects of automation and autonomous intelligence will be felt across the world, there is every reason to believe that Columbus will be a major center for this new machine age. As the recipient of the federal Smart Cities challenge grant, Columbus is poised to be a world leader in the development of autonomous vehicles. In addition, Columbus no doubt will become home to a number of companies that will create an autonomous mobility ecosystem, where new ideas and innovations will be launched.

Columbus — a test market in so many other areas — will be a testing ground for how driverless cars will traverse an urban landscape. Columbus-based start-ups could learn how humans and autonomous machines interact.

Columbus is emerging as a data analytics center. Data analytics is a key part of the process of developing smart algorithms. IBM’s cognitive computer Watson is an expression of the kind of autonomous intelligence that can emerge when algorithms act upon large amounts of data. With IBM’s big data center, OCLC, Chemical Abstracts and Ohio State’s Translational Data Analytics Institute in close proximity, Columbus will become a major market for data analytics and the kind of autonomous intelligence that has led to Watson winning at "Jeopardy," diagnosing diseases and helping to prepare our taxes.

Forrester Research reports that “93% of automation technologists feel unprepared or only partially prepared to tackle the challenges associated with smart machine technologies.” I anticipate that given its role in developing the technologies of the autonomous world, Columbus will lead the way in the study of the economics, ethics and sociology of automation. Scholars in Columbus will be at the leading edge of anticipating, understanding and perhaps even alleviating the many societal challenges that automation will bring. Humanists from Ohio State University will wrestle with the moral and philosophical problems of automation.


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Elon Musk has been among a number of technologists and entrepreneurs who have urged the development of a universal basic income as a way to alleviate the effects of unemployment that automation is sure to bring. Under this concept, governments or some other public agency would provide a guaranteed minimum income to all citizens, so they would not have to depend on employment — jobs having been made scarce by technology — as their sole source of income. Since Columbus likely will be an epicenter of automation, it will make sense for politicians and policy analysts to test the idea of a universal basic income so close to the source.

Google's computer program known as Alpha Go defeated the best human player of Go, a challenging ancient board game. It was said to have conjured a dazzlingly creative move. In addition to performing a number of tasks, robots and algorithms also will be programmed to express their creativity. The arts community in Columbus could emerge as a center for “autonomously intelligent art:” algorithms writing literature or poetry, painting canvases or engaging in other creative acts in yet-to-be-imagined mediums. TEDxColumbus may very well host the first algorithm to deliver a TEDtalk, talks where innovators share ideas. Perhaps an algorithm will replace me as the host of CreativeMornings Columbus?

David Staley is a futurist and an associate professor of history, design and educational studies at Ohio State University. He is the host of CreativeMornings Columbus, a lecture series for creative thinkers.


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