Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said last week tech developers have a responsibility to prevent a dystopian ‘1984’ future as the US technology titan unveiled a fresh initiative to bring artificial intelligence into the mainstream.
At the start of its annual Build Conference on May 10, Microsoft sought to showcase applications with artificial intelligence that could tap into services in the internet ‘cloud’ and even take advantage of computing power in nearby machines.
Nadella spent time on stage at the Seattle conference stressing a need to build trust in technology, saying new applications must avoid dystopian futures feared by some.
Nadella’s presentation included images from George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ to underscore the issue of responsibility of those creating new technologies.
“What Orwell prophesied in ‘1984,’ where technology was being used to monitor, control, dictate, or what Huxley imagined we may do just by distracting ourselves without any meaning or purpose -- neither of these futures is something that we want,” he said. “The future of computing is going to be defined by the choices that you as developers make and the impact of those choices on the world.”
There is much discussion in the tech world about what AI will mean for society, especially since it is quickly driving change that could eliminate jobs, with applications such as self-driving trucks or ‘bots’ which take over many skilled functions.
“What happens to lower-level, blue-collar jobs that might be impacted?” Gartner research director of app design and development Jason Wong ask rhetorically. “That is part of the dystopia that can occur because of the abruptness of AI; in less than a generation we will be seeing things like driverless cars.”
Microsoft is infusing all of its products and services with AI, and enabling those who develop on its platform to imbue creations with customized capabilities, according to executive vice president of artificial intelligence and research Harry Shum.
“We’ve been creating the building blocks for the current wave of AI breakthroughs for more than two decades,” Shum said.
Microsoft research has gone deep into areas such as machine learning, speech recognition, and enabling machines to recognize what they ‘see’.
“Now, we’re in the unique position of being able to use those decades of research breakthroughs,” Shum said.
Microsoft rivals including Amazon, Apple, Google and IBM have all been aggressively pursing the promise and potential of artificial intelligence.