By Spencer Feingold
Just a handful of technology companies dominate the development of artificial intelligence (AI), giving them an “outsize influence on the future of humanity,” warned author Amy Webb on Cheddar Thursday.
A self-proclaimed “quantitative futurist,” Webb argued against corporate control and said that everyday people – whose data is used to power AI – need a greater voice in the development of machine learning.
“While we are all focused on killer robots, we are forgetting about the real problems that are here right now,” Webb said.
In her new book, “The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity,” Webb claims that six U.S. companies ー Amazon ($AMZN), Google ($GOOGL), Facebook ($FB), Microsoft ($MSFT), IBM ($IBM), Apple ($AAPL) ー and three Chinese companies ー Tencent ($TCEHY), Baidu ($BIDU), Alibaba ($BABA)ー command the sector.
While smaller companies are making inroads, these nine corporations control the vast majority of patents, funding, and university partnerships, according to Webb. They are the companies that attract the top minds, and are where "all the action is happening," she said.
She warns that the tight control has led to biases in AI code and automated decision-making systems, especially since AI developers are part of a “small homogeneous group.”
“Like every new technology, you can build it with good intentions, but it always forks in ways people don't anticipate,” Webb explained.
She did say, however, that AI can have enormous positive impacts on society. The benefits range from advancing medical research to improving agricultural systems in the era of global warming.
“The killer robots are not around the corner and, at the same point, AI is not overnight going to usher in a type of utopia,” Webb added.
Additional research supports the notion that the U.S. public is apprehensive of corporations developing AI.
A recent report from the Center for the Governance of AI at the University of Oxford found that just 10 percent of Americans had “a great deal of confidence” in tech companies to develop AI. Facebook was the least trusted of the individual companies polled ー just 4 percent of respondents had “a great deal of confidence" in the company. Interestingly, the U.S. military was the most trusted actor to develop AI with 17 percent of respondent having a great deal of confidence in the institution.
On AI generally, Americans had mixed support: 41 percent said they somewhat or strongly support the development of AI, while 22 percent somewhat or strongly oppose it.
“When it comes to AI, there is tremendous amount of misplaced optimism and fear,” Webb explained.
Webb added that AI will inevitably be part of the future but stressed that liberal arts are essential to a healthy society. She urged people to continue studying philosophy, religion, politics, and the arts.
“They’re learning things that the machines can't do for us. They’re going to be in demand in the future,” she said.
For full interview click here.