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If AI dumbed us down, would we even know?

Silicon Valley pros face the challenges head-on

At first glance, one COSM panel’s question might seem disconcerting: “Does AI Make Us Dumb?”

But doesn’t AI help us be smart?

Do you remember how you felt when you couldn’t find your phone, your computer crashed, or the internet was down? Or the power went off for several days? Helpless maybe?

Isaac Newton, dashing off a pioneer version of calculus in 1666 using only pen and paper, would have a hard time understanding the problem.

Does the constant use of machine aids rob us of natural smarts? If not, how are they helping us? Are there ways we can change the mix?

The panelists include Oren Etzioni, a computer science prof who is now CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. He was named Seattle’s Geek of the Year in 2013. He has written over 100 technical papers but has also written commentary on AI for The New York Times, Nature, Wired, and MIT Technology Review. You can catch his TED talk here.

Etzioni is prone to wonder about things like how machines can take over the world when they can’t even figure out what “it” refers to in a simple sentence. He has been known to say things like “To reach the next level of AI, we need some breakthroughs. I’m not sure it’s simply throwing more money at the problem”—the “problem” being that computer triumphs are the result of awesome pattern recognition and don’t amount to what most of us mean by intelligence.

That contrasts starkly with the approach taken by Ray Kurzweil, participating by videoconference, who predicts that computers will be as intelligent as humans within a decade.

Joining Etzioni will be Robert J. Marks. Baylor University professor of computer science and director of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence, and Craig Mundie, who was a senior advisor at Microsoft for 22 years but now heads up Mundi & Associates LLC, which coaches CEOs on technology strategy and organizational design. The moderator will be Matt McIlwain, managing director of Madrona Venture Group, a venture capital consortium.

The panel is scheduled for Thursday, October 24, 2:00 pm.

Featured speakers at the conference, in addition to Ray Kurzweil, include Steve Forbes, Peter Thiel, and Ken Fisher, discussing where headline news like artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, self-driving cars, e-commerce, and biotech is going. Are machines replacing or helping us and how will we know the difference? What can we do if we don’t like what’s happening?

Note: Keep an eye on the dates. The early adopter conference rate ($950) for COSM is only available until September 6. After that, it is $1,450. Until October 11, that is, when it goes to $1,950. If you think you should be there, do not wait to register.


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If AI dumbed us down, would we even know?