The HoL report quotes the 1956 Dartmouth College, New Hampshire study into AI, instances the 1960s’ AI initiatives at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Edinburgh University and Stanford, and notes the 1980s’ Alvey programme which were followed by what scientists call ‘AI winters’ when scepticism towards AI became the prevailing mood of scientists.
Now, says the HoL, ‘another wave of excitement’ about AI has been generated by neural nets and deep learning algorithms.
For a definition of AI the HoL report adopts this one: “Technologies with the ability to perform tasks that would otherwise require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, and language translation”, but adds the caveat: “Our one addition to this definition is that AI systems today usually have the capacity to learn or adapt to new experiences or stimuli.”
When I spoke to the head of the HoL committee on AI, Lord Clement-Jones, I asked him if this was a report on what we do If AI happens and not on How or When it will happen, and he replied: “Yes”.
Clement-Jones added that so far as ‘Strong AI’ is concerned “that could be two decades down the track.” The term Strong AI means a machine which is as intelligent as a human.
In specific fields, though, AI is very much with us, said Clement-Jones, pointing to, inter alia, facial recognition, fintech and the increasing sophistication of Google search answers. “We need to be prepared for what we’ve got coming along currently,” he said, and the report addresses this requirement comprehensively.
Clement-Jones said that the UK’s AI R&D effort must address all aspects of AI – Strong AI and specific applications of AI.
Should we focus more on developing AI products or on intelligently applying AI products? I asked. “Both”, he replied “we don’t want to get left behind. In the UK we’ve not been fantastic at applied technology – the Americans have done it better than us – now we have a chance to apply AI.”
A key point is the problem that some of our best AI start-ups are bought by the big tech companies e.g. DeepMind being bought by Google.
“DeepMind couldn’t get growth funding which is why it got sold to Google, “ said Clement-Jones, “we need to set up a Growth Fund so companies don’t need to sell out early.”
The Growth Fund is one of the major recommendations of the report.
A big problem identified by the report is the lack of skilled people in the AI field. Asked about this, Clement-Jones replied: “PhDs need to be funded. Who does it? Government? Industry?”
The government recently agreed to fund 200 more PhDs in AI, and Clement-Jones commented: “We need thousands, not hundreds, and it’s not just a question of computer skills it’s also about creative studies into how we use AI.”
AI summer is not here but, when it comes, the House of Lords has shown how it can best be enjoyed