Comment: House of Lords accepts the slow march of AI

Developments in AI are taking much longer than we thought and the House of Lords acknowledges this.

The House of Lords

The  Lords, as it so often does, has produced a sensible report, this one on artificial intelligence.

Wisely, it doesn’t get into the technology or forecasts for the technology – the West Coast techies have made that mistake before.

Instead, the UK’s upper house tells us how to treat AI if, or when, it starts to affect our lives.

And in many ways, it already has: face‑recognition is ubiquitous and improving rapidly, we rely on Google for advice in many aspects of our lives and companies use robots to answer the phone.

But what scientists call ‘strong AI’ – making a machine as intelligent as a human – is decades away, reckons the House of Lords.

AI is what Ed Feigenbaum of Stanford University, back in the 1970s, used to call ‘expert systems’ – having an accountant in your living room, or a lawyer or a doctor, courtesy of a computer program.

Here we are, 40 years or so later, and we don’t have these living‑room experts – although we do look up a lot of stuff on Google to find answers to questions which experts answer.

If the past is any kind of guide to the future, AI is an incremental kind of thing. It will happen slowly over a much longer time-span than anyone expects.

While it does, scientists will always be suggesting ways to speed up that progress, because scientists pursue grants, and grants depend on their ability to identify solvable problems.

It just could be that quantum computing gets cracked and AI and a lot else becomes do-able.

But for the time being, the House of Lords has done what it does best – setting out a sane, decent approach to the advent of AI.

Electronics Weekly

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