The Davos crowd had high-minded talk about AI, stay tuned for the action

Artificial intelligence as applied to industry 4.0 dominated the technology chatter out of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Here's a slightly cynical view about where we go from here.

"Working for a living will become obsolete. AI and robots will make the stuff we need and provide the services we need. The path to get there will be rocky. I don't worry about the end game. It's going to be great. But I worry about the path getting there." -- SingularityNet CEO Dr. Ben Goertzel in interview with CBS News/CNET's Dan Patterson

That's a nice vision and the quote gives you a good feel for how artificial intelligence was a key topic at the World Economic Forum, a powwow of global leaders and C-level folks talking about saving the world. That quote also gives you a good idea of how out of touch the Davos crowd is from the on-the-ground concerns among regular folks, the builders and the implementers when it comes to artificial intelligence, industry 4.0 and other handy tech buzzwords.

Also: The AI, machine learning, and data science conundrum: Who will manage the algorithms?  

A few high-level takeaways out of the Davos AI chatter:

  • Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said AI is a human right.
  • Goertzel noted how just a few companies and organizations control the AI, data and innovation flow. He added that approach isn't going to be the smoothest path. He was big on the idea of emerging general intelligence and governance via a democratic approach.
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World Economic Forum

Now I get that AI is an issue that goes well beyond technology and its impact on society is going to be a bit complicated. I also don't buy Goertzel's vision of AI utopia. Humans are meant to work. What are the psychological impacts of having a bunch of non-working humans? It's a question no one is really asking, but my guess is all that free time is going to result in a global population of people who feel unfulfilled.


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On the more immediate front, companies like IBM have led the charge on AI governance, job impact, transparency and bias

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AI: It's complicated

World Economic Forum

That conversation should be ongoing, but perhaps the biggest issue with AI is the global lack of leadership across multiple institutions. Constellation Research principal Ray Wang summed up the next phase of globalization and how AI fits into it. After all, AI will run through all future designs.

Wang said:

As world leaders and elites convene to discuss Globalization 4.0, the lack of self-awareness and empathy of populist viewpoints hinder policy effectiveness.  Swift decisive actions now trump patient planning and decision making regardless of impact.  The populace yearns for a clear path to equal opportunity, fairness, and meritocracy.  Unfortunately, leaders have no more tools to offer other than empty promises.

The need for leadership has never been greater and the forces of good must trump evil in this precarious period.  This call to action must be heeded.  As centralized systems create winner takes all markets and exacerbate inequality, decentralization will empower a shift of power and create new opportunities.  Leaders must step up to craft systems that ensure equal opportunity.

AI will intersect with all those issues. AI will be a decade long scrum and possibly more.

Correction: SingularityNet CEO Dr. Ben Goertzel's name was misspelled in earlier version of this article. 

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