October 20, 2016
“This isn’t human versus machine. It’s human and machine.” Cade Metz, "In Two Moves, AlphaGo and Lee Sodel Redefined the Future," Wired Magazine
In a very short time, there has been an explosion of announcements, articles, and advancements on the topics of artificial intelligence, machine (‘deep’) learning, robotics, quantum computing, and other related topics that fall under the general header of ‘cognitive technologies’. Examples abound:
In fact, the volume of articles, books, and media on this topic is staggering.
Not surprisingly, there are many efforts on the RIT campus in this space. Faculty and students are working on deep learning techniques, designing brain-inspired semi-conductor chips that make artificial intelligence faster, testing algorithms that can be used with quantum computers, and using artificial intelligence in application domains such as cybersecurity and accessibility.
Other RIT faculty are beginning to think about educational programs that will provide students with expertise to use cognitive computing in careers that have not even been invented yet. Still others are thinking about how we can prepare our graduates for an employment landscape that will be dramatically impacted by these advancements.
For the past 10 months, I have had many conversations with RIT faculty who are working in the area of cognitive computing and at the beginning of this academic year I convened a group to begin planning an RIT retreat on this topic. The members of the steering committee include:
The retreat, code-named ‘Move 78’, is planned for Friday, February 17, 2017 and people interested in this topic are urged to hold this date on their calendar. The objectives of the retreat are to engage RIT community members working or interested in this area, hear from experts, and begin to strategize about what will be RIT’s response. Current plans for the retreat include external keynote speakers to set the stage for the retreat, short talks about current work, poster sessions, and plenty of opportunities to network. The key questions we wish to explore with this retreat include:
Please look for more information as the retreat takes shape but in the meantime, please hold this date on your calendar.
One last point. The working title for this retreat is ‘Move 78’. This bears an explanation. Back in March of this year, there was a historic matchup between the Google computer system named ‘AlphaGo’ and Lee Sedol, one of the world’s best Go players. (The game of Go is considered to be one of most cognitively challenging strategy games because of the vast number of possible moves; for example, there are 20 possible opening moves in a game of chess and 361 in a game of Go.) And in a 5 game series, AlphaGo defeated Sedol in 4 of them, thereby sending shockwaves through the Go and cognitive computing communities.
What is truly fascinating, however, are two ‘moves’ from the series. In Move 37 of Game Two, AlphaGo astounded Sedol with a play that experts never saw before let alone anticipated. Sedol took an unheard-of 20 minutes to respond. At that point, it looked grim for Team Human. But in Game Four, Sedol, wanting redemption, knew that he needed more than just the expertise he had developed in playing Go all his life and so dipped deeper into his creative well. His play, in Move 78, did just that. It astonished not only the Go world but AlphaGo itself. This move has become known as ‘God’s Touch’ and Sedol went on to win Game Four. (For a great synopsis of this match up, see the Wired Magazine article above.
This story inspires me. As I think about the vast implications for the seemingly unlimited potential of cognitive computing, I could imagine a very bleak future. But I prefer not to. Rather I have tremendous faith in the creative and imaginative power of the human mind. To quote the above-mentioned article,
“[Move 78] showed that although machines are now capable of moments of genius, humans have hardly lost the ability to generate their own transcendent moments. And it seems that in the years to come, as we humans work with these machines, our genius will only grow in tandem with our creations.”
The future isn’t scary; it’s exciting.