Artificial Intelligence at RIT

by Sanjay Varma Rudraraju, Computer Science MS student

Artificial Intelligence today is what the dot-com boom was a few years ago. We hear the term everywhere and there has been an explosion of advancements in the field. Although people use the word loosely, Artificial Intelligence as we know it is comprised of various topics like machine learning, natural language processing, robotics and many others. These tend to fall under the broader term cognitive technologies. From driverless cars to Alpha Go, the world has seen advancements which have only been a part of science fiction movies. As a kid I loved science fiction, be it the Jetsons who lived in the future with holograms and advanced robots or Marty’s cool hover board from the Back to the Future. I always wanted to live in a future with such great advancements and today being part of an event at ROT discussing about the possibilities of such a future was very exciting.

Coming to the AI retreat that took place on February 17, 2017 at RIT was one of the most interesting days I had after coming to RIT, it was a daylong retreat which explored the advancements in artificial intelligence with a focus on RIT’s role. Speakers from various companies and institutions spoke about the work that is being done in the industry. One of the most captivating sessions, in which I was deeply immersed, was the topic “AI 2.0: brains for bots” by Mr. Max Versace, founder of the Boston University Neuromorphics Lab and the Co-Founder and CEO of Neurala Inc His company is a pioneer in deep learning neural network software that could be deployed on ordinary processors with low cost sensors. Apart from Mr. Versace I also had the pleasure of listening to Mr.Robert H. Bo Ewald, President of D-Wave International, who talked about quantum computing and the big names in industry that have been investing and relying on quantum computing. The presentation reviewed some of the thinking, fundamentals and activities behind quantum computing, starting with the ideas originally introduced by Richard Feynman in 1982. Later we had a presentation by Roman Yampolskiy who talked about the Future of AI and also discussed Artificial General Intelligence and its effects on humanity. It was a very thought-provoking presentation which was thoroughly enjoyed by both students and faculty.

Post lunch we had discussion groups with topics like “Impact of AI on Education, Ethics, and Law, Vision and Language and Cognitive Science and Bio-inspired Computing.” I personally had participated in the Vision and Language discussion group that discussed the ongoing work in the industry related to the topic and  brainstormed ways that RIT could start their own research in a related field, potentially making a real difference in the world. Because RIT is one of the largest technological colleges in the world for students who are deaf or hard of hearing inspired the group to discuss the potential that Vision and Language has to help them in many ways. There were discussions about Automatic Captioning, which would be of great benefit, and also other such great ideas which really made me feel proud that the Tigers at RIT, with the help of their faculty, are indeed trying to make a difference and work towards advancements in the field. The day ended with a note from Jeremy Haefner, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Rochester Institute of Technology, who promised that he would see to it RIT as an institution would support the research that the students and faculty will be working on from this day forward. It was a very special moment for me knowing how supportive the college is towards students and its faculty and then I realized I made the best decision by coming to RIT for my Masters.

Before I end this post I would like to repost some reflections that the Provost has communicated to the entire RIT community about this retreat –

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.

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 Wired Magazine,

“[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.