The Future of Artificial Intelligence: What the Researchers Say

A recent flurry of studies on artificial intelligence paints a picture of what the technology means for research, the human race, and the global economy—and notes where the field has room for improvement.

Interest in artificial intelligence technology, including in the association space, is picking up in a big way as we close out 2018 and move into the new year, and an array of recent studies on the topic shows just what we have to look forward to.

Studies from Stanford University, Pew Research Center, and New York University examine the state of AI from different directions. They explore the field’s global growth, its diversity, and its economic and ethical implications.

As the trend picks up, here are a few key points worth digging into from these recent studies:

AI drives an increasing amount of academic research worldwide. As highlighted by the fact that numerous reports on the topic came out at around the same time, artificial intelligence is driving a lot of research momentum these days. According to Stanford’s AI Index [PDF], growth in the number of artificial intelligence papers published in a given year has outpaced that of even computer science. But the focus of the work varies greatly by region: While research done in Europe and the U.S. focuses on the humanities or medicine, Chinese research has emphasized engineering and agricultural uses for AI. U.S. research is the most commonly published and cited, but Chinese AI research has grown greatly over the past two decades.

Diversity is a lingering problem. Stanford’s study represented the first in-depth analysis of diversity in AI, and the picture was not good: Eight out of 10 AI professors from major schools are male, it reported. And as the San Francisco Chronicle recently noted, a major AI conference had to change its name this year because its acronym was considered sexist. Meanwhile, questions have been raised about how to include the entire global community in networking and knowledge sharing: Recently, the International Conference on Learning Representations announced it will relocate to Ethiopia in 2020 in an effort to ensure African researchers are included in the conversation, given visa challenges.

There’s a need for a more positive message. Much of the chatter around AI focuses on whether the technology will eliminate jobs or whether the “machines” will take over. The recent Pew study, based on input from nearly 1,000 AI experts, takes a more optimistic view. It suggests that there could be serious advantages to increased reliance on tech, as long as the focus remains on maximizing the capabilities of humans and taking a more empathetic approach that prioritizes people. “A number of the thought leaders who participated in this canvassing said humans’ expanding reliance on technological systems will only go well if close attention is paid to how these tools, platforms, and networks are engineered, distributed, and updated,” the report states.

More regulation is needed. The report from the AI Now Institute [PDF], at New York University, notes that industry players are advocating for stronger governance—both internally, in terms of decisions made by companies, and externally, in the form of government regulation. “We need a sector-specific approach that does not prioritize the technology but focuses on its application within a given domain,” the report stated, citing the Federal Aviation Administration as an example. This is similar to a recent push by Microsoft urging regulations on facial recognition.

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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