Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Webb, The Big Nine

On February 11, President Donald Trump launched the American AI Initiative, directing federal agencies to focus on the technology. The United States was slow to take even this admittedly vague action. At least 18 other countries had already announced national AI strategies. Canada was the first off the blocks, in March 2017, and, most notably, China announced its next generation AI plan in July 2017 and its three-year action plan in December of that year.

The U.S. government may not have a national strategy, but that doesn’t mean that American companies are not shaping the future of artificial intelligence. Amy Webb, a futurist and professor of strategic foresight at the NYU Stern School of Business, claims in The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity (PublicAffairs/Hachette, 2019) that nine companies now control the future of AI: the G-MAFIA (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, IBM, and Apple) in the U.S. and the BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent) in China.

Even though Webb does not want to preclude the G-MAFIA from earning revenue and growing, she thinks it is critically important to realize that AI has become a public good, just like our breathable air. “[W]e cannot continue to think of it as a platform built by the Big Nine for digital commerce, communications, and cool apps.”

As AI evolves, becoming an ever more dominant part of our lives, we have a responsibility to steer it in the right direction. Webb outlines three possible scenarios of our future with AI—the optimistic, the pragmatic, and the catastrophic. Only if countries across the globe collaborate on AI standards and best practices and if governments, companies, universities, and individuals change their current practices, she argues, can we avert a potential catastrophe.

The Big Nine is a thought-provoking book, well worth the read.

No comments:

Post a Comment