Artificial Intelligence, Part I

Part I of III

2018: Artificial Intelligence Awakens

Cognitive intelligences like BOB, an artificially intelligent art installation at London’s Serpentine Gallery this month, are waking up all over the world in 2018. Each BOB born in the March litter “may become interested in you, love you, hate you, mistake you for someone else, learn from you, or ignore you.”. This particular installation even goes so far as to self-decapitate if it tires of you.

To understand BOB, or perhaps slightly less narcissistic cognitive intelligences such as Siri, Alexa, or Karla, and why they are (re)surging with new-found skills and independence in 2018, I think it’s worth taking a small step back in context, in this first of a three-part series on AI.

Part I. A Cambrian Explosion

Paleontologists tell us that in the relatively short Cambrian period, a period of around 25 million years in duration, and occurring over 500 million years ago, over 90% of the animal phyla present today appeared for the first time in the fossil record. 

No one quite knows what caused this “Cambrian explosion” or diversification of life (nor the exact cause of the mass extinction event that marked its end), but it was characterized by development of the “eyeball” and it seems quite likely that such a new and dramatic sensory capability could indeed create mass diversification of application, as well as foster new levels of animal intelligence.

Therefore, perhaps it is no surprise to see sight and language processing being at the heart of today’s Cambrian explosion in Artificial Intelligence (AI). The field of AI has been well studied for nearly a century, in fact certainly foreshadowed by Ada Lovelace as early as 1843 when she postulated that the Babbage Engine “might act upon other things besides number… the Engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent”. However, it is perhaps not unfair to state that nothing of much broad utility was developed until really the last 10 years.

While many of the theories of today’s deep learning trace back to the study of the hierarchy of neurons in a cat’s visual cortex (Hubel and Weisel 1959), it was not until after the publication of a standard database of source images by Fei-Fei Li et al. in her ImageNet poster in the corner of a Miami conference room in 2009, the advances of competition algorithms such as AlexNet in 2012, that we now have thousands of such “models” that that can surpass human capability in their respective fields. 

A startup such as Synchronous Health, standing on the shoulders of these giants, can download open source tools, and relatively quickly and a couple of patents later, develop new intelligences such as Karla. 

We’ve come a very long way in a very short period of time. The next ten years will seem even faster.

Guy Barnard is CEO & Co-Founder of Synchronous Health, an artificial intelligence behavioral health solutions provider. He was previous Chief Information Officer at Healthways, a $2B population health company, and held leadership positions at the Boston Consulting Group and Accenture. He holds an MBA from MIT and an MA and BA from Cambridge University.