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Media Interview – "The Big Read: The rise of AI, and how lives will be forever changed" by Prof Louis Phee, Dean, CoE and Prof Ong Yew Soon, Chair, SCSE

Published on: 10-May-2018

TODAY Paper, 7 May 2018
The Big Read: The rise of AI, and how lives will be forever changed

Once the domain of science fiction books and movies, the AI revolution has well and truly arrived — and it is not just in the form of walking and talking robots. The rise of AI has pervaded areas ranging from healthcare, retail, transport and banking to food and beverage as well as dating services, to name a few.

By 2020, AI is projected to create 2.3 million new jobs worldwide while eliminating 1.8 million traditional jobs, according to research firm Gartner. This was a point echoed by a recent study by the World Economic Forum which said the development of AI technologies will disrupt jobs but at the same time usher in unprecedented new opportunities.

Around the world including in Singapore, research on AI as well as its application can be seen in almost every sector.

The roots of AI research can be traced back to the 1950s, said Professor Ong Yew Soon, chair of NTU's School of Computer Science and Engineering.

At that time, computer scientist and mathematician Alan Turing proposed a test to measure a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour that is indistinguishable from that of a human.

The first working AI programs — which were able to play checkers and chess — were written in 1951. However, funding dried up eventually, as the lack of technology and slow computing powers held back the development of AI, said Prof Ong. Progress continued to be tepid in the following decades.

The convergence of several factors in recent years has led to greater momentum. "Computers became faster, algorithms improved, and a large amount of data became increasingly accessible. New advances followed, with deep learning methods starting to dominate around 2012," said Prof Ong.

Prof Ong noted that most of the current AI technologies focus on solving specific tasks where AI can surpass humans. These range from photo-tagging on social media, chatbots, loan approvals to language translation and digital assistants, he said.

NTU's Prof Ong said that while AI can perform particular tasks like humans such as cooking specific meals, it is very unlikely that machines will be able to exhibit "broadly applicable intelligence comparable to or exceeding that of humans" — not for the next 20 years at least, he added.

"Currently, we are seeing a rapid progress in the field of specialised AI… which will most likely continue in the years to come," he added. "In other words, we may not expect a robot replacing a chef in the very near future. Nevertheless, it is to be expected that machines will reach and exceed human performance on more and more tasks," he said.

Although AI is advancing at a breakneck speed, being human also means being emotional — to be able to hate, love, be angry or sad, said Professor Louis Phee.

Prof Phee, who is the dean of NTU's College of Engineering, had invented and commercialised the world's first scarless surgery robot for stomach tumours. "These traits are difficult to understand, even for humans. They would be the challenges for AI scientists to solve in the future," he added.

For now, the experts are divided on how fast the AI revolution will take place. Prof Ong noted that some experts predict "with 90 per cent confidence" that by 2070, AI can do most jobs at least as well as a typical human.

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Article courtesy of Mediacorp News Group


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