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OPLIN 4cast #493: Not so artificial intelligence

Posted in 4cast

cardboard robotEveryone seems to be getting excited about artificial intelligence (AI) these days. As Bill Gates said last week, “The dream is finally arriving.” And people seem to be eager for it. The novelty of asking Siri or Cortana for a weather report is wearing off, and folks now want answers to tougher, “concierge” questions, like restaurant recommendations. A number of companies are offering assistants that are able to answer such questions, with Facebook’s M perhaps being the most widely known. But there is a secret behind the current AI systems: the intelligence is sometimes human, not artificial.

  • The humans hiding behind the chatbots (Bloomberg Technology | Ellen Huet)  “A handful of companies employ humans pretending to be robots pretending to be humans. In the past two years, companies offering do-anything concierges (Magic, Facebook’s M, GoButler); shopping assistants (Operator, Mezi); and e-mail schedulers (, Clara) have sprung up. The goal for most of these businesses is to require as few humans as possible. People are expensive. They don’t scale. They need health insurance. But for now, the companies are largely powered by people, clicking behind the curtain and making it look like magic.”
  • System predicts 85 percent of cyber-attacks using input from human experts (MIT News | Adam Conner-Simons)  “Experts are busy, and they can’t spend all day reviewing reams of data that have been flagged as suspicious. Companies have been known to give up on platforms that are too much work, so an effective machine-learning system has to be able to improve itself without overwhelming its human overlords. AI2’s secret weapon is that it fuses together three different unsupervised-learning methods, and then shows the top events to analysts for them to label. It then builds a supervised model that it can constantly refine through what the team calls a ‘continuous active learning system.’”
  • The hot new job in Silicon Valley is being a robot’s assistant (New Scientist | Aviva Rutkin)  “Some employees praise the casual atmosphere and flexible schedules, and say they enjoy the fast pace of the work. Others were numbed by its repetitive nature. ‘You will feel like you’re turning into a zombie sometimes,’ wrote one former analyst. Whatever you call these brave new workers – AI trainers, intent analysts – they serve a dual purpose. For now, they function as the AI’s backup, filling in gaps when automation encounters a problem it can’t yet handle. But they are also there to teach the AI not to make those mistakes again.”
  • Facebook reveals the secrets behind “M,” its artificial intelligence bot (BuzzFeed | Alex Kantrowitz)  “Underneath the hood, M is driven by a combination of basic automation and ‘deep learning’ technology, artificial intelligence that can draw inferences of someone’s intent and make suggestions and plan actions based on it after being fed a large amount of data on similar or related examples. The trainers, of course, are also a key component. M’s trainers, [AI team leader Alex] Lebrun said, are a blend between a customer service representative and AI jockey. Most have college degrees, he said. And they don’t get upset when the AI learns how to do tasks they were previously handling themselves.”

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