Artificial intelligence is still surrounded by an aura of mystery, and it would be tough to find a better illustration than the story in the news last week about a British grandmother who includes “please” and “thank you” in all her Google searches.
“Please translate these roman numerals mcmxcviii thank you,” read the search request from May Ashworth that ultimately went viral when her grandson tweeted it on Twitter.
“I thought, well somebody’s put it in, so you’re thanking them,” Ashworth reportedly explained. “I don’t know how it works, to be honest. It’s all a mystery to me.”
It’s an endearing tale that drew notice from Google itself, but it also underscores the way AI, in particular, has been something of a black box.
“Most people don’t know how it works, so there’s this sense of wonder where you ask, ‘what could it do next?'” said D. Scott Phoenix, co-founder of AI startup Vicarious.
That potential will soon unfold, Phoenix believes.
After a long winter, the “summer of AI” is now beginning, he said. “There’s a couple of key mile markers we can look for, and some have already happened.”
Already here is the availability of “lots and lots of data” along with a reduction in the price of storage, memory, and computing power to “near zero,” Phoenix explained.
At the same time, it’s now recognized that even tiny improvements achieved through AI — an additional tenth of a percent in advertising click-through rates, for example — can have a massive effect on revenue.
“Now there’s this engine running, and we know AI matters,” he said. “There’s now a stable market demand.”
Coming next is a new focus on the skills needed to improve the technology.
“We saw something similar in the early days of software — and the early days of the Internet,” Phoenix said. “We’re entering that era of rapid improvement.”
Vicarious is enshrouded in a fair bit of mystery itself. Founded in 2010, the company hopes to take AI beyond the specific-purpose systems seen today — one piece of Google software focused on playing the game Go, for example — to build a more general-purpose one.