Is AI Rocket Science? Dr. Merlin Stone Shatters the Madness and Illuminates AI's Real-world Powers
Buckle up for our final fireside chat with AI wizard, Dr. Merlin Stone who quells the fear that AI is taking over life on here on earth. He discusses benefits of AI in everyday life. Spoiler Alert: Don't pack your bags for Mars just yet!
Peter: As we wrap up in Part III, any other ideas coming through for the future? We mentioned Kubrick in 2001 A Space Odyssey, which was fantastic; especially the way that film was created before the days of computer-generated imagery (CGI) – all hand-built models of the revolving Space Station, and a Pan Am connecting flight docking in perfect synchronization accompanied by the Blue Danube in the background – wonderful!
Integrated AI Makes Life Easier
Dr. Stone: And yes, think of HAL as your AI support… I have Alexa like everybody else, but I don't use it like most; more to play the radio and tell jokes! I also use it to forecast the weather. Other people use Alexa with more sophistication as home automation devices, for instance. So I think the time will come certainly, when all the different systems we have like Amazon Prime with the firestick hanging out of the edge of the television will come together and be more integrated; it’s all still a bit chaotic, but nonetheless it's a lot better than we used to have, which we tend to forget.
Yes, but that stuff is already happening. So the day’s not far off when we come into the house; I won't have to use remote control, I can command the television to turn on, show me An Evening with Amy Winehouse; it will do all the stuff at YouTube with Firefox and all the rest of it without me having to do anything else, which I have to do right now.
Does AI Have a Mind of Its Own?
Peter: In 2001, we all liked HAL to start with until he literally developed a mind of his own, and I think that’s the trouble with most people’s worry about Artificial Intelligence; Terminator style take-over by the machines. And now of course, we have the Futurist of the moment, Elon Musk, whose plans around all his businesses are geared to provide finance to break free of this world and get to Mars.
Dr. Stone: Why go to Mars - the wrong temperature and the wrong gas!
Peter: He's got thousands of people who’ve paid a deposit to go out; and it's a one-way trip!
Dr. Stone: There’s one born every minute then!
Peter: I think he has some interesting ideas, though, about neural connections, so that you bring AI in to play to support your own thinking?
Dr. Stone: Actually, there are a lot of simple AI examples to explore before we go deeper into the future. For instance, our local supermarket yesterday; we wanted to be a little more adventurous for dinner, and I know that they often have delicious off-cuts of salmon; tasty, but not expensive, so I could have, in this new world, ask Alexa what salmon they have you on the shelf. Instead of having to go there and look in person.
Peter: That’s home delivery isn’t it?
Dr. Stone: Sure, but I want to walk and pick it up. Why can't the shop do what it's doing and combine that with what Home Delivery does?
Peter: That's going to be down to sensors and database access. Not rocket science.
Holographs as Tomorrow's Teachers?
Dr. Stone: The UK is bad at on shelf pricing; you go to France and many of the stores have got digital pricing. Well let's see what Carrefour can bring to Tesco. I think a lot of this stuff is really, really simple. Most people aren't looking to the world to get wildly excited by any of this. They just want some basic stuff dealt with, and the basic stuff is their lives, their shopping their health, work life, education.
Yes, education. Awful. It's really a global issue now; however much you invest, it doesn't seem to work terribly well. It's an extraordinarily labor intensive process - obviously with kids you can understand why that is, but all the same, it should be so much better by now.
Peter: It would be frightening though, to think of a world of the future where kids are taught by holographic images of maybe the best teachers in the world…
Dr. Stone: I gave the same lectures this year that I gave last year right. Why? Even in the 60s the same lecturer who was interested in artificial intelligence, just videoed his lectures and then he showed them year after year: the introduction to philosophy. He’d watch the reactions, but he wouldn't have to stand up and talk.
Peter: But didn't that evolve?
Dr. Stone: Many universities are still Chalk & Talk’- astonishingly so - and the numbers in class get bigger and bigger because it's become a business, but it's amazing. People benefit most from education when they are learning, not being just taught. But we still do it. We have lots of aids to that process, you know, learning management systems, module posting devices and all the rest of it, but it's still not terribly different from the way it was 20 to 30 years ago. In most universities, it's a lecturer standing up in class.
Peter: It’s like the National Health Service (NHS) again; it’s the lack of IT in schools.
Dr. Stone: When I was hospitalized, I'd been diagnosed lupus, and the guy next to me had shot his liver by drinking too much, and I heard the doctor say to him that he must eat. So the nurses would come around and slam the tray down in front of him. He wasn't capable of feeding himself! So I said to the consultant when he came through the curtain: “Excuse me but I’m a management consultant. You’re feeding this guy next door by just putting the tray down in front of him and leaving, and I've heard you say he needs to eat!” And his reply was: “Oh, he's in the wrong ward.” Why was he in the wrong ward? It's crazy. And then the guy opposite, who'd been in a bad accident, was on oxygen with tubes going through his nose and he was breathing through his mouth. So where's the oxygen? So I asked the nurse why they were giving oxygen through a nasal tube, when he's breathing through his mouth? “Oh, he doesn't like the mask!” So, you're wasting your time.
So I think some of the discussion about AI is about pointing a finger at these extraordinarily basic faults that exist. It's not the world of 2001; no, it's not Mars. You are talking about making most people's lives better. It’s ‘is there salmon in the supermarket now? It is when do I leave to work; if you’re older, when to drink a glass of water before you get up? Often very simple things. These are the things that are important in people's lives just to make life a little bit easier. More fulfilling.
Peter: Are you excited about all this?
Dr. Stone: Yes, sure, I do my bit. I write a lot about it…
Peter: We talked about the EU and the Euro and everything else – do you just throw your hands up in horror?
Dr. Stone: I think until the Euro goes, the EU will be a basket case because it doesn't have the desire to make sure everybody's well off; it just wants to penalize debt; the system’s bad; there’s no sensible big picture that I can see.
Peter: That's because of humans, particularly politicians … Is AI going to be the answer to a lot of these problems or challenges?
Who Do You Trust: Humans or Machines?
Dr. Stone: Yes, it goes back to what I said earlier. That is that the data, the truth, is probably what unifies the discussion. So if you have somebody telling the truth, it's a big statement about what's going on. And people trust that person.
In fact, we had call on a radio program the other day, where they asked people, when the Big Blue computer was being tested for a cancer diagnosis, who would you trust, the machine or a human specialist? And the audience, interestingly, was split almost exactly 50/50.
Dr. Stone: Sure, having seen the evidence, that was the outcome. And of course it plays to the difference between a doctor and a consultant surgeon: the doctor diagnoses what you have, while with the consultant tells you that you have what he diagnoses. In other words, by definition, he's biased hopelessly - he can only look at certain signs, whereas the idea is if all the data is there, it's a much more open ended diagnosis.
One of my research interests; in fact I’m writing an article about it, is on lying and disinformation. When you read history, military stuff and all the rest of it, for instance a famous book published in the 1970s called The Psychology of Military Competence, you discover that seven out of ten of the incompetencies were information related. Shooting the messenger; denial; you can imagine what they were. It’s the story of Hitler, Napoleon….. Or some of Churchill's behavior; he put Great Britain back on the gold standard after the 1st World War and trashed our economy probably 10 years before the rest of the world. So there are plenty of economic examples as well. Again Bush, Blair and Iraq would be a recent military example.
Peter: We've run out of time now – Many thanks for your insights. We could chat into the small hours, but what comes across in all 3 parts of our discussion, is actually a very positive view of the future, where, quite simply, AI is used to interpret Big Data and make our day-to-day lives much better and more efficient. We will all be better educated, even our politicians who will be well informed to make sensible, BIG decisions in the best interest of the people. I think we all look forward to that day!