IBM and MIT recently announced a plan to spend $240 million over the next ten years to develop a new MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab. The lab focuses on advancing four research pillars: AI algorithms, the physics of AI, application of AI to industries, and advancing shared prosperity through AI. The lab plans to engage more than one hundred AI scientists, professors, and students in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The threat of AI
The announcement is a timely breath of fresh air due to recent concerns about the dangers of AI. Many people believe that intelligent machines will one day take over and rule or destroy us. Hollywood blockbusters such as the Matrix and Terminator have popularized this vision. In recent months, however, we have caught a glimpse of a far greater and more likely threat: human overlords that use AI to censor and rule us all.
Major corporations such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and their subsidiary YouTube all heavily rely on AI for customizing ads and content, including filtering out spam and unwanted information such as hate speech.The problem is that by “hate speech,” they seem to mean conservative opinions and anyone who is to the right of Karl Marx on certain issues. That may not concern Social Justice Warriors much, but for the rest of us, it poses an existential threat to the core values of Western civilization.
YouTube hides behind their advertisers, claiming that they only follow their wishes and merely exclude material that is unsuitable for advertisement. This is certainly not true. If they have the AI technology to target ads to their users surgically, they should easily be able to do the same in reverse: to customize video content to their advertisers. The fact that they have made zero effort to do so proves that they have an ulterior ideological motive to target videos of a particular political bent.
The overlords meet competition from a benevolent behemoth
That is why the announcement by IBM and MIT is of such significance. IBM has challenged dominant market players who abuse their power before.
Two decades ago, Intel was by far the biggest CPU producer in the world, and IBM was one of their largest customers. Intel started misbehaving towards their clients and refused to convert their X86 technology to 64-bit.They instead pushed their sluggish, ultra-expensive Itanium technology on an unwilling market. IBM did not like this, and partnered with Intel’s tiny competitor AMD and helped them by transferring technology. Consequently, Intel was forced to start producing AMD’s X86-64 technology, which inhabits most PCs today. IBM proved that the free market could deal with naughty dominant players.
Now, it seems, they are at it again, and are heavily investing in technology which could rival everything that the evil-doers at Google have developed so far, and use it to “deliver economic and societal benefits to a broader range of people, nations, and enterprises.“
Undermining Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter
How can IBM help undermine our corporate overlords in their effort to stifle voices with which they disagree? Simple: today AI is expensive and largely unavailable to the public. Excellent systems exist but are well-guarded corporate secrets. If IBM – or any other entity – start publishing results that anyone can implement at a low cost, then this erodes the market value of the large digital market players who rely on AI systems today. Capable competitors who deliver high-quality services will emerge and be preferred by an audience that doesn’t like to be censored.
And perhaps equally important, ordinary people can then start to employ AI against the corporate overlords. Imagine an app which intelligently guards your privacy and what information to share with other data systems, not based on politically correct corporations who mine your private life for information that they can sell to the highest bidders, but based on your personal preferences. That’s Little Brother fighting back against Big Brother.
Thus, all is not bleak in AI-land. IBM’s partnering with MIT shows that there is an emerging arms race among many commercial actors to develop intelligent software systems, and this competition will ultimately benefit the ordinary consumer.