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Wed Oct 18, 2017, 09:03 PM

On the future of work...

There are some interesting, if worrisome, reports in the current issue of Nature, one entitled "The Future of Work"

From a news item in the current issue of Nature:

Last year, entrepreneur Sebastian Thrun set out to augment his sales force with artificial intelligence. Thrun is the founder and president of Udacity, an education company that provides online courses and employs an armada of salespeople who answer questions from potential students through online chats. Thrun, who also runs a computer-science lab at Stanford University in California, worked with one of his students to collect the transcripts of these chats, noting which resulted in students signing up for a course. The pair fed the chats into a machine-learning system, which was able to glean the most effective responses to a variety of common questions.

Next, they put this digital sales assistant to work alongside human colleagues. When a query came in, the program would suggest an appropriate response, which a salesperson could tailor if necessary. It was an instantaneously reactive sales script with reams of data supporting every part of the pitch. And it worked; the team was able to handle twice as many prospects at once and convert a higher percentage of them into sales. The system, Thrun says, essentially packaged the skills of the company's best salespeople and bequeathed them to the entire team — a process that he views as potentially revolutionary. “Just as much as the steam engine and the car have amplified our muscle power, this could amplify our brainpower and turn us into superhumans intellectually,” he says.

The past decade has seen remarkable advances in digital technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, cloud computing, data analytics and mobile communications. Over the coming decades, these technologies will transform nearly every industry — from agriculture, medicine and manufacturing to sales, finance and transportation — and reshape the nature of work. “Millions of jobs will be eliminated, millions of new jobs will be created and needed, and far more jobs will be transformed,” says Erik Brynjolfsson, who directs the Initiative on the Digital Economy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.


This is actually slightly encouraging. Robots do better in extreme environments than human beings, and since we are well on the way to making this entire planet an extreme environment, it's possible someone, um, something, will be here to um, "enjoy?!?" it.

In another news item in the same issue, there's a report of a computer that learned to play the game "Go" without human intervention and taught itself, in days, to beat the world's best players.

Self-taught AI is best yet at strategy game Go

Artificial-intelligence program AlphaGo Zero trained in just days, without any human input.

An artificial intelligence (AI) program from Google-owned company DeepMind has reached superhuman level at the strategy game Go — without learning from any human moves.

This ability to self-train without human input is a crucial step towards the dream of creating a general AI that can tackle any task. In the nearer-term, though, it could enable programs to take on scientific challenges such as protein folding or materials research, said DeepMind chief executive Demis Hassabis at a press briefing. “We’re quite excited because we think this is now good enough to make some real progress on some real problems.”

Previous Go-playing computers developed by DeepMind, which is based in London, began by training on more than 100,000 human games played by experts. The latest program, known as AlphaGo Zero, instead starts from scratch using random moves, and learns by playing against itself. After 40 days of training and 30 million games, the AI was able to beat the world's previous best 'player' — another DeepMind AI known as AlphaGo Master. The results are published today in Nature1, with an accompanying commentary2.

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