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Can A.I. Solve Humanity’s Problems?

Dr. Kelland Thomas, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Stevens Institute of Technology, came to the 2017 Propelify Innovation Festival stage with a burning question. In today’s world, where tech so frequently alienates society, how could A.I. actually help create connection and solve humanity’s problems? Here’s how Dr. Thomas sees this happening.

Collaboration Between Computers and Humans

What if in the future, software agents could not only perform tasks for us – beyond scheduling or planning – but actively collaborate with humans?

In Thomas’s vision of the future, a single machine would have the ability to understand our natural language (i.e. Siri), interpret gestures, and maintain context over a period of back and forth “conversation.”

Additionally, this single machine could collaborate on a variety of high and low level tasks. For example, the machine could collaborate with children to build blocks, collaborate with cancer researchers to model protein and drug interactions, and collaborate with musicians to create musical notes for a song.

The active collaboration between software agents, machine learning, and humans is the first step of Dr. Thomas’s vision for A.I. helping humanity in the future.

A.I. Makes Things Beautiful

The second way A.I. can help solve humanity’s problems? With artistic creations. In the not so distant future, it’s entirely possible that A.I. will be able to fully perform tasks like composing (good) music, painting a picture, or creating a short film. In fact, there’s already several incredible instances of A.I. creating:

  • Music – Musician Taryn Southern and A.I. composer Amper released the first ever A.I. composed and produced album in 2017.
  • Poetry  Jack Hopkins taught a computer algorithm to write poems by feeding the program more than 7 million words of online books of 20th century poetry.
  • Painting – The Art and Artificial Intelligence Lab at Rutgers University modified their  Generative Adversarial Networks program to recreate replicas of Baroque, Pointillism, Color Field, Rococo, Fauvism, and Abstract Expressionism styles paintings – and they’re pretty good!

To Dr. Thomas, using A.I. for artistic projects would have two potential benefits. First, A.I.’s capabilities would be demonstrated to a larger audience. Secondly, this positive exposure would then help shift society’s perceptions of what computers can do computers  can do – and their potential to be agents of positive change.

Solve Humanity’s Grand Challenges

Humans are facing some major issues: inequality, climate change, environmental protection, disease, food security, and challenges with infrastructure to name a few.  

How could A.I. help us solve these massive problems? There are are several exciting new developments:

  • DiseaseIBM Watson identified new genes linked to ALS, (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). The discovery gives researchers new insights into creating improved drugs and therapy for the disease.
  • Environmental Protection – Researchers at Georgia Tech used computational sustainability  to pinpoint the best places to create wildlife corridors for grizzly bears and wolverines in Montana
  • Food Insecurity – A.I. could be used to create more effective delivery dates to reduce rot, assess crops for anomalies, and stabilize commodity markets.

The possibility of A.I. to actively collaborate with humanity to solve giant problems is not only a possibility – but an almost certainty.

Watch highlights from Dr. Thomas's talk at the 2017 Propelify Innovation Festival:

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