by Peter High, published on Forbes
Singularity University is part business incubator and part think tank founded by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil in 2008 in the NASA Research Park in Silicon Valley. Among the topics that have risen in prominence in the curriculum of the University is artificial intelligence.
Neil Jacobstein is a former President of Singularity University, and currently he chairs the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Track at Singularity University on the NASA Research Park campus in Mountain View California. We recently spoke, and the conversation covered his thoughts on how AI can be used to augment current human capability, strategies technology executives should use to think about AI, the role the government should play in helping mitigate the potential job losses from AI, his perspectives on the dangers of artificial intelligence that have been expressed by major thought leaders, advice on how to train workers to be prepared for the coming wave of AI, and a variety of other topics.
(To listen to an unabridged audio version of this interview, please click this link. This is the sixth interview in my artificial intelligence series. Please visit these links to interviews with Mike Rhodin of IBM Watson, Sebastian Thrun of Udacity, Scott Phoenix of Vicarious, Antoine Blondeau of Sentient Technologies, Greg Brockman of OpenAI, and Oren Etzioni of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.)
Peter High: Let’s begin with your role at Singularity University, and perhaps a little bit about the University itself. You were president of the University from 2010-2011 and are currently co-chair of the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics track. Can you describe the University, as well as your role in it?
Neil Jacobstein: Singularity University started on the NASA Research Park campus around 2008. We had our first graduate summer program in 2009. The University’s purpose is to help leaders utilize and understand the business, technical and ethical implications of exponential technologies, which are technologies that increase in price performance every eighteen to twenty-four months. Examples include artificial intelligence, robotics, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, and some other technologies that depend on those. Biology, for example, has become an information science and it is now growing in capability on an exponential curve.
We bring in leaders from around the world to attend our executive programs that are given every couple months or so. Usually there are about eighty to one hundred people in those executive programs and they last about five days. We have a nine-week long summer program that we have conducted every summer since 2009 and typically about eighty people attend. Oftentimes, they have won their seat in that program by winning a contest in their country. I am proud that we now have slightly more women in the program than we have men—we have a good ratio now, finally. We have people from forty plus countries represented, and they are absolutely top students, super competitive students. They cannot buy their way in. The program is sponsored by Google and other companies and in other ways. They live on the NASA research park campus here at Moffett Field and they first are exposed to a few weeks of exponential technologies, including AI, robotics, synthetic biology, nanotechnologies and other technologies that depend on those, such as energy, manufacturing, 3D printing, and medicine. They address building next generation businesses with each other and also non-profit entities. They form teams and use principles that include crowd sourcing and being able to build and scale entities rapidly, using the principles of exponential organizations. They then address global grand challenges like climate change, education, poverty, global health, energy, and security. Those kind of challenges really require the scale that exponential technologies can provide. The students in their teams—it might be up to twenty different teams—are coached by a wide variety of faculty and staff during the summer program. They then go on to perhaps join an incubator program that we have on campus if they meet certain thresholds, and we have had several successful businesses spin out every year. We are proud of the program and think we are getting better at it every year.
High: In the book Exponential Organizations by Salim Ismail, it is noted that AI and algorithms could be used to mitigate and compensate for heuristics in human cognition, such as anchoring bias, or ability bias, confirmation bias, cost bias, others like that. As an expert in AI, could you describe that insight, and also the way in which AI, and algorithms more generally speaking, can mitigate those issues?