September 21, 2017

On the Great Happiness that AI will bring into our lives

I recently had the fortune of attending an AI seminar where startup founders shared their thoughts on the future of AI technology. Each person described their company in length, as well as the Great Things that were being created by the Great Engineers in their team—most of whom evidently prefer to stay out of the spotlight, for in place of their faces, a diverse array of school emblems were emblazoned on the “About Us” slide.

Enraptured by these visionaries, I sat back, closed my eyes, and envisioned myself in world where their dreams become reality, a revolutionary era when humankind finally reaches the next chapter in the history of progress, yet a period surprisingly close by when AI startups are acquired by large tech firms at spectacular prices.

7:30 AM

“Beep, beep! Beep, beep!”

I wake up gaily to the sound of my smart speaker playing my daily alarm. Her name is Soranza, but I call her OK Soranza because it’s part of her identity and I respect that.

“OK, Soranza. Please turn off the alarm now”.

“OK, Terry. I will turn off the alarm”.

“Thanks!”

“…”

But for some reason, she doesn’t respond. Was my smart speaker-assistant mad at me? Then I remember. Of course!

“OK, Soranza. Thanks!”

“You’re welcome, Terry”.

Feeling relieved, I move on to my next daily routine—the daily news. I open up a link on my browser. “News.AI” proclaims the header in monospaced typeface. “We believe in value. We believe in technology. And we believe in creating value with our technology.” appends an italicized subtext. Scrolling down to the articles, I find a list of titles followed by either a green smiley face or a red angry face.

  • “Devastating earthquake hits southern Amsterdam”—Red angry face

  • “Uber board of directors hire its seventh CEO”—Red angry face

  • “9 reasons why bananas are good for you”—Green smiley face

And so on. The smileys are generated through sentiment analysis by an AI (Artificial Intelligence), more specifically through CDLMMBSP (Complex Deep Learning Models Made By Stanford Ph.D’s). Although the latter mechanism isn’t yet publicly revealed, I happen to know of it through an AI seminar I attended back in 2017, when the founder proudly pitched his infant startup, 3 weeks old but already with an $200K seed investment at a $10M valuation! Thanks to this startup, I am now able to keep up with international affairs at a rate of fifteen seconds—not per article, but per day.

7:38 AM

I move on to my next task: breakfast.

Unfortunately, my smart speaker-assistant Soranza is, naturally, of less use to me here. But today I am struck by an idea, one that could keep Soranza busy, and at the same time let her know that her presence was needed in my life.

“Count down three minutes for me, Soranza!”

“…”

Was this task too trivial for her? She did not seem interested. Then I realized.

“OK, Soranza. Count down three minutes for me!”

“OK, Terry. Counting down three minutes for you. Two minutes and fifty-ni—two minutes and fifty-eigh—two minutes and fifty-sev—two minutes and…”

Evidently counting fast is not one of Soranza’s strengths. Still, I am glad she has something to entertain herself with while I fry a couple of eggs, sunny-side up. The sizzling of the eggs somehow sound tastier than usual accompanied by the monotonous drone of a soft robotic voice. But wait! What is this smoke coming out of the back of my stove? I had just purchased it yesterday! Was it a defective product? I decide to suspend my cooking while I figure out the problem. Grabbing hold of my phone, I enter the homepage of the stove manufacturer, and navigate to the Customer Support page. Immediately, a dialog bubble pops up.

“Hi! My name is Stovey. I am here to provide help to customers of our company, who we value as our greatest asset and dedicate our highest priority. This is why we have built a robot assistant to answer your queries 24/7, with no human assistance whatsoever.”

“stovey im in a bit of a rush right now. my kitchens smoking now b/c i started cooking eggs and its bad now even though i turned off the stove. i need help fast.”

“Do you need help with cooking smoked eggs? Note that I, Stovey, utilize an advanced neural network and natural language processing to understand human language. Although I understand 98.7% of questions, I am sometimes (although rarely) wrong, so feel free to correct me!

“no theres smoke in my kitchen!!!”

“Do you need help with smoke? Note that I, Stovey, utilize an advanced neural network and natural language processing to understand human language. Although I understand 98.7% of questions, I am sometimes (although rarely) wrong, so feel free to correct me!

“yes!!!”

“These are the top five questions customers ask about smoke. Click on the question that is the most relevant to you and I will tell you the answer”.

“these arent about smoking stoves! holy cow comeon I need help now my kitchens on fire”

“My sentiment analysis algorithm tells me that you aren’t satisfied with these results. Let us try one more time; here are the next five questions customers ask about smoke”.

I skim through the list in desperation. However, the screen is getting hard to read due to the thick smoke clouding the kitchen air. I cough. My lungs burn with each successive cough and reflexive inhalation. “Soranza!!” I cry.

“Thirty seconds. Twenty-nine seconds. Twenty-eight seconds. Twenty-seven…”

My vision goes dark, and I faint.

12:30 PM

“… Where am I? Am I dead?”

“Please calm down, sir. You are currently at a hospital and your health seems all well. Your smart speaker detected an abnormal density of smoke in the surrounding air, and consequently sent a notification to your phone requesting permission to make emergency calls. Failing to receive a reply, it sent a message to your mother requesting an emergency permission override”.

“So, it was my mother who granted Soranza the necessary permissions to call the fire department?”

“No. The smoke detector detected the smoke and set off the fire alarm. The local fire department arrived within minutes and extinguished the fire in your kitchen. Meanwhile, your mother read the emergency message and was worried enough to call the fire department, which notified her that your apartment was indeed blazing. Hearing this, she immediately booked the luxurious hospital unit you are now situated in so that you would receive priority care.”

“Oh.”

“Isn’t it great? How safe has technology made us! How great has our world become that different devices act seamlessly to ensure the well-being of ourselves and our loved ones!”

“Great indeed, doctor. Great indeed”.