The New York Times this morning has an article about artificial intelligence:

There are basically three big questions about artificial intelligence and its impact on the economy: What can it do? Where is it headed? And how fast will it spread?

Three new reports combine to suggest these answers: It can probably do less right now than you think. But it will eventually do more than you probably think, in more places than you probably think, and will probably evolve faster than powerful technologies have in the past.

I think this basically gets things right. What we have today can’t properly be called AI at all. It’s just not advanced enough. But before long it will be, and once we hit that point—in around ten years by my guess— progress will accelerate quickly.

One of the reports the Times points to is called the AI Index, and overall I found it sort of disappointing. I don’t really much care that enrollment is up in AI classes or that we have lots of AI startups. But this was interesting:

The best measures of AI aren’t numbers in a vacuum. They’re measures that compare the best software to the average human. In this case, both computers and humans are asked to read articles and then answer questions about the content of the articles. It’s still a bit artificial, but the general idea is to test general reading comprehension, surely a decent measure of what we commonly think of as “intelligence.” Computers are now only a finger’s breadth away from human performance. That’s pretty impressive, especially considering that a computer can come up with its average answer in a second or two, compared to several minutes for us meat types.

On the other hand, this chart shows the limitations of this kind of test:

Language translation has made considerable strides in the past decade, and this chart puts a number to that. At the same time, it shows that machine translation has deteriorated in 2017. That’s hardly seems plausible.¹ As the authors admit, “It is unlikely that the performance of MT systems declined compared to 2016, but the evaluation scheme presented here is not perfect.” So take all these charts with a grain of salt.

¹Alternatively, this merely represents the Donald Trump effect. News articles in 2017 are stuffed with bizarre Trump quotes, and even the best machine translation software probably chokes when it tries to make sense of them. When it comes to bafflegab, humans are still the world champs.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Corporations and billionaires don’t fund journalism like ours that exists to shake things up. Instead, support from readers allows Mother Jones to call it like it is without fear, favor, or false equivalence.

And right now, a longtime friend of Mother Jones has pledged an incredibly generous gift to inspire—and double—giving from online readers. That's huge! Because you can see that our fall fundraising drive is well behind the $325,000 we need to raise. So if you agree that in-depth, fiercely independent journalism matters right now, please support our work and help us raise the money it takes to keep Mother Jones charging hard. Your gift, and all online donations up to $94,000 total, will be matched and go twice as far—but only until the November 9 deadline.

$400,000 to go: Please help us pick up the pace!

payment methods

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Corporations and billionaires don’t fund journalism like ours that exists to shake things up. Instead, support from readers allows Mother Jones to call it like it is without fear, favor, or false equivalence.

And right now, a longtime friend of Mother Jones has pledged an incredibly generous gift to inspire—and double—giving from online readers. That's huge! Because you can see that our fall fundraising drive is well behind the $325,000 we need to raise. So if you agree that in-depth, fiercely independent journalism matters right now, please support our work and help us raise the money it takes to keep Mother Jones charging hard. Your gift, and all online donations up $94,000 total, will be matched and go twice as far—but only until the November 9 deadline.

$400,000 to go: Please help us pick up the pace!

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate