The Real Purpose of AI: My Talk at Washington Post Technology 202

Thursday, November 8, 2018 12:49 pm EST

By:

Barbara Humpton, CEO, Siemens USA

Today I joined leaders in government and the private sector at the Washington Post to discuss the promise of new technologies such as artificial intelligence – or AI.  

As Devin Wenig, CEO of eBay, noted in his opening interview, 2018 has placed technology and regulation at a crossroads. Today’s discussion focused on how public policy can keep pace with rapid technological progress while supporting innovation and the global competitiveness of the U.S. tech sector.

The thought I wanted to share is that, with AI, purpose matters as much policy. Below you’ll find both a video of my talk as well as a slightly edited version of my remarks. Let me know what you think.

My remarks:

When I first got into computer programming in 1983, I was put on a team at IBM working on critical national security projects.

Now, these projects were classified. I can’t get into any specifics.

But I can tell you that it’s possible that the toothbrush you used this morning had more computing power than the systems we were using back then. And those systems actually were exponentially more powerful than the ones that had been used by NASA to put people on the moon.

Sitting together in a terminal room back then, none of us could have imagined the kind of technological power that we would have today.

But today the really big question is: What’s the purpose of the technology we’re using?

And I want to share with you a story about when I first came to understand the true power and purpose of technology.

You see, early in my career, the chief engineer of our project called us all into a conference room and he said, “I need to tell you a story.”

He said there was a fighter pilot who had been shot down behind enemy lines. We used our technology to locate that pilot and save his life.

Then the chief engineer shared with us: That fighter pilot was my nephew.

We were stunned. And we were proud. It hit me – it me like a ton of bricks. Then I fully understood: This is what we’re all about.

So now, as we turn to artificial intelligence, we have to think about what we endeavor to do with these new tools. And this conversation can be every bit as important as the conversations we’ll have about policy and the new technology itself.

I believe that business leaders need to take a look at artificial intelligence and ask not just, “How can we generate more profit with this?,” but ask ourselves the question, “How can we drive change in the world?”

In fact, we need to make this question a business metric: How are we driving change in the world?

Let me show you a video that will explain how we’re doing this at Siemens.

So, you see, from the first time a human picked up a rock and used it as a tool, that tool elevated what the human could accomplish. 

And that’s the same thing we’re seeing now with artificial intelligence.

The purpose of this technology is not to automate us out of the process, but to actually extend what is humanly possible.

Here’s an example – cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity as we enter this digital age is becoming a significant issue for us. The energy sector, in particular, is under constant attack.

We’ve been using tools that use data modeling and algorithms in order to help energy leaders understand who is trying to enter into their networks – to help us resolve the issues.

Now you may look at that and say: “Well then, I guess cybersecurity – because we’re applying AI – will automate away all the jobs.”

But nothing could be further from the truth. Studies show that we need millions more cybersecurity experts around the globe.

And that’s because, yes, AI can help us diagnose, it can help us treat, it can help us understand – but it takes the human in the loop to truly develop the solutions that we’ll need for the future.

So as we get ready for this future, I’m asking leaders to begin to focus on the human intelligence that we’re going to be needing to drive the systems of the future.

Yes, we absolutely need mathematicians with PhDs – we need those folks. But we also need welders and machinists. We need engineering students who take computer programming courses. We need the talent that’s coming out of coding bootcamps, and out of apprenticeships, and out of career technical education.

Business leaders have done a good job trying to get this message out, to try and demystify and address the myths surrounding AI coming for our jobs.

But we need to do more. We need to go on the offense. We need to really focus on the investments that we’re making in people.

In 1983, when I was graduating from Wake Forest University as a mathematician, thinking about becoming a math professor like my parents, IBM reached out to me about the opportunity to come to the corporation and learn to be a programmer. It changed my life.

So now I want to use this platform that I have now – a fantastic job at Siemens serving as the CEO for 50,000 folks here in the U.S. – to help get the message out that: Leaders can’t wait for the talent to come to them. Leaders need to reach out and help develop that talent.

And as we think about the talent we need for the future, let’s think about diversity as well. Because the augmented intelligence – the AI that we’re going to be developing – reflects the values that we ourselves possess. We can replicate our values into the future world, so let’s make sure that it doesn’t represent bias, but represents the future that we want.

Before I part, imagine this…

Imagine a future in which access to education and lifelong learning is as abundant as the human capabilities that we possess.

Thank you very much.

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