On the heels of Ray Kurzweil joining Google, Paul Allen, Microsoft cofounder and now chairman of Vulcan, Inc., lured Dr. Oren Etzioni to become the executive director of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.
Theorist and practitioner, Etzioni is a Harvard graduate with a PhD from Carnegie Mellon.
Dr. Oren Etzioni
(Source: University of Washington)
For the past 22 years, he's been a faculty member at the University of Washington. He has more than 100 academic papers on artificial intelligence, search, data mining, and agent technology.
Paul Allen's first attempt at artificial intelligence was made a dozen years ago when he launched the Project Halo initiative with a stated goal as "the creation of a digital Aristotle -- a computer that contains large amounts of knowledge in machine-compatible form that can answer questions, explain those answers, and discuss those answers with users."
Sound familiar? It should. IBM's Jeopardy-winning Watson fulfilled the answering questions and explaining answer goals, but it's the discussion that's still left hanging. For the story behind the creation of Watson, I recommend reading Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything (Stephen Baker, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011). It's an in-depth look at the journey to create Watson, but is really a tale of the future of knowledge and quite an enjoyable read.
While we remember Watson because of its TV feat and fame, there's so much more to the future of AI -- and that's what Allen is now trying to achieve. According to the Singularity Hub, Etzioni states: "We want to go beyond basic signal processing or one-bit prediction… to really building programs that acquire fundamental knowledge." He continues, "Speech recognition interprets the speech signal, but it doesn't actually understand what is being said. Or the way someone else put it, Watson doesn't know that it won Jeopardy."
Etzioni has his work cut out for him -- and most of it will involve attracting and hiring other brains to the Institute. They're still at the stage of adding to the 10 existing staff members, creating goals and beginning serious work.
Watson is now being used successfully in medical and business applications. What are your expectations for AI? What do you see as the benefits in the near and long term? Where do you see the pitfalls of advances in AI?