Three articles in the last couple of weeks didn’t shine quite enough attention on Artificial Intelligence.
Sandisk announced a 400 gigbit microsd memory card for your phone. Huawei announced a new processor chip for phones that features a “neural processing unit,” or NPU. The Economist newspaper has a couple of stories, one about AI being able to determine sexual orientation (straight or gay) from photographs, another about AI’s ability to determine not just who you are, but your mood, even your politics.
“AI systems might be trained to spot other intimate traits, such as IQ or political views. Just because humans are unable to see the signs in faces does not mean that machines cannot do so,” according to researchers at Stanford University named in the article.
Why should these stories be conflated?
Intelligence can be defined as the process of recognizing patterns, and applying that recognition to new situations. We know that Artificial Intelligence has arrived, but AI is probably much more sophisticated than currently revealed by companies protecting trade secrets or governments keeping track of citizens.
Most artificial intelligence now occurs on chips such as graphic processing units (GPUs) or central processing units (CPUs): AI software riding on hardware designed for other uses. This takes a fair amount of electricity and processing power. Consequently, much of AI currently happens in large processing centers.
The new Huawei chip, with 5.5 billion transistors in an area the size of a fingernail, was designed for neural processing. According to Huawei, this technology is intended to ensure that certain tasks can be completed up to 25 times faster than with a conventional CPU, while consuming 50 times less energy.
This also allows the NPU to do AI right there in the phone. It does not need to be connected to the internet to “do” its AI. That’s touted as an advantage, such as when internet connection is lost. But it also decentralizes AI, and reduces potential bottlenecks of data transfer: only the recognized patterns (Cat? Chair? Straight? Gay? Conservative? Liberal?) not the raw data, have to be uploaded for further processing.
The Sandisk microsd card magnifies the potency of these possibilities. The more data the phone can hold, the more information is available to the neural processing unit to recognize the patterns of our lives. This puts tremendous power in the pocket or purse. Power to do good? Probably. Power to do evil? Almost certainly.
A phone that can remember what numbers you dial, that recognizes conversations you have with specific people, that can access photos of where you’ve been and when and with whom, can then upload this knowledge when next connected to processing centers of AT&T or Verizon, or Apple of Google or Facebook or Huawai or Samsung.
Of course, at this point there is nothing to be done. The genie is loose, Pandora’s box has opened, the gyre spins as massive amounts of information being gathered about each of us is already being processed in the AI centers of companies and governments here, in Asia and in Europe, with little respect for laws or borders.
This just accelerates the inevitable.