Microsoft and IBM CEOs debate societal impact of AI at Davos

Ginni Rometty, Satya Nadella, and MIT Media Lab director Joichi Ito – who was also on the panel – ceded that there will be seismic changes ahead directly as a result of advances in artificial intelligence.

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The talk was peppered with acknowledgements that there are risks ahead and that AI presents a world of unknown unknowns – that this is new territory, and even those ahead in development are trying to figure out the way forward.

In particular there were concerns over the societal impact that could emerge from these new technologies.

“Odds are, there are some jobs that will be wholly replaced by automation,” Rometty said, before adding that “most of us will be working with these systems.” To drive home her point, Rometty insisted that the main drivers behind at least IBM’s vision for artificial intelligence are purpose, transparency, and augmentation – in short that AI should be designed with a clear purpose in mind, to complement human behaviour, and the data sets that the machine learns from should be made known.

Taking a transparent approach is one way to gain trust in people who might be sceptical or fearful of artificial intelligence. “AI can be trained very differently,” Rometty said. “And the human needs to remain in control of these systems – to always pull the plug.”