A report by posted by Bloomberg yesterday titled "Apple and Its Rivals Bet Their Futures on These Men's Dreams," is an oral history of artificial intelligence, as told by its godfathers, gadflies, and Justin Trudeau, Canada's current Prime Minister. The author of the report noted that "This is the peculiar story—pieced together from my interviews with them—of why it took so long for neural nets to work, how these scientists stuck together, and why Canada, of all places, ended up as the staging ground for the rise of the machines." While a little arrogantly stated, the report overall is an interesting read.
The Bloomberg report noted that "Over the past five years, artificial intelligence has gone from perennial vaporware to one of the technology industry's brightest hopes. Computers have learned to recognize faces and objects, understand the spoken word, and translate scores of languages. The world's biggest companies—Alphabet, Amazon.com, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft—have bet their futures largely on AI, racing to see who's fastest at building smarter machines. That's fueled the perception that AI has come out of nowhere, what with Tesla's self-driving cars and Alexa chatting up your child. But this was no overnight hit, nor was it the brainchild of a single Silicon Valley entrepreneur.
The ideas behind modern AI—neural networks and machine learning—have roots you can trace to the last stages of World War II. Back then, academics were beginning to build computing systems meant to store and process information in ways similar to the human brain. Over the decades, the technology had its ups and downs, but it failed to capture the attention of computer scientists broadly until around 2012, thanks to a handful of stubborn researchers who weren't afraid to look foolish. They remained convinced that neural nets would light up the world and alter humanity's destiny.
While these pioneers were scattered around the globe, there happened to be an unusually large concentration of neural net devotees in Canada. The government-backed Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (Cifar) attracted a small group of academics to the country by funding neural net research when it was anything but fashionable.
Canada backed computer scientists such as Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun at the University of Toronto, Yoshua Bengio at the University of Montreal, and the University of Alberta's Richard Sutton, encouraging them to share ideas and stick to their beliefs. They came up with many of the concepts that fueled the AI revolution, and all are now considered godfathers of the technology.
Canada's Prime Minister Trudeau: "Learning that Canada had quietly built the foundations of modern AI during this most recent winter (2006), when people had given up and moved on, is sort of a validation for me of something Canada's always done well, which is support pure science. We give really smart people the capacity to do smart things that may or may not end up somewhere commercial or concrete." For more on the foundation of Artificial Intelligent computing, read the full Bloomberg report here.
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