2016: Artificial intelligence takes center stage

The momentum to push artificial intelligence into extensive use accelerated Sunday, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that AI is his focus for 2016. Zuckerberg said his personal goal is to create AI to help manage his home. While that may sound far out, the technology exists. By this time next year, artificial intelligence will be in use at work, in stores, and on your smartphones.

The technology has come a long way from a decade ago, when companies tried to convince me that they had developed software that could intelligently automate home tasks such as lighting and climate control. None worked very well. Now, AI has emerged in highly visible forms such as Apple’s Siri, IBM’s Watson, and the just-released Microsoft Selfie app.

For a very cool application of artificial intelligence, check out Wine4Me, an app developed by my friend Amy Gross that uses complex algorithms to identify an individual’s taste profile and match it to wines. Gross is working with IBM to leverage Watson’s ability to understand language. Soon, Wine4Me in-store kiosks will help consumers quickly find wines they like at the time they are shopping. An enormous amount of wine and taste data enables the AI platform to rapidly contemplate a user’s request and provide an intelligent answer.

IBM Watson & Partners are Building Cognitive

Amy Gross, President & Founder of VineSleuth collaborates with researcher Vinith Misra of IBM Watson on the design of a cognitive-enabled app that provides shoppers with individualized wine recommendations. (Photo courtesy of Tony Avelar/Feature Photo Service for IBM)

Zuckerberg says he will begin with existing technology as the foundation for software code that he plans to write himself.

“I’ll start teaching it to understand my voice to control everything in our home — music, lights, temperature and so on. I’ll teach it to let friends in by looking at their faces when they ring the doorbell,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Even before Zuckerberg’s announcement, there has been a steady stream of news of AI technology advances and business growth, as Wired’s Artificial Intelligence page shows. Among the notable developments is a $1 billion AI plan by Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk.

Of course, not everyone is ready to accept the idea of a computer “bot” taking over human tasks. When I posted a link to X.ai, an artificial intelligence calendaring program, several of my friends insisted that scheduling meetings requires humans, and humans alone. Although I am share some of their skepticism, I would be delighted if X.ai can do this task better than I can.

Here is Zuckerberg’s post explaining his thinking and plans:

Every year, I take on a personal challenge to learn new things and grow outside my work at Facebook. My challenges in recent years have been to read two books every month, learn Mandarin and meet a new person every day.

My personal challenge for 2016 is to build a simple AI to run my home and help me with my work. You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man.

I’m going to start by exploring what technology is already out there. Then I’ll start teaching it to understand my voice to control everything in our home — music, lights, temperature and so on. I’ll teach it to let friends in by looking at their faces when they ring the doorbell. I’ll teach it to let me know if anything is going on in Max’s room that I need to check on when I’m not with her. On the work side, it’ll help me visualize data in VR to help me build better services and lead my organizations more effectively.

Every challenge has a theme, and this year’s theme is invention.
At Facebook I spend a lot of time working with engineers to build new things. Some of the most rewarding work involves getting deep into the details of technical projects. I do this with Internet.org when we discuss the physics of building solar-powered planes and satellites to beam down internet access. I do this with Oculus when we get into the details of the controllers or the software we’re designing. I do this with Messenger when we discuss our AI to answer any question you have. But it’s a different kind of rewarding to build things yourself, so this year my personal challenge is to do that.

This should be a fun intellectual challenge to code this for myself. I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn over the course of the year.

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Sunday, January 3, 2016

Disclosure: One of my clients is AiCure, developer of artificial intelligence to confirm medication ingestion.

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