& cplSiteName &

Artificial Intelligence Expert Weighs In for WiC

Sarah Thomas
12/5/2016
50%
50%

The field of artificial intelligence (AI) is already bringing human-like intelligence to computers, and the potential for further innovation is staggering. It's a prospect that has humans both excited and fearful as computer scientists continue to push the limits of machines.

One such computer scientist is Melanie Mitchell, an author, editor and teacher in the fields of AI, cognitive science and complex systems. Mitchell is a member of the Active Association for Computing Machinery, a professor of Computer Science at Portland State University and an External Professor and Member of the Science Board at the Santa Fe Institute. She has been entrenched in the field of AI for more than 30 years, playing an active role in shaping its advancements, like her development of Copycat, a computer program that makes analogies. She's been part of the biggest breakthroughs and is actively working on the next wave of them as well.

Mitchell also understands the trepidation around AI, as mere mortals fear computers can replace jobs, make them obsolete and use machine learning to essentially replicate what humans must do today. (See AI Threat Is Tech's Fart in the Room and How to Speak Knowledgeably About the AI Threat.)

Coinciding with Ada Lovelace Day earlier this fall to honor the world's first female computer programmer, Mitchell spoke with Women in Comms about AI's biggest breakthroughs, challenges and opportunities for the future of the technology, as well as her experiences as a female computer scientist. Read on for more about why she's more excited than concerned about both AI's potential and women's role in the industry.

Melanie Mitchell, Active Association for Computing Machinery Member, Professor of Computer Science at Portland State University, and External Professor and Member of the Science Board at the Santa Fe Institute
Melanie Mitchell, Active Association for Computing Machinery Member, Professor of Computer Science at Portland State University, and External Professor and Member of the Science Board at the Santa Fe Institute


Women in Comms is gearing up for a bigger, better 2017. Join us in our cause to redress the gender imbalance in the comms industry! Visit WiC Online and get in touch to learn more.


Women in Comms: Tell us a little about your personal and professional background.

Melanie Mitchell: My dad was a computer engineer in the sixties and seventies, very early on, and actually built a small mainframe computer as a hobby in our house. When I was growing up, I had a computer around, and he taught me how to Fortran and reel-to-reel tape and input. It was an amazing device, but I didn't get interested specifically in computer science until after my undergraduate degree. I was more interested in physics and math, my undergrad study. Then when I graduated, I read a book about AI, which really got me excited about the intellectual challenge of getting computers to think. It wasn't for any particular app, but more the scientific question of what is intelligence and could it possibly de-mechanize, so I decided to go to grad school and study computer science even though I had never taken a class in my life. This was the eighties, so you could show up in computer science grad school without that much of a computer science background. It is harder now. I went to the University of Michigan to work with my advisor to do a project in his group. I got into AI that way.

WiC: What has been the biggest breakthrough in AI in your career, and what impact is it having in the real world?

MM: The biggest breakthrough recently has been the incredible success of combining big data with neural networks. Neural networks have been around since the 1950s -- people were playing around with neural networks back then but until you have enough data and computer power to run these things with many layers of idealized neurons and have them learn from millions of examples -- they don't work very well without that kind of large scale of big data computing. The success has been phenomenal recently with deep neural networks being able to do real-time speech recognition at the level of humans and object recognition and learning to play games like Go and beat a human expert. A big question is how far can these methods go? How much more can they do? Are we are in the midst of the biggest revolution of AI that will solve the problem of getting machines to think, or will it plateau and new breakthroughs will be needed to get to more human level intelligence in genetics?

WiC: What is your personal opinion on whether AI will plateau or not?

MM: My own opinion is we will need new breakthroughs. There is a famous quote about AI that comes from the sixties or seventies that says the biggest AI breakthrough is 100 Nobel prizes away. Or 100 Turing Awards away. We are going to need that many breakthroughs. I believe that. I think people underestimate how hard the problem is. A lot of what we do that we consider human intelligence is invisible to us as humans. We do all these incredible things like look out at the world and understand what we see and make sense of complicated natural language. We can plan a very complicated sort of navigation to move through an environment. We do all these things without any problem at all. That is the way our brains our built. We don't know how hard it is to get computers to do it.

The hardest things human consider to do like play chess at grandmaster level or play Go at highest level solve complicated questions or diagnose diseases -- they have been easier for AI than the easiest things for us like looking at a visual scene and describing it in general. Marvin Minsky said that easy things are hard. That still is true -- that the things that are invisible to us as our intelligence are still very hard for computers. A big thing people talk about is commonsense knowledge. We know a lot about how the world works. We know that if you drop something on the floor, you are no longer holding it. It's because we have bodies and interact with the environment and learn as we develop, but giving these invisible commonsense knowledges to computers is difficult.

An example is, Watson answered a question about Michael Phelps -- which swimmer won a race by 100th of a second? It knew it was Phelps, but if you asked if he got wet in the process, it wouldn't have known the answer. It's background knowledge. It's explicit. Getting computers to somehow have that knowledge is really challenging.

WiC: Have you encountered any unique challenges or opportunities as a female in the computer programming industry?

MM: Definitely challenges although I really haven't encountered a lot of explicit prejudice for being female; just lots of implicit stuff goes that people are not aware of. The biggest challenge is being able to have an academic career and children when they are young. When they were born and young, I took time off, and that slowed me down. When I came up for tenure, a letter writer wrote in the letter saying there was a strange two-year gap in your resume where you didn't publish anything. That doesn't look good. I think the Department of Computer Science tries to accommodate women having children, but often it becomes challenging because of the kind of metrics of constant publication and impact on the world that we are supposed to be having. That becomes hard when you have kids. A big challenge is having a high-powered career and being expected to be continuing adding to your accomplishments, and you can get behind to take time for your family. I don't see that with the men. It's true for women in most careers. It's a society-wide problem that has to be dealt with.

WiC: What is the biggest professional lesson you've learned over the course of your career or advice you'd offer other women in the industry?

MM: Don't be afraid to challenge what seems to be the established status quo. Most companies or academic institutions have expectations or implicit rules that everyone is following and a way that things are done. If you see that and there are some subtle disadvantages to women or other under-represented groups, make it clear to people.

One example is we have a problem in computer science with retention of women in introductory computer science classes. Women start taking classes but drop out. There has been a lot of observations about what is the best way to teach computer science or other STEM disciplines in a way that is more welcoming to women. One thing I noticed at my University is that intro courses were set up in a way that was trying to engage students with competitions on video game programming projects. So the program is this video game and everyone competes to see whose program does the best. It seems male students get engaged with that and get excited about competition. It drives them to do better but females get intimidated. In general, they often want to work on a team collaboratively. It's not something the teachers do on purpose, but not understanding the ways the different genders like to work can be discouraging to women in the space.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Director, Women in Comms

(4)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
kq4ym
50%
50%
kq4ym,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/17/2016 | 4:33:01 PM
Re: AI -- exciting or scary?
That was surely a great interveiw with an AI expert with lots of fantastic background. It does seem perhaps realistic that the worry over  the excitement and fear  "as computer scientists continue to push the limits of machines" may be a bit of paranoia or at least maybe premature. If it will takes some needed breakthroughs and "100 Nobel" more to get to a significant place in the jouney, at least we'll have some more years to ponder the moral and philosophical problems involved.
Kelsey Ziser
50%
50%
Kelsey Ziser,
User Rank: Blogger
12/8/2016 | 5:47:04 PM
Re: AI -- exciting or scary?
@Sarah That's a great question and one I think we've been mulling over for awhile; as of now, I don't recognize a huge threat. Melanie explained how it's difficult to teach AI commonsense and I think that will prohibit robots from taking a lot of jobs. Factor in a lack of emotional acuity and that's another barrier for AI. 
Iluzun
50%
50%
Iluzun,
User Rank: Lightning
12/5/2016 | 4:13:00 PM
Re: AI -- exciting or scary?
In today's LA Times.... "The Bureau of Labor Statistics said in a report this year that cashiers were the second-largest occupation, with 3.5 million employed in the U.S." The rest of the article on Amazon new retail model concept relates to the potential elimination of such and cash registers. I suppose cashiers could all retrain as 'functional' programmers, but I doubt it. Whole industries have the potential to be disaggregated and nobody can foresee the consequences to the average citizen or on society as a whole. People may not be as efficienct in performing many jobs. In an 'age of disinformation, does one care or can one differentiate the news/fake news all edited by a bot vs human? Speed, efficiency and cost may supplant trivial human quality w/fast food for the brain. Networks of 'amoral' intent models have their own objective reality. Is it the same as yours...? Can a machine be 'pathological'?
Sarah Thomas
50%
50%
Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
12/5/2016 | 2:04:05 PM
AI -- exciting or scary?
I didn't realize how much trepidation there is around AI, which is really an exciting field. With more intelligence and automation comes some redundancy, but what do you all think -- is the fear of computers replacing human jobs warranted or overblown? 
More Blogs from Mentor Monday
Nneoma Nwankwo, a Citi analyst and founder of Empower46, helps bring news of female education and empowerment across Africa to the US.
AT&T Labs is made up of engineers, scientists and experts from all walks of life, not necessarily by design, but Director Ann Skudlark says it's an important part of its success.
CEO Crissi Williams is leading the Institute of Telecommunications Professionals (ITP) in its apprenticeship program to help attract more qualified women to the telecom industry.
Jill Sciarappo has bounced all over Intel building a rewarding career that has ultimately led her to the driver's seat of the chipmaker's self-driving cars division.
Tara O'Sullivan, chief creative officer of the e-learning company Skillsoft, offers insight into how companies can improve their cultures and why both women and men must play a role.
From The Founder
Kicking off BCE 2017, Light Reading founder Steve Saunders lays blame for NFV's slow ramp-up and urges telecom to return to old-fashioned standards building and interoperability.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
LRTV Custom TV
VeEX at ANGA COM

6|27|17   |     |   (0) comments


At ANGA COM 2017, Cyrille Morelle, president and CEO of VeEX, updates Alan Breznick with VeEX's new products and technology. This includes VeSion cloud-based platform for network monitoring, AT2500-3G advanced spectrum analyzer and MTTplus-900 WiFi Air Expert module. He also comments on DOCSIS 3.1 deployment and Remote PHY technology.
LRTV Custom TV
The Overall Objective Is to Win the Game

6|26|17   |     |   (0) comments


SCTE•ISBE's Chris Bastian discusses Energy 2020's success to date and the importance of a flexible approach that allows for changes in specific strategies in order to reach significant milestones.
LRTV Interviews
CenturyLink: Let's Get Past SD-WAN Hype

6|23|17   |   04:02   |   (0) comments


Technology becomes a "shiny object" unless it's properly focused on solving business needs for enterprise customers, says Bill Grubbs, network solutions architect for CenturyLink. He explains to Light Reading why SD-WAN deployments have to be tailored to specific needs – and more.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Infinera's Sales Director Paints Tech's Big Picture

6|21|17   |   4:14   |   (1) comment


Shannon Williams, Infinera's director of sales, shares how she achieves work's many balancing acts -- between her role and the broader company, today and tomorrow's tech and more.
LRTV Custom TV
SD-WAN Innovation & Trends

6|20|17   |     |   (0) comments


Versa CEO Kelly Ahuja discusses with Carol Wilson the current status and trends in the SD-WAN market, Versa's innovation around building a software platform with broad contextualization, and the advantages that startups can bring to the SD-WAN market.
LRTV Interviews
Ovum's Dario Talmesio on 5G in Europe

6|20|17   |   02:16   |   (0) comments


At 5G World 2017, Dario Talmesio, principal analyst and practice leader on Ovum's fixed and mobile telecoms European team, explains the emerging trends amongst European operators as they prepare for 5G.
LRTV Custom TV
Putting Power on a Pedestal

6|19|17   |     |   (0) comments


ARRIS's John Ulm says a major accomplishment of SCTE•ISBE's Energy 2020 program is increased focus on power cost and consumption, including inclusion of energy requirements in operators' RFPs and RFIs.
LRTV Custom TV
Gigabit Access: The Last-Mile Pipe for All Future Services

6|19|17   |     |   (0) comments


A Gigabit access platform being deployed today must be able to deliver all types of services to an increasing number of devices. A non-blocking architecture is necessary to support the ever-increasing growth in bandwidth demand. The Huawei Gigabit access solution is based on a distributed design that is fully scalable to deliver a unprecedented performance.
LRTV Custom TV
Key Factors to Successfully Deploy an SD-WAN Service

6|19|17   |     |   (0) comments


As service providers transition their SD-WAN solution from trials and limited deployments into production at large scale, there are important considerations to successfully operationalize these solutions and realize their full potential, without adding complexity, introducing uncertainty or disrupting current business operations. Sunil Khandekar, CEO and Founder ...
LRTV Custom TV
IoT Solutions: Rational Exuberance

6|19|17   |     |   (0) comments


IoT solutions are morphing from hype into viable business opportunities. Huawei has the platform and ecosystem support to help carriers successfully address new business opportunities in the IoT space.
LRTV Custom TV
Realizing ICN as a Network Slice for Mobile Data Distribution

6|19|17   |     |   (1) comment


Network slicing in 5G allows the potential introduction of new network architectures such as Information-centric Networks (ICN) as a slice, managed over a shared pool of compute, storage and bandwidth resource. Services over an ICN slice can benefit from many architectural features such as Name Based Networking, Security, Multicasting, Multi-homing, Mobility, ...
LRTV Interviews
Ovum's Mike Roberts on 5G Uptake

6|19|17   |   04:08   |   (0) comments


Mike Roberts, research director for Ovum's service provider markets group, explains why he has boosted his 5G subscriptions forecast.
Upcoming Live Events
October 18, 2017, Colorado Convention Center - Denver, CO
November 1, 2017, The Montcalm Marble Arch
November 1, 2017, The Montcalm Marble Arch
November 30, 2017, The Westin Times Square
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
With the mobile ecosystem becoming increasingly vulnerable to security threats, AdaptiveMobile has laid out some of the key considerations for the wireless community.
Hot Topics
No Imagination: UK Chip Biz Goes Up for Sale
Iain Morris, News Editor, 6/22/2017
Does AT&T Deserve Time Warner?
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 6/23/2017
Netflix's Lesson in Culture Expectation Settings
Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms, 6/21/2017
Kalanick Steps Down as Uber CEO
Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms, 6/21/2017
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Following a recent board meeting, the New IP Agency (NIA) has a new strategy to help accelerate the adoption of NFV capabilities, explains the Agency's Founder and Secretary, Steve Saunders.
One of the nice bits of my job (other than the teeny tiny salary, obviously) is that I get to pick and choose who I interview for this slot on the Light Reading home ...
Animals with Phones
Live Digital Audio

Playing it safe can only get you so far. Sometimes the biggest bets have the biggest payouts, and that is true in your career as well. For this radio show, Caroline Chan, general manager of the 5G Infrastructure Division of the Network Platform Group at Intel, will share her own personal story of how she successfully took big bets to build a successful career, as well as offer advice on how you can do the same. We’ll cover everything from how to overcome fear and manage risk, how to be prepared for where technology is going in the future and how to structure your career in a way to ensure you keep progressing. Chan, a seasoned telecom veteran and effective risk taker herself, will also leave plenty of time to answer all your questions live on the air.