Artificial Intelligence Demystified


Artificial intelligence is such staple of science fiction that when many of us think about where it might lead, images of malevolent robots and nefarious power plots may come to mind. But McCombs School of Business Associate Professor James Scott has a friendlier view of AI. He’ll share his insights at a Texas McCombs Presents morning coffee gathering Wednesday, Sept. 26 in the Crum Auditorium of Rowling Hall on The University of Texas at Austin campus.

Scott’s new book, “AIQ: How People and Machines Are Smarter Together,” demystifies the core concepts behind artificial intelligence by exploring the history of the ideas that led to its development. The result is both positive and entertaining, offering an optimistic look at the benefits of combining human creativity with powerful machines.

Written in collaboration with Nick Polson, a professor at the Chicago Booth School of Business, the book uses history, mathematics and real-world examples to debunk common controversies surrounding AI.

“On the one hand, you have this huge amount of hype coming from the business world,” Scott says. “Companies are making it seem AI is going to fix every problem for humanity. Then on the other hand, you have the Elon Musks of the world, AI doomsayers who say AI is going to kill everything that we care about. As educators, we believe that to participate in these important debates, you really have to understand what AI is, where it came from, and how it works.”

“AIQ” has an approachable take on the ideas behind AI, one anchored in stories rather than equations, going as far back as Isaac Newton’s ill-fated stint as warden at England’s Royal Mint. While explaining the roots of AI, the book draws parallels to its wholesome modern-day uses in areas such as cancer therapy and cucumber farming — no Black Mirror episode to be found here.

Some fears associated with AI pertaining to privacy or data leaks and are not unfounded, Scott says. These worries are not glossed over in the book. Scott writes about the reasons human judgment is a crucial part of any system that uses artificial intelligence.

“It’s really important that we don’t treat these algorithms like a microwave oven, where you just punch in set of numbers and walk away,” Scott says. “You really have to have humans who know what they’re doing … using (AI) to maybe supplement decisions, not make them.”

To read the McCombs feature Q&A with James Scott about “AIQ: How People and Machines Are Smarter Together,” click below. :

Artificial intelligence, it seems, is suddenly everywhere — from the recommendation systems for the movies we stream to the electronic assistants that respond to our voice commands to the self-driving cars that are beginning to appear on our roads. AI advances mean computers can increasingly accomplish tasks in a human-like way.

But the ideas behind artificial intelligence have been around for centuries, moving through the minds of innovators like Isaac Newton and Florence Nightingale. That’s according to James Scott, associate professor of Information, Risk, and Operations Management at McCombs, and the co-author of AIQ: How People and Machines Are Smarter Together.

Scott says such fears are unwarranted, and that he doesn’t know a single reputable AI scientist who thinks that kind of thing is a realistic possibility on any timeline for the foreseeable future.

Scott recently discussed these and many other issues surrounding today’s AI explosion, including both the unfounded — and very real — concerns around the adoption of AI.

Why is AI taking off now?

The answer is technology, the speed of computers. It’s impossible to convey intuitively how fast computers have gotten at computing numbers.

We like to use a car analogy. If we go back to 1951, the fastest computer around was called the UNIVAC. It was the size of a room, based on vacuum tubes, and could do 2,000 calculations per second, which is radically faster than any human being. The fastest car was the Alfa Romeo 6C, which can travel about 110 miles per hour. Today, both cars and computers have gotten faster. Formula One cars travel over 200 miles an hour and computers are radically faster than the UNIVAC. But if cars were as much faster as computers, the modern Alfa Romeo would travel at 8 million times the speed of light.

Aside from computing speed, what else explains AI’s sudden rise?

The scale of data sets. If you digitized the Library of Congress, you’d get about 10 terabytes worth of data. That is 120,000 times less data than was collected by the big four tech firms — Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook — in 2013 alone. That’s a lifetime ago in internet use, and the pace of data accumulation is just accelerating at incredible speed.

AIQ: How People and Machines Are Smarter Together:

Amazon page –