Neil Jacobstein

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Andrew Ng’s predictions about Artificial Intelligence carry more weight with me than the projections of many of his peers because he never seems driven by irrational exuberance. In fact, he often urges caution when talk about the imminent arrival of driverless cars and other landscape-changing tools becomes overheated. 

So, when Baidu’s Chief Scientist asserts AI will soon deliver to us a brave new world, one in which, for instance, speech recognition is all but perfected, it’s probably wise to take notice. Computer conversation that’s wholly convincing should give us pause, however. Any technology that becomes seamless should be met as much by concern as enthusiasm.

An excerpt from a smart Wall Street Journal interview Scott Austin conducted with Ng and Neil Jacobstein of Singularity University:

Andrew Ng:

In addition to strengthening our core business, AI is creating a lot of new opportunities. Just as about 100 years ago electrification changed every single major industry, I think we’re in the phase where AI will change pretty much every major industry.

So part of my work at Baidu is to systematically explore new verticals. We have built up an autonomous driving unit. We have a conversational computer, similar to Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home. And we’re systematically pursuing new industries where we think we can build an AI team to create and capture value.


Let’s talk about speech recognition. I believe someone in your program has said that the hope is to get to the point where it is 99% accurate. Where are you on that?

Andrew Ng:

A couple of years ago, we started betting heavily on speech recognition because we felt that it was on the cusp of being so accurate that you would use it all the time. And the difference between speech recognition that is 95% accurate, which is where we were several years ago, versus 99% accuracy isn’t just an incremental improvement.

It’s the difference between you barely using it, like a couple of years ago, versus you using it all the time and not even thinking about it. At Baidu we have passed the knee of that adoption curve. Over the past year, we’ve seen about 100% year-to-year growth in the daily active use of speech recognition across our assets, and we project that this will continue to grow.

In a few years everyone will be using speech recognition. It will feel natural. You’ll soon forget what it was like before you could talk to computers.•

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Laptop computers were just a fad–a disappointment–and they were going away. Except they didn’t, they thrived, until even smaller, more-powerful screens began to supplant them. AI has likewise often failed to live up to its billing, a dream deferred, although now it might be starting to come true, as even Weak AI has proved powerful. From Jason Dorrier at the Singularity Hub:

“[Singularity University’s Neil] Jacobstein said Watson and programs like it don’t demonstrate intelligence that is ‘broad, deep, and subtle’ like human intelligence, but they are a multi-billion dollar fulcrum to augment a human brain faced with zettabytes of data.

Our brains, beautiful and capable as they are, have major limitations that machines simply don’t share—speed, memory, bandwidth, and biases. ‘The human brain hasn’t had a major upgrade in over 50,000 years,’ Jacobstein said.

Now, we’re a few steps away from having computer assistants that communicate like we do on the surface—speaking and understanding plain english—even as they manage, sift, and analyze huge chunks of data in the background.

Siri isn’t very flexible and still makes lots of mistakes, often humorous ones—but Siri is embryonic. Jacobstein thinks we’ll see much more advanced versions soon. In fact, with $10 million in funding, SIRI’s inventors are already working on a sequel.

And increasingly, we’re turning to the brain for inspiration.”


At Foreign Policy, Vivek Wadhwa of Singularity University hits back at the idea that China is manufacturing America into the ground. Quite the contrary, he argues that manufacturing jobs are returning to the U.S. because of our superior knowledge of AI, though many of the tasks will be handled by robotic hands rather than human ones. A note in the article about the coming personalization of even large-scale products:

Neil Jacobstein, who chairs the AI track at the Silicon Valley-based graduate program Singularity University, says that AI technologies will find their way into manufacturing and make it ‘personal’: that we will be able to design our own products at home with the aid of AI design assistants. He predicts a ‘creator economy’ in which mass production is replaced by personalized production, with people customizing designs they download from the Internet or develop themselves.

How will we turn these designs into products? By ‘printing’ them at home or at modern-day Kinko’s — shared public manufacturing facilities such as TechShop, a membership-based manufacturing workshop, using new manufacturing technologies that are now on the horizon.” (Thanks Browser.)

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