Chances are you’ve never heard of Geoffrey Hinton, but humble as he is, Geoffrey changed the world forever. Most likely you haven’t heard of Backpropogation either (www.neuralnetworksanddeeplearning.com), but that’s the algorithm that powers Machine Learning, and it’s radically reshaping all our lives on a minute-by-minute basis.
Backpropagation and Machine Learning
Geoffrey Hinton is the father of Backpropogation, so it’s thanks to him that within minutes of Googling up a wedding venue, your screen pings full of adverts for top hats and tails. And it was Geoffrey who made sure speeding motorists are caught and fined, because Geoffrey’s behind number plate recognition too: no matter how complex the data, no matter how fast you try to dash away from the camera, Geoffrey’s always there. This unassuming, gangling man in a dubious sweater and hush puppies has changed the world forever…and, unsurprisingly, Geoffrey works for Google.
Perhaps alarmingly for some (and despite the avuncular air created by those hush puppies and sweaters) Geoffrey Hinton is also a Terminator 2 man. He doesn’t rule out ever more expansive decision-making by all those supercomputers, because, as he dryly puts it: “there isn’t a good track record of less intelligent things controlling things of greater intelligence“.
He might have a point there…
But fundamentally Machine Learning isn’t about science fiction at all, it’s about science fact. Geoffrey Hinton’s algorithm already enables huge swathes of complex data to be gathered together (including who you are, where you live, what you buy, where you bought it and how); and then (this is the crucial bit), to enable computers make an educated guess (albeit a very good one) about what you’re going to do next. Hence all those pop up adverts for top hats and tails…
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Artificial Intelligence is the next step forward: using Machine Learning technologies the supercomputer takes note of its “environment” and maximises the chances of delivering on a set of predetermined goals, mimicking human cognitive functions including “learning” and “problem solving” capabilities. That’s how the machine can issue you with a speeding fine, but it’s also why it can already understand human speech (thank you Alexa) and why, in the fullness of time, we are likely to see driverless cars tootling up Streatham High Road (www.ucsusa.org/resources/self-driving-cars).
The economic consequences of all that should be obvious to anyone not currently living in a cave: Blockchain is already a big thing, but its future development will inevitably be turbocharged by Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. The decentralised ledger systems at the heart of Blockchain will become faster and more efficient, matching up buyers and sellers more effectively and cutting out intermediaries to make worldwide markets super efficient too.
The Internet of Things
And The Internet of Things is also already on the horizon: physical objects from toasters to climate control systems will be embedded in future with sensors and software to connect and exchange data over the Internet, making the “smart home” a practical reality. As soon as you wake up your iPhone will put the kettle on, and when you take the train home, the Oyster reader at the station will turn on your central heating. And if that sounds a little frivolous, think about this…if you have a heart attack, the on board radio in the ambulance can prep the intensive care facility in the hospital. So the Internet of Things might just save your life as well.
And we’ve got Geoffrey Hinton to thank for that.
Especially at the moment, emerging technologies are changing all our lives: think Zoom and Amazon, Ocado and Netflix. So it’s more important than ever to keep a keen eye on the future, if only because that’s where we’re all heading.