Adam Cheyer on AI-vs-IA

by May 17, 2017Trends

Adam Cheyer

Eileen Clegg

The Co-Inventor of Siri and Viv Focuses on Human Intelligence Augmentation in the Era of Artificial Intelligence


By Eileen Clegg

Founder and Principal at Visual Insight, Faculty Member at Future of Talent Institute


Within 12 years, could we see “The Singularity” — the merging of human + machine? That’s the popular meme on the streets of Silicon Valley, but Adam Cheyer calls it unlikely. And Cheyer has a deep understanding of artificial intelligence (A.I.) as the co-inventor of Apple’s Siri and, more recently, Viv, a company focused on creating an “intelligent interface to everything”. Viv recently was acquired by Samsung. Adam’s focus is a human-centered trajectory for technology.

Cheyer is part of a quiet but influential group of Silicon Valley thought leaders who simply do not believe that computers will ever become sentient — that is, having consciousness and self-awareness. Their passion is more about “I.A.” (Intelligence Augmentation) than “A.I.” (Artificial Intelligence), as Cheyer explained recently at the Connect to Thrive conference, sponsored by the Bay Area Regional Center for International Trade Development (CITD) and People Centered Internet (PCI).

Cheyer’s work focuses on empowering humans by amplifying their own intelligence, rather than replacing them with artificial machine intelligence. The overall goal is to enhance humanity’s ability to collectively think and problem-solve at a global scale — especially at a time of so much challenge on the planet.

I.A.’s philosophical beginnings go back to Dr. Douglas Engelbart, the inventor of the computer mouse whose famous “‘68 Demo” foreshadowed the personal computer revolution nearly 50 years ago. “Doug’s team was the most productive in history,” said Cheyer, who was a close colleague and friend of Dr. Engelbart. Engelbart died in 2013 at the age of 88.

Engelbart’s world-changing inventions came about as a side effect of his great quest to figure out how humanity could raise its collective IQ to solve global, wicked problems.  One thing his team did was to show information on personal computing screens and link them together so they could see one another’s thinking.

Soon after Engelbart showed the initial version of the mouse, linking and other features of the personal computer, Dr. Vinton G. Cerf worked with a team to create the Internet in 1973. Cerf is cofounder, with Mei LIn Fung, of the People Centered Internet project and shares the human-centric philosophy of technology. In a recent talk, Cerf warned that A.I. could become the “artificial idiot,” by learning and scaling the wrong things.

Cheyer talked about the triangle in which technologists work, and about some of the projects he has been involved with:  Human-to-Machine (how to make it more natural to interact with computers, c.f. Siri); Human-to-Human (how can you harness the collective intelligence of the world to perform purposeful work, c.f.; and Machine-to-Machine (how to solve problems that are challenging for humans by posing them to machine intelligence at massive scale, c.f.

His latest project Viv unites all aspects of the triangle into one “Pyramid” system, offering a Siri-like interface (Human-to-Machine), that can be extended by every developer in the world (Human-to-Human), and applies large scale machine learning to keep everything fair and of high quality.

Cheyer pointed out how Artificial Intelligence has made major strides just since 2011 when IBM’s computer Watson beat the competition on Jeopardy, Siri began to talk and — on the pop culture front — the movie “Her” was released, showing a seemingly “real” relationship between man and machine. Since then we’ve had major breakthroughs in self-driving cars, robotics, and A.I. being applied to optimize almost every field.  He’d like to see these technologies support rather than supplant humans. And, he doesn’t think it’s really possible in the foreseeable future for machines to take over.

His focus is shared by Peter Norvig, director of research at Google, who wrote the leading text on Artificial Intelligence and is considered a global leader in the field. He sees the potential for A.I. to revolutionize teaching and many other functions that support human intelligence, but agrees with Cheyer and Cerf that the so-called “Singularity” is unlikely.  “I think the majority of people are skeptical of the ‘Singularity’ idea, but bolder predictions get more news coverage,” Norvig said.

The landscape is shifting as technology leaders are speaking out about the real potential for technology–to help humans make smarter decisions. “Technology should be an avenue for improving people’s lives,” said Fung. “How did we forget that as we got so caught up in artificial intelligence?”


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