Artificial intelligence has exploded, and perhaps no one knows it more than Harry Shum, the executive vice president in charge of Microsoft’s AI and Research Group, which has been at the center of a major technological shift inside the company.
Delivering the commencement address Friday at the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, Shum drew inspiration from three emerging technologies — quantum computing, AI, and mixed reality — to deliver life lessons and point out the future of technology for the class of 2018.
One of Shum’s big points about the future of artificial intelligence was the importance of developing AI that can recognize diversity and avoid replicating human bias. “We have to build AI systems that hear all voices and recognize all faces, equally well across our diverse world, to create the best future for everyone,” Shum said.
He continued: “So how do we code programs that don’t reflect and amplify our thoughts? That’s a big problem that technology alone can’t solve. It starts with us people: how we widen our own perspectives and appreciate our differences.”
Microsoft has been taking a stand on AI ethics as part of its effort to differentiate itself from other tech companies in the field. Shum and Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, lead an internal Microsoft group called AI and Ethics in Engineering and Research (AETHER).
The ethics of AI are a key topic right now in the tech industry. Earlier on Friday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai released new ethics guidelines outlining how the company will use AI in its products and technologies, after a backlash over Google’s work on a Department of Defense contract.
At the UW Allen School graduation, Shum struck an optimistic note, telling the audience of computer science graduates that “the convergence of big data, massive computing power and advanced machine learning” give them “the opportunity to speed innovation and to transform our world for the better, perhaps more than any other profession.”