A.I. the wave of the future

Bob Stefanski, a Northern Michigan University graduate who now is an entrepreneur and venture capital investor in Silicon Valley, speaks about artificial intelligence and other technology-related topics Monday before the Economic Club of Marquette County at the Ramada Inn. For more information about upcoming club speakers, visit marquetteeconomicclub.org. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Mention the letters “A.I.” to Bob Stefanski, and he becomes really excited.

Stefanski, an entrepreneur and venture capital investor in Silicon Valley, talked about artificial intelligence Monday before the Economic Club of Marquette County at the Ramada Inn in Marquette.

He is co-founder of eLab Ventures, an early stage venture capital fund focused on technology. He graduated from Northern Michigan University with a major in computational mathematics, and holds a graduate degree in engineering and a law degree from the University of Michigan.

The focus of his talk was about that one particular technological wave of the future.

“A.I. may be the most important technology ever,” Stefanski said. “It can already drive a car better than a person can. It can manufacture goods better, faster, cheaper than humans.

“It’s on its way to being able to diagnose as well as, if not better than, doctors, oncologists, dermatologists. It can already read an MRI and find a cancer tumor in an MRI better than most radiologists.”

Artificial intelligence even has a place in stock trading, he said.

“More than 70 percent of all stock trades today are all computer-algorithmic trades, and increasingly that’s artificial intelligence,” Stefanski said. “A human being doesn’t make the decision, never touches anything. It just creates, and a lot of that is sort of micro-second trading where A.I. picks up an inefficiency in the market in a nanosecond, and trades and sells it again in a nanosecond.”

What’s more, through artificial intelligence, machines can learn.

Detailed in the MIT Technology Review in December, the program AlphaZero in 24 hours taught itself to play chess well enough to beat a top chess program.

The developer of AlphaZero, DeepMind, was acquired by Google in 2014, according to the DeepMind website.

“With A.I., it’s not rules-based anymore,” Stefanski said. “They’re now taking on more human cognitive-like capability. They can detect, learn, adapt to and make decisions based on patterns in data.”

After all, he called the human brain a “big pattern-recognition machine.”

Stefanski believes exponential growth drives artificial intelligence. So where does it go from here?

He said he can think of very few things A.I. won’t impact in people’s lifetimes.

One of those applications already in the works — he’s seen driverless vehicles going past his home — is autonomous transportation.

“Autonomous is going to be way safer,” Stefanski said, noting the large numbers of people who die in car accidents. “When we’re fully autonomous — when every car on the road is autonomous — we will likely approach zero in terms of fatalities.”

When people no longer buy cars and instead rely on a phone app to subscribe to a transportation service when a car is needed, it also will be more efficient and at about a quarter of the cost, he said.

Precision medicine involves the making of drugs precisely to a personal genome.

“It works on our particular cancer mutation,” Stefanski said, “and we can only do this because of A.I.”

Artificial intelligence also plays a part in autonomous manufacturing as well as “intelligent assistants” that use natural language understanding, he said.

“It understands the vocabulary of personal banking extremely well, and when you’re that narrow, you can train on a vocabulary like that,” Stefanski said.

An assistant even can give banking advice, he said.

What Stefanski acknowledged he couldn’t emphasize enough was the scope of artificial intelligence in the future.

“Virtually every industry is going to be either impacted by this or eventually completely disrupted,” Stefanski said.

That means there’s good news and bad news.

“The good news is we’ve created all this efficiency,” said Stefanski, noting that since humans have to work less, products become cheaper.

It also has led to a wealthier, more educated world.

“The bad news is the distribution hasn’t been very even,” Stefanski said. “I’ll be really blunt: It’s all gone to capital.”

Because of this inequity, labor so far hasn’t been a big beneficiary.

“CEOs have a lot more but the lower guys on the rung haven’t,” he said. “They’ve lost real wages.”

However, he stressed A.I. is “all happening.”

“It could be a very utopian scenario if you figure out the policy side of this,” Stefanski said. “That’s where the issues will be, but the tech is marching fast.”