Pamela McCorduck is an artificial intelligence (AI) expert and an author. She has written 10 books, the newest one comes out this month and it is titled: This Could Be Important: My Life and Times with the Artificial Intelligentsia.
Pamela first became interested in AI when she was studying at the University of California, Berkeley. She was an English major, but she had a job typing in the business school, which is where she met some of the “fathers of AI”. Two assistant professors in the business school who she became acquainted with through her job approached her to see if she could help them work on a book. The book was on the topic of AI, something that at that time Pamela knew nothing about.
When she asked one of the assistant professors what AI was he gave her a great definition. He said, “I would define it as machines doing something that if a human did that we would say, ‘Oh that’s intelligent behavior.” Pamela said that while working on the book in 1960 she fell in love with the field of AI and she has been learning all she can about it ever since.
Back when Pamela first started immersing herself in AI, it fascinated her so much that she decided she wanted to write a book on the history of artificial intelligence. With the help of AI experts at that time, she wrote Machines Who Think, which looks at the evolution AI has gone through from the time of the classic Greek poets to the 20th century.
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Pamela states that the algorithms we use today were actually developed in the 80s, but at the time we didn’t have the advanced technology needed to use them. So the things we are seeing today in AI and machine learning which seem so futuristic, are actually from a few decades ago, we just didn’t have the technology needed until now.
When asked about the meaning behind the title of her new book, This Could Be Important, Pamela said, “This book is a memoir of sorts, and it starts from the time that AI really grabs me by the gut and goes on. So my husband was the chairman of the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon in the 70s. And in the late 70s, he was called to Columbia University because the Ivy League was among the last to establish computer science departments. And so he established the Computer Science Department at Columbia where he earned his Ph.D. and, of course, we moved to New York City, which I loved ’cause I’m a writer. And that was the writer’s company town in those days. Anyway, I got into all kinds of literary circles ’cause I still thought of myself as a literary person, and I would run into various public intellectuals and I would say, “You know, this artificial intelligence, this could be important.” And they would look at me as if I were absolutely nuts and laugh. I mean, what else could they do? And it went on for two decades at least.”
Pamela believes that AI will have a major impact on the future of work and the future in general. And there will be benefits as well as some challenges that come with it. She understands that AI will never make a perfect paradise because we as humans will never be perfect. But that doesn’t mean we should forget it altogether.
“It’s not gonna be paradise, but it’s gonna be a lot easier for a lot more people, and that gets to one of the things that really makes me unhappy about people like Musk who say, “Oh, we’ve just gotta stop AI.” And I’m thinking “You live in a privileged society, and you live a life of great privilege in that society. Who are you to say nobody gets the benefits of AI because it might have some bad effects?” There is a world of need out there that AI could supply, and it’s not up to us privileged white people, and privileged white men to say, “Oh no, sorry, we’re not gonna have that because there are dangers.” Well, yes, of course, there are dangers but boy, think of the benefits.”
What You Will Learn In This Episode:
How Pamela first got involved in the AI space
A look at the history of AI
What is symbolic intelligence and why is it so important for the future
The impact AI will have on the future of work
How the current industrial revolution is different than the first
What is was like in the early days of AI and what Pamela learned from the “fathers of AI”
Huge thanks to VMware for sponsoring this episode! If you want a free copy of my upcoming book ‘The Future Leader’, go here.