AI, machine learning, and other frothy tech subjects remained overhyped in 2019

Rodney Brooks (previously) is a distinguished computer scientist and roboticist (he's served as as head of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and CTO of Irobot); two years ago, he published a list of "dated predictions" intended to cool down some of the hype about self-driving cars, machine learning, and robotics, hype that he viewed as dangerously gaseous.

Every year, Brooks revisits those predictions to see how he's doing (to "self certify the seriousness of my predictions"). This year's scorecard is characteristically curmudgeonly, and shows that Brooks's skepticism was well-warranted, revealing much of the enthusiasm for about AI to have been mere froth: "I had not predicted any big milestones for AI and machine learning for the current period, and indeed there were none achieved… [W]e have seen warnings that all the over-hype of machine and deep learning may lead to a new AI winter when those tens of thousands of jolly conference attendees will no longer have grants and contracts to pay for travel to and attendance at their fiestas"

Some of the predictions are awfully fun, too, like "The press, and researchers, generally mature beyond the so-called 'Turing Test' and Asimov's three laws as valid measures of progress in AI and ML" (predicted for 2022; last year's update was, "I wish, I really wish.").

Brooks is pretty bullish on the web for piercing hype-bubbles, noting that it provides "outlets… for non-journalists, perhaps practitioners in a scientific field, to write position papers that get widely referenced in social media… During 2019 we saw many, many well informed such position papers/blogposts. We have seen explanations on how machine learning has limitations on when it makes sense to be used and that it may not be a universal silver bullet."

Bruce Sterling's actually pretty comfortable with tech hype: "I've come to see tech-hype as a sign of social health. It's kinda like being young and smitten by a lot of random pretty people, only, you're not gonna really have relationships with most of them, and also, the one you oughta marry and have children with, that is probably not the one who seems most fantastically hot and sexy. Also, if nothing at all seems fantastically hot and sexy, then you probably have a vitamin deficiency. It's all part of the marvelous pageant of life, ladies and gentlemen."

I made my predictions because at the time I saw an immense amount of hype about these three topics, and the general press and public drawing conclusions about all sorts of things they feared (e.g., truck driving jobs about to disappear, all manual labor of humans about to disappear) or desired (e.g., safe roads about to come into existence, a safe haven for humans on Mars about to start developing) being imminent. My predictions, with dates attached to them, were meant to slow down those expectations, and inject some reality into what I saw as irrational exuberance.

Predictions Scorecard, 2020 January 01 [Rodney Brooks]

(via Beyond the Beyond)

(Image: Gartner; Cryteria, CC-BY, modified)