The power of technology to rapidly transform human existence is reaching an inflection point. In past centuries and even recent decades, a couple of transformational breakthroughs might occur during a given lifetime, making the world a significantly different place for each generation. Now, advances in artificial intelligence are occurring at such a clip that each generation will experience many distinct realities, with many aspects of our lives unrecognizably altered every few years.
The profundity of upcoming changes hit home for me when in December 2017 I read about DeepMind’s AlphaZero game-playing algorithm, which with no prior understanding and zero human input (beyond the rules of the game) was able to become the greatest chess playing entity in history by playing itself for about four hours. Think about it: chess is a game that countless human geniuses devoted a better part of their lives to, incrementally developing and optimizing strategies over centuries, and which has been a central theme of computer science research and experimentation for 70 years. A generic deep learning model that borrowed absolutely nothing from these centuries of purely human endeavor and decades of computer science applications was able to leave all contenders in the dust with just a few hours of self-play.
Whether or not we are aware of the research, we will continually experience sweeping changes brought to the world by machine learning from this point on. Among other things, our means of production and most of our jobs will undergo constant transformation. There are many ways we can react and prepare—or opt not to prepare—for the dizzying technological revolutions ahead.
In my case, at 40 years of age, having always studied and worked in the humanities, and having attained a reasonable level of financial stability and a high degree of job security, it might be tempting to remain a mere spectator and consumer of the breathtaking and unpredictable changes artificial intelligence will bring in coming years. I might cross my fingers and hope that my world will be upended only in positive ways and that my career and its stability will be spared from the onslaught of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
However, that’s not my style. I will do the opposite.
I intend to draw on all my strengths and my heretofore untapped proclivity for math and computer science and aim for the center of the upcoming storm. I will become conversant, if not proficient, in programming and deep learning. I will be an agent of progress, applying breakthroughs in artificial intelligence to my lines of work.
In the past, I have learned, taught, and leveraged foreign languages to meet personal and professional challenges. Currently, I am studying the Python programming language and the languages of linear algebra and statistics with a view to empowering myself and others to create technology to harness the awesome opportunities of increasingly powerful artificial intelligence. I will focus, among other things, on applications of machine learning to computational linguistics, the intersection of human language and computer science.
This blog will present my adventure—that of a 40-year-old professional with no prior background in science, technology, engineering, or math to become a computer programmer and meet the age of artificial intelligence as a capable innovator in the fields of machine learning and natural language processing.
Along the way, I hope to inspire you to face an uncertain future with renewed enthusiasm to meet your own audacious goals.