Connect with us

Published

on

David Silver, leader of the reinforcement learning research group at DeepMind, being awarded an honorary “ninth dan” professional ranking for AlphaGo.
JUNG YEON-JE | AFP | Getty Images

Computer scientists are questioning whether DeepMind, the Alphabet-owned U.K. firm that’s widely regarded as one of the world’s premier AI labs, will ever be able to make machines with the kind of “general” intelligence seen in humans and animals.

In its quest for artificial general intelligence, which is sometimes called human-level AI, DeepMind is focusing a chunk of its efforts on an approach called “reinforcement learning.”

This involves programming an AI to take certain actions in order to maximize its chance of earning a reward in a certain situation. In other words, the algorithm “learns” to complete a task by seeking out these preprogrammed rewards. The technique has been successfully used to train AI models how to play (and excel at) games like Go and chess. But they remain relatively dumb, or “narrow.” DeepMind’s famous AlphaGo AI can’t draw a stickman or tell the difference between a cat and a rabbit, for example, while a seven-year-old can.

Despite this, DeepMind, which was acquired by Google in 2014 for around $600 million, believes that AI systems underpinned by reinforcement learning could theoretically grow and learn so much that they break the theoretical barrier to AGI without any new technological developments.

Researchers at the company, which has grown to around 1,000 people under Alphabet’s ownership, argued in a paper submitted to the peer-reviewed Artificial Intelligence journal last month that “Reward is enough” to reach general AI. The paper was first reported by VentureBeat last week.

In the paper, the researchers claim that if you keep “rewarding” an algorithm each time it does something you want it to, which is the essence of reinforcement learning, then it will eventually start to show signs of general intelligence.

“Reward is enough to drive behavior that exhibits abilities studied in natural and artificial intelligence, including knowledge, learning, perception, social intelligence, language, generalization and imitation,” the authors write.

“We suggest that agents that learn through trial and error experience to maximize reward could learn behavior that exhibits most if not all of these abilities, and therefore that powerful reinforcement learning agents could constitute a solution to artificial general intelligence.”

Not everyone is convinced, however.

Samim Winiger, an AI researcher in Berlin, told CNBC that DeepMind’s “reward is enough” view is a “somewhat fringe philosophical position, misleadingly presented as hard science.”

He said the path to general AI is complex and that the scientific community is aware that there are countless challenges and known unknowns that “rightfully instill a sense of humility” in most researchers in the field and prevent them from making “grandiose, totalitarian statements” such as “RL is the final answer, all you need is reward.”

DeepMind told CNBC that while reinforcement learning has been behind some of its most well-known research breakthroughs, the AI technique accounts for only a fraction of the overall research it carries out. The company said it thinks it’s important to understand things at a more fundamental level, which is why it pursues other areas such as “symbolic AI” and “population-based training.”

“In somewhat typical DeepMind fashion, they chose to make bold statements that grabs attention at all costs, over a more nuanced approach,” said Winiger. “This is more akin to politics than science.”

Stephen Merity, an independent AI researcher, told CNBC that there’s “a difference between theory and practice.” He also noted that “a stack of dynamite is likely enough to get one to the moon, but it’s not really practical.”

Ultimately, there’s no proof either way to say whether reinforcement learning will ever lead to AGI.

Rodolfo Rosini, a tech investor and entrepreneur with a focus on AI, told CNBC: “The truth is nobody knows and that DeepMind’s main product continues to be PR and not technical innovation or products.”

Entrepreneur William Tunstall-Pedoe, who sold his Siri-like app Evi to Amazon, told CNBC that even if the researchers are correct “that doesn’t mean we will get there soon, nor does it mean that there isn’t a better, faster way to get there.”

DeepMind’s “Reward is enough” paper was co-authored by DeepMind heavyweights Richard Sutton and David Silver, who met DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis at the University of Cambridge in the 1990s.

“The key problem with the thesis put forth by ‘Reward is enough’ is not that it is wrong, but rather that it cannot be wrong, and thus fails to satisfy Karl Popper’s famous criterion that all scientific hypotheses be falsifiable,” said a senior AI researcher at a large U.S. tech firm, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the discussion.

“Because Silver et al. are speaking in generalities, and the notion of reward is suitably underspecified, you can always either cherry pick cases where the hypothesis is satisfied, or the notion of reward can be shifted such that it is satisfied,” the source added.

“As such, the unfortunate verdict here is not that these prominent members of our research community have erred in any way, but rather that what is written is trivial. What is learned from this paper, in the end? In the absence of practical, actionable consequences from recognizing the unalienable truth of this hypothesis, was this paper enough?”

What is AGI?

While AGI is often referred to as the holy grail of the AI community, there’s no consensus on what AGI actually is. One definition is it’s the ability of an intelligent agent to understand or learn any intellectual task that a human being can.

But not everyone agrees with that and some question whether AGI will ever exist. Others are terrified about its potential impacts and whether AGI would build its own, even more powerful, forms of AI, or so-called superintelligences.

Ian Hogarth, an entrepreneur turned angel investor, told CNBC that he hopes reinforcement learning isn’t enough to reach AGI. “The more that existing techniques can scale up to reach AGI, the less time we have to prepare AI safety efforts and the lower the chance that things go well for our species,” he said.

Winiger argues that we’re no closer to AGI today than we were several decades ago. “The only thing that has fundamentally changed since the 1950/60s, is that science-fiction is now a valid tool for giant corporations to confuse and mislead the public, journalists and shareholders,” he said.

Fueled with hundreds of millions of dollars from Alphabet every year, DeepMind is competing with the likes of Facebook and OpenAI to hire the brightest people in the field as it looks to develop AGI. “This invention could help society find answers to some of the world’s most pressing and fundamental scientific challenges,” DeepMind writes on its website.

DeepMind COO Lila Ibrahim said on Monday that trying to “figure out how to operationalize the vision” has been the biggest challenge since she joined the company in April 2018.

Continue Reading

Technology

Top Amazon exec says it’s a ‘myth’ robots steal jobs

Published

on

By

Top Amazon exec says it's a 'myth' robots steal jobs

A robot prepares to pick up a tote containing product at the Amazon Robotics fulfillment center on April 12, 2019 in Orlando, Florida.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

A top Amazon executive told CNBC Thursday that it’s a “myth” that robots and other technologies take jobs away from people.

Stefano La Rovere, director of global robotics, mechatronics, and sustainable packaging at Amazon, said that, rather than replacing jobs, advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, and other technologies are enhancing people’s roles.

He added that new technology is leading to the creation of entirely new job categories.

“It is a myth that technology and robots take out jobs,” La Rovere told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Thursday.

Amazon says that the introduction of new technologies has enhanced more than 50,000 jobs across its fulfilment centers in Europe.

It's a myth that technology and robots take jobs away, Amazon director of global robotics says

The e-commerce giant says it has installed more than 1,000 new technologies across its European fulfillment center network over the last five years, for an overall investment of more than 700 million euros ($751 million).

“Robots and technology help our employees … by reducing walking distance between assignments, by taking away repetitive motions, or [by] helping them to lift heavy weights,” La Rovere  said.

“In turn, our employees can learn new skills, they can learn new competencies, they can acquire new capabilities that allow them to progress towards their career objectives,” he added.

La Rovere added that, “Over the last years, more than 700 new categories of jobs have been created by the use of technology.”

He cited the example of his own team, the Amazon robotics and AI division, which is focused on bringing automation to Amazon’s vast network of fulfillment centers that are responsible for getting orders packed and ready for delivery to customers.

 WATCH: Factories are heading for a ‘dark’ future — and it’s not what you think

Factories are heading for a 'dark' future — and it's not what you think

Continue Reading

Technology

China remains crucial for U.S. chipmakers amid rising tensions between the world’s top two economies

Published

on

By

China remains crucial for U.S. chipmakers amid rising tensions between the world's top two economies

US-China chip war graphic

Wong Yu Liang | Moment | Getty Images

China remains an essential market for most American chipmakers despite Washington’s efforts to restrict chip sales to the country and amid Beijing’s push for self sufficiency in the semiconductor sector. 

Data from S&P Global showed that U.S. chip giants Intel, Broadcom, Qualcomm and Marvell Technology all generate more revenue from China compared with the U.S. 

The U.S. has passed a series of export controls starting in October 2022 aimed at restricting China’s access to advanced chip technology, particularly those used in AI applications.

“China remains an important market for U.S. chipmakers, and the U.S. restrictions on selling advanced AI chips to China have been designed specifically to allow most U.S. firms to continue selling most types of chips to Chinese customers,” Chris Miller, author of “Chip War,” told CNBC.

Used in a wide range of products, from smartphones to electric vehicles, semiconductors have become a top priority for governments globally. 

According to data from tech consultancy Omdia, China consumes nearly 50% of the world’s semiconductors as it is the biggest market for assembling consumer devices. 

U.S. chipmakers, which enjoy technological leadership over Chinese competitors, have been able to tap this demand as the U.S. export curbs are focused on some very specific products.

“There are still plenty of ‘high end’ chips with all types of allowable use cases that are good to go where U.S. based chip companies have the dominant, leading edge,” said William B. Bailey, lead technology, media, and telecommunications analyst at Nasdaq IR Intelligence.

Navigating export curbs 

U.S. chipmakers, even those with a majority of business in the U.S., such as Micron Technology, AMD, and Nvidia, have strived to serve their Chinese clients even in the face of export controls. 

When the first wave of U.S. restrictions came into effect late in 2022, Nvidia and Intel designed modified versions of AI chip products for the Chinese market. 

A year later, the U.S. updated the export rules to tackle these perceived loopholes. But, soon after, it was reported that Nvidia was working on a new chip made for China.

Intel has reportedly continued to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of laptop processor chips to U.S.-sanctioned Chinese telecoms company Huawei, thanks to an export license issued by the Donald Trump administration.

The company did not respond to a request for comment on their plans for the China market.

U.S. strategy to limit China's rise as a technological power is working, analyst says

AMD has also designed an AI chip for China but will need to apply for an export license after failing to get it past U.S. regulators last month.

Executives of Intel, Qualcomm, and Nvidia, had reportedly been part of a group that planned to lobby Washington against tighter chip restrictions in July last year.

The companies are also members of Semiconductor Industry Association, a major U.S. semiconductor trade organization, which released a statement around the same time requesting an easing of tensions and a halt on further sanctions due to the importance of the Chinese market for domestic chip companies.

Amid a tough policy stance by the U.S., China has also responded in kind. In May last year, chips produced by America’s Micron were banned from critical information infrastructure in China after failing a review by the country’s Cyberspace Administration. 

Micron is constructing a new assembly and test manufacturing facility at an existing site in Xi’an, China, as the country “remains an important market for Micron and the semiconductor industry,” a company spokesperson told CNBC. Production is estimated to start in the second half of 2025, they said.

Market share worries

China could catch up to U.S. in the semiconductor sector, says Insights & Strategy CEO

The Chinese government is “increasingly focused” on getting its firms to buy locally made chips, Miller said. “Unless foreign companies have a substantial technological advantage over domestic Chinese competitors, they will lose market share in China.” 

However, Phelix Lee, equity analyst at Morningstar, said it does not expect “an overhaul of the supply chain” even as Chinese firms could be innovating legacy chips found in everything from household appliances to medical equipment. 

Legacy chips are typically mature or lower-end semiconductors. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said about 60% of these chips are manufactured by China

According to Brady Wang, associate director at Counterpoint Research, in the AI GPU market segment, American companies such as Nvidia and Intel are estimated to have a technological lead of about three to five years over Chinese competitors.

“We believe China can still build up its local GPU supply chain for specific market segments, but the amount will be limited, and the cost will be much higher,” he added.

Continue Reading

Technology

Apple shares just had their best day since last May

Published

on

By

Apple shares just had their best day since last May

Apple CEO Tim Cook greets customers as he arrives for the release of the Vision Pro headset at the Apple Store in New York City on Feb. 2, 2024.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

Apple shares climbed 4.3% on Thursday to a share price of $175.04. It is Apple’s best day since May 5, 2023.

Apple’s rise came during a strong day for technology stocks, especially those in artificial intelligence, as the Nasdaq Composite rose 1.77%.

Apple shares are down more than 5% so far this year. On Thursday, JPMorgan analysts wrote that sentiment over Apple shares is improving with hedge fund investors, partially due to its recent stock slide.

Despite some negative trends around iPhone sales in China, and recent reports of canceled projects such as its effort to build a car, JPMorgan analyst Samik Chatterjee said investors may be more comfortable with its current valuation after recent losses and the potential to benefit from AI.

The JPMorgan analysts predicted a strong iPhone sales cycle in 2026 due to forthcoming AI features. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently told investors to expect an AI announcement later this year. That is expected to occur during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference event in June.

“Hedge fund investors are increasingly warming up to the opportunity of the AI upgrade cycle, but the uncertainty still pertains to whether the upgrade cycle starts with iPhone 16 in September 2024 or iPhone 17 in September 2025,” Chatterjee wrote.

Separately, Apple is also preparing new Mac laptops and desktops with next-generation “M4 chips” that emphasize AI, according to a report Thursday from Bloomberg. Apple declined to comment on the report. The current generation of Apple’s chips is called M3.

Don’t miss these stories from CNBC PRO:

Continue Reading

Trending