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President’s Lecture Series Speaker Has Some Real Worries About Artificial Intelligence

By Joe Garvey

Amy Webb describes her latest book, "The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity," as "a call-to-arms about the broken nature of artificial intelligence and the powerful corporations that are turning the human-machine relationship on its head."

"AI's destiny is in the control of nine big corporations in the U.S. and China," she writes on her website. "The American portion of the Big Nine - Amazon, Google, Apple, IBM, Microsoft and Facebook - have big ideas about how to solve some of humanity's greatest challenges, but they're beholden to the whims of Wall Street and have only a transactional relationship with Washington. Meanwhile, China's portion - Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent - are very much tethered to Beijing and the demands of the Chinese Communist Party. All of us are caught in the middle."

Webb, a quantitative futurist, professor of strategic foresight at the New York University Stern School of Business and founder of the Future Today Institute, will discuss the pitfalls of artificial intelligence during her President's Lecture Series speech at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4 in Chartway Arena at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Her talk, which is being co-presented by the Norfolk Forum, requires a paid ticket for entry. Ticket information can be found at this link.

She has written two other books: "The Signals Are Talking" and "Data, A Love Story," which is being adapted into a feature film. The University Village Bookstore will have copies of "The Big Nine" and "The Signals Are Talking" available for purchase in the lobby of Chartway Arena.

Webb, who as a futurist collects data, identifies emerging trends, develops strategies and calculates the probabilities of various scenarios, said in an interview with The John Adams Institute: "We're standing on the precipice of several game-changing technologies - advanced robotics, automation, artificial intelligence, genomic editing, quantum computing - and if you don't have a way to make sense of all the change that's taking place, it can be an extraordinarily confusing time."

She believes AI is only as good - and reflective of society - as the people who develop it.

"If you - or someone whose gender, race, language, religion, politics and culture mirror your own - are not in the room where it happens, you can bet that whatever gets built won't reflect who you are," she writes in "The Big Nine."

Adding to the challenge, she says, is that as technology becomes more sophisticated, "it also becomes more invisible."

"We have to be able to have conversations with each other and with the people creating these devices, because if we can't have the conversations, then we can't ask the questions," she told the PBS NewsHour. "And if we can't ask the questions, the problem is that, 10 years into the future, we're going to look back at this moment in time and wish that we had done things differently."

The President's Lecture Series serves as a marketplace for ideas, featuring renowned speakers who share their knowledge, experience, opinions and accomplishments. Discussing timely topics, the series puts diversity first, showcasing authors, educators, business innovators and political figures.

Next up is Scott Harrison, who will be the Marc and Connie Jacobson Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian Speaker. His talk, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 19 in the Big Blue Room at the Constant Center.

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