Artificial Intelligence: beyond the Tipping Point?

Microsoft has made a major breakthrough in speech recognition, creating a technology that recognizes the words in a conversation as well as a person does. In a paper published on 17-10-2016, a team of researchers and engineers in Microsoft Artificial Intelligence and Research reported a speech recognition system that makes the same or fewer errors than professional transcriptionists. The researchers reported a word error rate (WER) of 5.9 percent, down from the 6.3 percent WER the team reported just last month. The 5.9 percent error rate is about equal to that of people who were asked to transcribe the same conversation, and it’s the lowest ever recorded against the industry standard Switchboard speech recognition task.

The milestone means that, for the first time, a computer can recognize the words in a conversation as well as a person would. In doing so, the team has beat a goal they set less than a year ago — and greatly exceeded everyone else’s expectations as well!

Many times in my lectures, I am speaking about the tipping point of the fourth industrial revolution (as an example see slide 6 of this presentation) and I explain that, according my understanding, we are very close to it, or maybe we have already overcome it. I love the term “tipping point” after I studied the relevant book written by Malcolm Gladwell. But I prefer to use the following definition: a tipping point is “the point at which an issue, idea, product, etc., crosses a certain threshhold and gains significant momentum, triggered by some minor factor or change”. Well, I believe that Artificial Intelligence has already gone beyond the tipping point, and we have to be prepared for a rapid evolution of new applications. This is what Microsoft’s historic achievement demonstrates clearly, only one month after the previous historic achievement by the same team!

Of course, this is not just my idea. See what the World Economic Forum predicts in a recent survey named “Deep Shift: Technology Tipping Points and Societal Impact“.

“Digital connectivity permeates all aspects of daily life – from the way people interact to the economic landscape, political decision-making and the skills needed to get a job. A greater reliance on networked resources makes people more interdependent, while many stakeholders are concerned about whether the industry can strike the right balance between privacy, security and trust. At the same time, increasing digitization is driving industries from product-based to service-based offerings. While these offerings are highly automated and standardized, they are also personalized through software. The seamless integration of the physical and digital worlds through networked sensors, actuators, embedded hardware and software will change industrial models. In short, the world is about to experience an exponential rate of change through the rise of software and services.”

Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seat belts! The future has already arrived…

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