Every new year, we all turn a period of reflection into a set of resolutions for the new year. They may range from modest to unrealistic, but always capture a desire to grow, to improve, and to become a better human. Of course, your resolutions depend not only on who you are as a person, but where you are and where you've been in life. So don't be surprised if they differ from those of a CEO who heads up one of the biggest tech companies in the world. Like, for example, Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook's chief posted his personal challenge on the social network yesterday. In the past, he's taken on goals such as reading two books every month and learning Mandarin, and generally proves extremely capable of achieving them — last year he gave a 20-minute speech entirely in Mandarin. For 2016, his resolution is to build himself "a simple AI to run my home and help me with my work," which he further describes as the kind of technology Tony Stark's Jarvis represents in the Iron Man and Avengers movies. In some sense, it's a digital butler, one that Zuckerberg plans to code entirely by himself and teach how to best serve his needs.
It's a pretty intriguing project and dips Zuckerberg squarely into a conversation that's been heating up in the last few years: the rise of artificial intelligence. Many of the world's leaders, notably Elon Musk, warn of the dangers that AI poses to humans if allowed to evolve at an increasingly rapid pace. Robots replacing human jobs is one thing, but building machines that can achieve their own sentience is another matter entirely. Zuckerberg doesn't seem too fazed by this possibility though, writing, "Some people fear-monger about how AI is a huge danger, but that seems far-fetched to me and much less likely than disasters due to widespread disease, violence, etc.," in response to a user's question about whether AI could eventually take over the world.
As for his own personal digital Jeeves, he seems to be focusing on learning what others are doing in the AI space and applying that to an assistant that can help make his life easier.
"I'm going to start by exploring what technology is already out there," he wrote in the Facebook post. "Then I'll start teaching it to understand my voice to control everything in our home — music, lights, temperature and so on. I'll teach it to let friends in by looking at their faces when they ring the doorbell. I'll teach it to let me know if anything is going on in Max's room that I need to check on when I'm not with her. On the work side, it'll help me visualize data in VR to help me build better services and lead my organizations more effectively."
If it sounds relatively harmless, that's probably because it is — Musk and other tech leaders aren't misguided for expressing caution with how we go about improving AI, but Zuckerberg's creation is unlikely to be of the sort that worries them. An interesting question to ponder is whether this personal assistant might become something we all have in our homes one day. To go a step further, might it even be possible that Zuck's invention ends up wildly successful and influences the technology's growth on a mainstream scale?