By @SimonCocking

Delighted to bring you this interview with Oren Etzioni @etzioni CEO, of the Allen Institute for AI (AI2) @Allen_Institute; Professor UW CSE; Venture Partner, Madrona. Oren was a featured speaker at the recent 200 year celebration of the life of George Boole at UCC.


Is it possible that some other system rather than the one that evolved from Boolean logic could have evolved?

Oh yes, there are neural networks, quantum computers—very different models of computation and of thought.

With it being the 200th anniversary of G Boole, do you think he would have been surprised by how far we have come or how little we have come?

I would guess that he’d be surprised by both the amazing scale of what we can accomplish and by phenomena like 1 billion people on Facebook…they promised us flying cars..intelligent machines…instead we got facebook, and targeted ads…

For the future what trends are you excited by in AI?

“What if a cure for an intractable cancer is hidden within the tedious reports on thousands of clinical studies? In 20 years’ time, AI will be able to read — and more importantly, understand — scientific text. These AI readers will be able to connect the dots between disparate studies to identify novel hypotheses and suggest experiments which would otherwise be missed. AI-based discovery engines will help to find the answers to science’s thorniest problems and ultimately revolutionize science.”

What possible risks do we face, and how do you suggest we manage them?

AI creates risks around jobs, privacy, and weapons systems.  We need to consider the social/military impact of the technology and make appropriate policy decisions based on a rational assessment of the costs/benefits—not on emotion and hype.

In your talk on Saturday there was a question about AI replacing many jobs. However many have suggested that this could lead to enabling humans to have more time to spend on more creative work – what is your opinion on this?

I think this is a fair point, technology like washing machines, dishwashers, and driers—have freed up a lot of time.  This trend is likely to continue.

How do you manage all your different interests? And are there occasions when one helps and feeds into the other?

I am fascinating by people, human learning, and particularly my children.  They inspire and humble me—reminding me every day how superior the human mind is to any existing computer program.

Ray Kurzweil predicts we’ll reach the singularity in 20 years or less, you expressed the opinion why you thought not – why do you think otherwise?

Ray is ignoring the technical obstacles & problems which are many and very fundamental.  He speaks without evidence to back his statements.

Our machines can’t even understand a single sentence or grip objects the way a human does.

How do you manage your own online / offline, work / life balance?

Not very well.

What tips would you give to new students starting out in AI today?

Understand the underlying mathematics, study both neural networks, and more traditional AI, but don’t be seduced by any particular approach.

There is no one blinder than a scientist with a  hammer! To him/her—everything looks like  a nail!


Anything you’d like to add / we should have asked you.

At the Allen Institute ( we are working on AI for the Common Good—building AI systems to solve humanity’s thornieset problems—for example, the challenge of overcoming information overload for scientists which I mentioned above.

Thanks again for chatting with us, appreciate it!

Thank you!

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