Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought AI to Google, Facebook, and the World
For years, my typical method for finding a book to read has been to read a review or see it listed as a source in a paper or other publication. While that’s my typical method, it’s not my favorite. My favorite is to wander through a bookstore, peruse the latest releases shelf and one or two specialized areas, and find a book that looks interesting enough to purchase.
The recent pandemic minimized my frequency of finding books through perusal. With an hour to kill on Saturday before meeting one of my daughters for lunch, I opted for a short visit to her college town bookstore. In the new releases section, I stumbled across the book Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought AI to Google, Facebook, and the World by Cade Metz.
Mr. Metz, the New York Times Silicon Valley reporter, constructs a narrative that starts with the theoretical posturing of computer-aided artificial intelligence. It quickly develops into the history of artificial intelligence (AI) as developed and refined by some of the world’s largest technology giants.
As an observer (and sometimes fan) of AI applications, I knew that many of the first developments occurred in academic settings. At the same time, corporate investments have sometimes superseded academic and publicly known government investments, particularly over the past four years in the U.S. While much of AI’s development and early advances occurred in Europe and North America, Mr. Metz points out that China states that its national goal is to be the global leader in AI by 2030.
Cade Metz excellently describes the activities involving the transitioning and/or recruiting many of the mathematicians, computer scientists, engineers, and other scientists and developers from universities to work for AT&T, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Baidu, Apple, Tesla, Uber, and others.
But the AI journey of development has not been without its hiccups and skeptics. Because much of the AI development work occurred since 1960, Mr. Metz was able to interview many of the principal scientists responsible for breakthrough developments like facial recognition, self-driving cars, language translation, game playing, and so on. The narrative constructed from hundreds of interviews is enlightening for those of us who have only observed some of the more visible developments.
It’s clear from the narrative that many of AI’s most famous moments were made possible by advances in chip technology beyond chips designed for processing ordinary business transactions. The sequencing of neural network software algorithms was initially made more powerful when researchers chose to run their software on graphics processing units (GPUs) made for computer games, allowing for massive simultaneous data-crunching. Later, Google developed its own neural network chips and chips to operate computers running neural networks.
Despite being a fan of AI, Mr. Metz also writes about the darker sides of AI, such as military uses, ethical uses, and cultural biases in algorithms built by developers who have generally been white males. The last section of the book, “Humans Are Underrated,” provides narratives from the skeptics who don’t believe artificial intelligence will ever match the capabilities of the human brain as well as some of the chief developers of neural networks who believe that AI is much better suited for specialization like reading X-rays.
I enjoyed reading Genius Makers and recommend it to anyone interested in advances in information technology and artificial intelligence. Business leaders who choose to ignore the potential of AI to transform their company or industry do so at their peril.
I noted that there are no examples of AI transforming education or sectors of education. While I am aware of multiple AI initiatives in education, there are likely few education leaders ready to embrace AI as a means to enhance learning, reduce costs, provide greater outcomes for students, and outpace the competition. That’s likely the subject of a future blog post.