Join Transform 2021 this July 12-16. Register for the AI event of the year.

This week at the World Economic Forum (WEF), an annual gathering that put tech executives at the same table as far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff called San Francisco the canary in the coal mine.

“San Francisco is kind of a train wreck; we have a real inequality problem,” he said. “It’s because of the tech sector.”

Benioff and Salesforce, which has the largest skyscraper on the San Francisco skyline, led the Prop C campaign, a $300 million business tax aimed at reducing homelessness in San Francisco that is currently held up in court. Benioff also asserted at the gathering in Davos, Switzerland that artificial intelligence is “a new human right” that all people deserve.

“Those who have the artificial intelligence will be smarter, will be healthier, will be richer, and of course, you’ve seen their warfare will be significantly more advanced,” he said.

As AI is becoming ubiquitous in business and society, influencing money lending, the future of work, and whether a person gets out of prison, it’s not surprising that Benioff calls it a human right. Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott recently talked to VentureBeat about the role AI plays in citizenship in the 21st century.

The future of AI was a main topic at Davos this week, but it was also on the mind of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a woman quickly becoming the most popular freshman Congresswoman in recent memory.

While talking about IBM working with the NYPD to use facial recognition software to identify people by race, Ocasio-Cortez said algorithms always contain inequities because they’re made by human beings, concluding, “If you don’t fix the assumptions, you’re automating the bias.”

If technologists or computer scientists that hear this assertion scoff because an algorithm is math and racism is a human phenomena, they’re missing the forest for the trees. The same goes for anyone who finds Benioff’s insistence that AI is a human right to be hyperbolic.

However accurate you find their statements, both Benioff and Ocasio-Cortez acknowledge a larger truth: AI is spreading everywhere, but its benefits are being unevenly distributed.

According to a Brookings Institution report out this week, AI will create some jobs and disrupt many others, disproportionately affecting certain occupations (production, food services, transportation), cities (Toledo, Ohio; Fresno, California), states (Indiana and Kentucky), and segments of the population (men, people of color, and people with no bachelor’s degree).

The potential for inequality and mass surveillance driven by facial recognition software is part of why Microsoft is asking for government regulation and in the months ahead could enter the conversation surrounding the 2020 presidential campaign cycle.

After all, San Francisco is home to many standard bearers of the Democratic Party: the current Speaker of the House, the governor of California, and both California Senators, including former SF District Attorney and 2020 presidential candidate Kamala Harris.

Negative outcomes don’t tell the entire story about AI, of course.

There’s no shortage of examples of bias algorithms, but it’s wrong to assume all algorithms are bad news or reject the notion that AI can have positive outcomes in people’s lives.

AI isn’t just delivering poor experiences for women of color or being used to justify more police in communities of color — it’s also being used to note when police are rude to the public, help people understand their rightspredict cardiac arrest faster than humans, diagnose malaria, track poachers, simulate wildfires, and increase crop yield to feed a growing world.

There are even people who argue that it can be unethical to not use AI in some instances.

If you believe, as the WEF has said, that we are entering a fourth industrial revolution, it’s not too much to say that machines endowed with human intelligence are building a new world.

What kind of world will that be?

We have yet to see all the ingenious solutions that will be created by young minds or the many ways AI can be used to solve problems instead of perpetuating them.

Whether people want to go so far as to call AI a human right seems like an issue that will be open to debate as the technology continues to evolve, but it’s clear that opportunity and access, not just innovation and compute power, will shape the future of artificial intelligence, and how we all think about tech.

For AI coverage, send news tips to Khari Johnson and Kyle Wiggers — and be sure to bookmark our AI Channel

Thanks for reading,

Khari Johnson
AI Staff Writer

P.S. Please enjoy this quick video about an ice-skating robot from ETH Zurich in Switzerland.

From VB

Starcraft II pros faced off against DeepMind's A.I.

DeepMind’s AlphaStar AI sweeps StarCraft II pros in head-to-head match

AlphaStar is now capable of playing StarCraft II at the highest level. It doesn’t use computerized cheats to get ahead — instead, it just plays smarter.

An imagined Apple Car. This design by Aristomenis Tsirbas won Freelancer's Apple Car Concept contest in 2015.

Apple cuts autonomous car team by 200, shifting some to machine learning projects

Project Titan has once again seen a major staffing change, though it was internally expected after the latest leader was hired to oversee the initiative.

Looking down the Maumee River, from an elevated view, we have T

Brookings: Indiana, Kentucky are the states most at risk for job loss due to automation

Smaller metropolitan areas whose workers are less educated will be hit hardest by the increasing use of automation, a new Brookings report finds.

Nauta deep learning system

Intel debuts Nauta for distributed deep learning with Kubernetes

Intel today announced the open source release of Nauta, a platform for deep learning distributed across multiple servers using Kubernetes or Docker.

Amazon VP of devices David Limp at a Sept. 20, 2018 event to announce the release of near a dozen Echo devices at Amazon headquarters in Seattle, Washington

Amazon team taps millions of Alexa interactions to reduce NLP error rate

Researchers at Amazon’s Alexa AI group used a transfer learning technique to improve AI systems’ ability to understand natural language.

Diamond Pro’s AI spots imperfection in gems

Swiss diamond advisory firm Diamond Pro’s new AI tool, Ringo, uses “patent-pending” technology to suss out stones with visual imperfections.

Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott

Microsoft CTO: Understanding AI is part of being an informed citizen in the 21st century

Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott believes understanding AI will make people better citizens, and he is writing a book to show how AI can benefit rural America.

Beyond VB

Artificial intelligence has identified previously undetected hominid in the human family tree

By combining deep learning algorithms and statistical methods, investigators from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE), the Centro Nacional de Análisis Genómico (CNAG-CRG) of the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), and the Institute of Genomics at the University of Tartu have identified, in the genome of Asian individuals, the footprint of a new hominid who cross bred with its ancestors tens of thousands of years ago. (via Ancient Origins)

Former Google chief to chair government artificial intelligence advisory group

Federal leaders on Friday announced the 15 tech experts who will serve on the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence. (via NextGov)

Scientists use artificial intelligence to create cell database

In the era of AI superpowers, Finland is no match for the US and China. So the Scandinavian country is taking a different tack. (via UPI)

AI helps amputees walk with a robotic knee

Computer algorithms help prosthetic wearers walk within minutes rather than requiring hours of training (via IEEE Spectrum)


VentureBeat's mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative technology and transact. Our site delivers essential information on data technologies and strategies to guide you as you lead your organizations. We invite you to become a member of our community, to access:
  • up-to-date information on the subjects of interest to you
  • our newsletters
  • gated thought-leader content and discounted access to our prized events, such as Transform 2021: Learn More
  • networking features, and more
Become a member