At the previous edition of Shift, In The Pocket’s annual boutique conference for digital decision-makers, Pattie Maes was the keynote speaker. The Belgian, who has lived and worked in the United States since 1989, is a world authority in the field of artificial intelligence.
Before she stepped on stage, the MIT professor came to our little podcast studio. During the conversation, which was recorded in Dutch, she talked for more than half an hour about her career and how she sees artificial intelligence evolving in the future.
The core of Maes' story is that smartphones will really become smart in the future. Thanks to artificial intelligence, they’ll get a better view of how they can help us in a way that is at the same time less disruptive. ‘The smartphone not only helps us to collect information, but it will also motivate and inspire more. From now on, it also supports our soft skills’, says Pattie.
On the one hand, she expects a lot from artificial intelligence, but on the other hand, she’s also critical about what the technology cannot do yet. ‘AI is currently especially useful for pattern recognition or other narrow tasks. Such an algorithm can often do one thing very well, sometimes better than humans, but it cannot do anything else. We are still a long way from General AI, which, like humans, can bring together different types of knowledge.’
The MIT Media Lab where Pattie works is very interdisciplinary. ‘Most of our inspiration comes from other domains, such as physics, neurology or psychology. The Media Lab is a place where all these things come together, because there is still too little research between different disciplines.’
Companies such as Google, Comcast, Nike, and PepsiCo visit the lab for a look at the future. They want to know where technology is going and what they need to invest in or learn about.
How do you create an atmosphere where science and creativity can join forces? ‘We attract very creative people, passionate students, and professionals from all over the world. In addition, we work in a very playful environment, a place where you can take risks. Many ideas have to be thrown away, so you have to let people come up with crazy ideas.’
When asked if Europe is missing the boat, Pattie answers that this is not the case. ‘Great work is being done here, but the scale is smaller. For example, look at imec, which is very focused on electrical engineering and manufacturing, while the Media Lab is broader and more applied.'