In the summer of 1997 The New York Times published an article** in response to DEEP BLUE’s defeat of world chess champion Garry Kasparov. In it they cautioned that while Kasparov’s defeat was significant—the world was still a long way off from witnessing true achievement of artificial intelligence. For that, a machine would need to beat a human at the ancient game of Go, which has many times more possible board configurations and therefore relies much more heavily on human intuition than the brute-force calculation of possible outcomes. Among the critics was astrophysicist Dr. Piet Hut, who predicted “It may be a hundred years before a computer beats humans at Go, maybe even longer.”
Last month, a computer program called AlphaGo—developed by Google subsidiary DeepMind—beat the world’s top ranked Go player Lee Sedol in four out of five matches.
“It was really that final match that sealed the deal for us,” says interim director Allison Wong. “We‘ve been exploring the integration of A.I. into our institution for years. It’s exciting to finally be able to reveal this project to the public.” In Spring of 2013 a committee made up of the museum’s leaders and digital specialists began exploring how integrating a series of automated reasoning algorithms might better inform the museum’s executive decision-making processes. The committee was tasked with answering two questions: First, how can this technology help us to better serve our visitors? Second, when will the technology be ready to take on organizational decision-making?
“The answer to the first question was simple, as the potential applications of this technology are endless,” says IT manager Aaron Hara. “Imagine being able to curate exhibitions based on our social media followers’ listed interests, or being able to leave tough budgeting decisions to a machine. While we have yet to see it in practice, theoretically it could lead to an exponentially more efficient workflow for most of our departments. It was waiting for the technology to catch up to our imagination that was less certain.”
Enter San Francisco–based DeeperMind, a subsidiary of DeepMind that specializes in developing innovative technological solutions for non-profit organizations. In August 2014, DeeperMind began development of a leadership evolution A.I. at the request of the museum. The program—tentatively dubbed the Artificially Programmed Robotic Intelligence Learning Functions Of Organizational Leadership Skills project (pictured above on its first tour of the gallery)—was completed one year later.
“We could have begun implementing the program as early as fall of last year,” says director of communications Lesa Griffith. “However, we are the first museum, and possibly the world’s first organization, to leave some executive-level decisions to a non-human, so we knew that from a PR standpoint we had to wait until the right time to make our move. With AlphaGo’s triumph in the news recently, the committee felt that now is that time.”
Over the next few months the museum will begin a step-by-step integration of the Artificially Programmed Robotic Intelligence Learning Functions Of Organizational Leadership Skills program into its departments, but how does a computer program integrate into a staff made up entirely of human beings? “It will be treated just like any other member of our staff,” says director of human and robotic resources Sharon Stillman. “It will be given compensation, benefits, and a workspace just like anybody else, even though some of those things might not mean the same thing to a computer program as it does a human.”
While the majority of its job responsibilities will be performed in cyberspace, the museum’s committee required a physical representation of the program with which staff can interact. According to DeeperMind, the A.I.’s body is still in development and is scheduled to be completed in January 2017. Until then most of the A.I.’s human interaction functionality will be integrated into an iPad attached to a Roomba.
“This is particularly exciting for me” says Hara. “As IT manager I am responsible for maintenance and programming updates for our new robotic member of the team, and since the A.I. will be guiding leadership decisions going forward, it’s like I’m the boss of my boss’s boss!”
Not everybody at the museum is as enthusiastic as Hara about the new A.I., “If Microsoft’s experiment with their Twitter-based A.I. taught us anything, it’s that these machines can learn bad practices just as easily as good ones,” says curator of millennial culture Samuel Gelfy. “If the program learns to curate exhibitions based off of what it sees on the Internet, it will fill our galleries with filtered pictures of food and cats!” Editor’s note: Gelfy—who celebrates one year with the museum today—told the blog his plans for curating a similar exhibition that was originally scheduled to go on view this month, but was postponed in anticipation of today’s announcement.
“Whatever happens, we’re excited to be among the first adopters of this new technology,” says Wong. “We look forward to seeing what direction the Artificially Programmed Robotic Intelligence Learning Functions Of Organizational Leadership Skills program will lead the museum.”
Museum visitors are encouraged not to touch or make eye contact with the A.I. for the first few months until the museum is confident that positive decision-making algorithms are solidified in its programming.
**The New York Times article was found in a post by reddit user Yuli-Ban to the subreddit /r/futurology