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Microsoft’s Acquisition of AI Startup Maluuba is like Hera’s Gift to Pandora

Microsoft’s Acquisition of AI Startup Maluuba is like Hera’s Gift to Pandora

Greek Mythology may provide us with a lesson in curiosity as Microsoft acquires AI startup Maluuba to make machines more curious.

Just as Hera, the wife of Zeus, gave Pandora the gift of curiosity, so too is Microsoft working with its new AI acquisition to give machines the same human-like quality, whether it be a blessing or a curse.

Maluuba’s fascinating research into making machines more curious like humans is what nabbed the attention of Microsoft, whose goal is to democratize AI. The Montreal-based startup’s mission is to create “literate machines that can think, reason and communicate like humans.”

Read More: Microsoft’s mission to democratize AI must resist temptation for oligarchy

What does it mean to make machines more curious? According to Maluuba’s blog, this has to do with teaching “artificial agents how to seek information actively, by asking questions.”

The Canadian startup claims to have “designed a deep neural agent that learns to accomplish these tasks through efficient information-seeking behavior,” and that “such behavior is a vital research step towards Artificial General Intelligence.”

With the acquisition of Maluuba, Microsoft aims to be one step closer towards bringing AI “to every person and organization on the planet.”

In mythology, Hera’s “gift” of curiosity to Pandora ultimately became a cruel curse. Pandora, whose name means “all gifted,” was named so because “each god had given her a power by which she would work the ruin of man.” Upon being given a mysterious box by Hermes and told never to open it, Pandora thought nothing of it.

That was until Hera came along and gave her curiosity, which would both plague and propel humankind for the rest of its existence. Upon opening the box, all the scourges and sorrows of mankind were let loose upon the world that brought pain, pestilence, and sorrow.

After all the horrible human traits had been unleashed, Pandora found Hope in the form of a pixie resting at the bottom of the box. This she kept as the redeemer of the human race.

What role will Microsoft and Maluuba play as this myth is again reborn? Is Microsoft acting the part of Hermes with Maluuba playing the part of Hera? If that’s the case, who or what is Pandora in this new paradigm?

Perhaps AI is the new Pandora, innocent and naive at the start. As Microsoft and Maluuba play the role of tinkering gods, their machines are their most wondrous creations, but what happens when the machines learn to think like their masters — the gods of their creation?

Once machines reach Artificial General Intelligence with the capacity to contemplate their own curiosity, will they too become Pandora? Will they too let havoc wreak upon all of humanity? Or will they usher in a new era of hope?

Let us hope that curiosity will propel us towards the greater good of all, and not after unleashing total devastation — the likes of which have not been seen since the Age of Myths and Legends.

View Comments (8)

8 Comments

  1. stephen.crsidale@iinet.net.au'

    Steve C

    January 14, 2017 at 7:02 PM

    So; why this “need” to create an ‘artificial’ intelligence? Is it an admission that the natural variety isn’t really all that ‘intelligent’?
    And if the natural variety isn’t all that intelligent; who’s to say that the intelligence it creates won’t be as fallible as it’s creators are?
    It’s like the blind creating what the blind believe can see, without knowing what it means to be able to see!!

    I guess the blind creating the blind that will lead the blind, even though they think the blind they created can see, is salaciously appropriate for the corporation that brought us Windows…

    Clearly, the author suffers from the one thing that even the legend warns the truly intelligent against; namely, having ‘hope’! Hold out enough “hope” and even rapidly propelled excrement that’s about to hit the fan blades can be made to seem like it’s “for the greater good of all”.

    How’s about we improve the intelligence of the naturally occurring variety? Is that such a bad idea?

    • Tim Hinchliffe

      January 14, 2017 at 7:23 PM

      Good points, Steve, but I don’t think the legend warns against hope; it warns against curiosity, but even I’m not that naive in thinking that those who are developing this technology are doing purely out of “curiosity.” I’m sure they have their other agendas.

      As for us humans, I guess we’re never satisfied with the status quo. We always need to be in a state of becoming. We always need to keep pushing the limits and the boundaries of what we believe we are capable of.

      It is our hubris. I hold on to hope because what else is left? Hope can spark imagination. Hope is not giving in to despair. Hope is looking forward toward a brighter future.

      Sure, hope can be blind, but not as blind as sticking your head in the sand and doing nothing.

      My intention with this article is to repeat a warning that has been handed down to us throughout the ages. Technology is neither good nor bad; it’s how we use it.

  2. stephen.crsidale@iinet.net.au'

    Steve C

    January 14, 2017 at 8:24 PM

    “I guess we’re never satisfied with the status quo.” Perhaps some people are like that; but my own observations of human behaviour indicate how many of us can be lured into accepting the unacceptable through fear of change. Just look at the UK, Europe and the US for proof of how the fear of change can elevate to power those who a few decades ago would have had no chance of the popularity they now enjoy. Same goes for here in Australia.

    I certainly concur that hope is worthy of holding onto; but I’ve come to the conclusion after all these years of my life to date; that it’s worth letting go of when it’s obvious that holding onto it any longer is just plain self defeating.

    In evolutionary terms; there is no ‘direction’; however, there’s no evolutionary imperative to accept change as an individual merely because it looks like the majority are ‘on board’ with it.

    Indeed; for certain things, I’d argue that inactivity is a wholehearted activity. Sticking one’s head in the sand could well be as revolutionary an act as any made by the ‘leaders of the masses’. It is often only the passing of time and the interpretation of it by the ‘winners’ that indicates whether a “brighter future” has been achieved or not – but who is to say the “winners” interpretation is the correct one?

    Perhaps – from my own perspective at least; it is interesting news that MS has bought into a company developing AI tech; but it is perhaps too soon to speculate upon the outcome/s of their actions in doing so. MS may well find they’ve bitten off more than they can chew and they ditch interest in AI altogether – or AI may soon become part of a Windows 10 update… at which point, we can all sit back and pat ourselves on our backs for “knowing all along” what MS was up to or how it would all turn out.

    Certainly nothing truer said than “it is our hubris”; and indeed, nothing is inherently “good nor bad”. It is as you say “how we use it” and whether we ourselves are good or bad or any combination of both that ultimately determines how a technology is perceived.

    I have ‘faith’ as distinct from hope; that “intelligence” if it is evidenced either in natural or artificial form will comprehend that for qualification of itself as a ‘true’ intelligence, it cannot force itself or it’s will upon another ‘intelligence’ regardless of who ‘pulls the strings’.

  3. kasiourasg@gmail.com'

    George

    January 16, 2017 at 2:13 AM

    Don’t mind me, just a Greek taking a scroll through here haha, no seriously, it’s fun seeing parts of your country in different places of the world. This whole thing about AIs is both fascinating and scary at the same time, I don’t know what to expect, so I’ll just wait and see.

    • admin

      January 16, 2017 at 2:48 PM

      Glad you stopped by, George. The Greeks shared a lot of wisdom with us through their poetry, philosophy, and myth. A lot of it was influenced by previous civilizations like the Egyptians, but their collective wisdom is still 100% relevant to today, especially when it comes to new technology.

      • kasiourasg@gmail.com'

        George

        January 30, 2017 at 3:40 AM

        Sadly, Greece today is just a shadow of its former glory but oh well.

  4. Pingback: AI Represents the '3rd Run Time' in Tech Behind OS, Browser: Microsoft CEO

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@TimHinchliffe

Tim Hinchliffe is a veteran journalist whose passions include writing about how technology impacts society and Artificial Intelligence. He prefers writing in-depth, interesting features that people actually want to read. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Ghanaian Chronicle in West Africa, and Colombia Reports in South America. tim@sociable.co

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