Australian Parliament member speaks on future of artificial intelligence

Mustafa Alimumal, Reporter

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A member of the Australian House of Representatives said Tuesday afternoon people should be aware of the changing marketplace as he spoke about rapid technological innovation and the economic impact of artificial intelligence.

Andrew Leigh, a member of Australia’s Parliament, visited Northwestern as part of the Distinguished Public Policy Lectures hosted by the Institute for Policy Research and the Buffett Institute for Global Studies. He began his lecture by referencing stereotype-induced fears of robots and artificial intelligence, focusing on singularity — a hypothetical point in time when artificial intelligence is capable of improving itself — and how humans would adapt if that point is reached.

“In almost all science fiction there is the singularity, the notion of a turning point where computers become capable of recursive self-improvement.”

Leigh spoke humorously about Google’s self-driving cars and Jeopardy-playing robots. He also weighed in on what the market value of human labor is with all the remarkable new technology.

Previous examples Leigh referenced in his speech of humans adapting to technology include the global state of agriculture as well as the studies of John Maynard Keynes.

IPR director David Figlio introduced the event, highlighting the influence of Leigh, who won the Economic Society of Australia’s 2011 Young Economist Award.

“We invited people once or twice a year to come to Northwestern who are not only scholars but have also made a big difference in the area of public policy,” Figlio said. “(These lectures are) rather special for academic scholars.”

McCormick junior Rui Zhou said he was interested in the lecture because of its alignment with both his industrial engineering and science and human culture classes.

“Very intuitively, it is linked with my second major, science and human culture, and in general I’m very interested in research,” Zhou said. “I try to go to a lot of research related seminars in order to get exposure to a lot of different areas though this one just happens to be in my concentration.”

Leigh ended with a reference to pop culture while cautioning the audience about the future direction of technology.

“In short, Back to the Future Part II is a movie that every overconfident futurologist is encouraged to watch,” Leigh said. “We can’t predict all of the challenges and opportunities in the coming decade but it’s worth thinking about how we can make a world more like Star Trek and less like Terminator.”