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Lumifer comments on Open thread, Mar. 20 - Mar. 26, 2017 - Less Wrong Discussion

3 Post author: MrMind 20 March 2017 08:01AM

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Comment author: tristanm 20 March 2017 07:08:04PM 0 points [-]

Well, YC means, I think, that AI research should not become a monopoly (via e.g. software patents or by buying every competitor). That sounds entirely reasonable to me.

There are other ways that AI research can become a monopoly without any use of patents or purchases of competitors. For example, a fair bit of research can only be done through heavy computing infrastructure. In some sense places like Google will have an advantage no matter how much of their code is open-sourced (and a lot of it is open source already). Another issue is data, which is a type of capital - much unlike money however - where there is a limit to how much value you can extract from it that depends on your computing resources. These are barriers that I think probably can't be lowered even in principle.

Comment author: Lumifer 20 March 2017 07:23:36PM *  0 points [-]

Having advantages in the field of AI research and having a monopoly are very different things.

a fair bit of research can only be done through heavy computing infrastructure

That's not self-evident to me. A fair bit of practical applications (e.g. Siri/Cortana) require a lot of infrastructure. What kind of research can't you do if you have a few terabytes of storage and a couple dozens of GPUs? What a research university will be unable to do?

Another issue is data

Data is an interesting issue. But first, the difference between research and practical applications is relevant again, and second, data control is mostly fought over at the legal/government level.

Comment author: tristanm 20 March 2017 09:06:13PM 0 points [-]

It's still the case that a lot of problems in AI and data analysis can be broken down into parallel tasks and massively benefit from just having plenty of CPUs/GPUs available. In addition, a lot of the research work at major companies like Google has gone into making sure that the infrastructure advantage is used to the maximum extent possible. But I will grant you that this may not represent an actual monopoly on anything (except perhaps search). Hardware is still easily available to those who can afford it. But in the context of "democratizing AI", I think we should expect that the firms with the most resources should have significant advantages over small startups in the AI space with not much capital. If I have a bunch of data I need analyzed, will I want to give that job to a new, untested player who may not even have the infrastructure depending on how much data I have, or someone established who I know has the capability and resources?

The issue with data isn't so much about control / privacy, it's mainly the fact that if you give me a truckload of a thousand 2 TB hard drives, each containing potentially useful information, there's really not much I can do with it. Now if I happened to have a massive server farm, that would be a different situation. There's a pretty big gulf in value for certain objects depending on my ability to make use of it, and I think data is a good example of those kinds of objects.

Comment author: Lumifer 20 March 2017 09:16:56PM 0 points [-]

we should expect that the firms with the most resources should have significant advantages over small startups

So how this is different from, say, manufacturing? Or pretty much any business for the last few centuries?

Comment author: tristanm 20 March 2017 10:08:48PM 0 points [-]

Well I dont think it is. If someone said "let's democratize manufacturing" in the same sense as YC, would that sound silly to you?

Comment author: Lumifer 21 March 2017 04:16:46PM 0 points [-]

Generally speaking, yes, silly, but I can imagine contexts where the word "democratize" is still unfortunate but points to an actual underlying issue -- monopoly and/or excessive power of some company (or e.g. a cartel) over the entire industry.

Comment author: username2 20 March 2017 10:40:39PM 0 points [-]

No, it would sound like a 3D printing startup (and perfectly reasonable).