RIYADH: A top academic at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology has said he believes that KAUST’s AI initiative will contribute to a new Golden Age for science — analogous to the Islamic Golden Age, when the Middle East was leading the world in science and technology.
Jurgen Schmidhuber, KAUST’s director of the AI initiative, and professor of computer science, said that artificial intelligence is already vital to society. Schmidhuber was speaking at the launch Summer Program for Artificial Intelligence 2023 at the KAUST Academy.
The program is a collaboration between the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority and KAUST and will, according to the organizers, serve as a stepping stone for enhancement of AI research and development, as well as an opportunity for researchers to expand their knowledge on the future of AI.
The KAUST Academy will host two summer schools as part of its AI summer program led by Sultan Albarakati. One is for high school students and the other for top undergraduate students in Saudi Arabia.
“Apart from AI, the summer schools include a range of curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, including lessons of applied mathematics, scientific writing, presentation skills, leadership, and entrepreneurship,” said Schmidhuber.
He added that such training has already seen a number of young Saudis secure employment at major companies. “The young Saudis trained by the KAUST academy are already making an impact in the Kingdom,” he said. “Our graduates have secured positions in top organizations like Aramco, SDAIA and the Ministry of Information. Our students have also been selected for graduate studies in some of the top schools in the world.”
KAUST is now the university with the highest impact per faculty, ahead of the usual suspects such as Caltech and Princeton, Schmidhuber claimed.
“The Kingdom has very ambitious projects that will involve a lot of AI. The KAUST (leadership) knows that AI will change everything, strongly supports AI research, and convinced me to come here.”
The Kingdom has very ambitious projects that will involve a lot of artificial intelligence. The KAUST leadership knows that AI will change everything, strongly supports AI research, and convinced me to come here.
Jurgen Schmidhuber, KAUST’s director of AI initiative
Schmidhuber says that AI is vital to today’s society, citing as proof technology that he helped to develop which is used by billions of people daily.
“For example, since the mid 2010s, the artificial neural networks developed in my labs have been on billions of smartphones, and used billions of times per day,” he said. “For example, Facebook’s automatic translation, Google’s speech recognition, Google Translate, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa.”
The German scientist’s admiration for technology and development began aged 15, he said, and his advice for students and researchers is to learn the fundamentals of math and science and to be a part of technology’s history.
“As a teenager in the 1970s, my goal became to build a machine that could learn and improve on its own, becoming much smarter than myself within my lifetime, restricted only by the limits of computability and physics, achieving super-intelligence through recursive self-improvement.”
Schmidhuber’s work has been recognized internationally and he has been called the “Father of Modern AI” by the media.
He received the Helmholtz Award of the International Neural Network Society in 2013, and the Neural Networks Pioneer Award of the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society in 2016 for “pioneering contributions to deep learning and neural networks.”
Schmidhuber said: “We have made a lot of progress since then, but there is still work left to be done. My advice is: Learn the basics of math, physics, computer science, and AI, and become part of history by helping to achieve the final goal! I envy the young people of today a bit, because they will have more time than me to enjoy the immense benefits of AI.”
Recent developments in technology have shown proven effectiveness in AI, Schmidhuber said, adding that it will eventually transform all aspects of our civilization.
“Actually, it’s getting harder and harder to find fields that are not affected by AI,” he said. “Every five years, computers are getting 10 times cheaper. The naive extrapolation of this exponential trend predicts that the 21st century will see cheap computers with a thousand times the raw computational power of all human brains combined. And soon there will be … trillions of such devices.
“Almost all of intelligence will be outside of human brains. Everything will change. This is more than just another industrial revolution. This is something new that will eventually transcend humankind and even biology,” he continued. “It is a privilege to witness its beginnings, and contribute something to it.”