Didier Le Menestrel

Beyond imagination

Will machines one day be able to imitate human conversation? The answer to this question, formulated 60 years ago by Alan Turing, the father of the computer1, is on the verge of being answered in the affirmative.

The intrusion of artificial intelligence (AI) in our lives is recent and will lead to profound transformations. 2017 was a major turning point in this shift and will go down in the history of humanity as “year zero” for AI. The ramifications of the AI revolution are unprecedented, surpassing the scope of the transformations triggered by Gutenberg (15th-century) or the steam engine (18th-century). Its vocabulary – machine learning, deep learning, big data, hyperscaler… – has already entered common discourse and the utopias of yesterday will become a reality.

In other words, a revolution facilitated by an exceptional alignment of the planets.

The first planet to be aligned is that of data, raw material we produce in phenomenal quantities. According to a study published by IBM in 2016, 90% of the data in the world today was created in just the last two years.

Data centers are the second motor of this revolution, representing genuine laboratories for machine learning algorithms. Driven by AMAZON, MICROSOFT or ALIBABA, these giant warehouses that store our data give companies mind-boggling computing power making it possible to develop AI applications at a breakneck speed. Finally, GPUs (graphics processing units) are the third tool indispensable for this AI revolution. Thanks to them, algorithms can learn on their own to be then adopted in real time.

These waves of technological innovation are opening up new fields of possibility. The number of resulting applications are infinite. The driverless car, for example, will radically transform transport. The Internet giants (GOOGLE, APPLE, BAIDU), start-ups (UBER, Drive.AI) and of course the auto manufacturers (TESLA, BMW, NISSAN) are investing massively in this new technology. Waymo, a Google subsidiary, has already proposed a free self-driving taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona. In addition to these applications of convenience to our daily lives, an enormous progress has been accomplished, particularly in the medical field. Watson, for example, a system developed by IBM, is capable of detecting certain cancers with a success rate that is much higher than the best oncologists2.

In the short-term, all sectors will be affected. The financial ecosystem is no exception. PING AN of China, the world’s second-largest insurance group, has already optimized its insurance product pricing and time management allowing it to grant loans based on the data it possesses nearly… 900 million users. Not to be outdone, we at La Financière de l’Echiquier, are also developing tools based on machine learning to optimize our research and filter an investment universe of several thousand companies.

While it may or may not be year zero for AI, one thing is certain. Children born in 2017 will no longer need to learn how to drive or buy a computer (everything will be cloud-based), and they will have every reason to learn a programming language rather than a foreign language as real-time translation arrives in 2018. We must not fear these changes… Even if innovation will radically transform the role of the individual. We have chosen our are side and we have no doubt that humanity will know how to use these new tools to take control of its destiny!

Didier Le Menestrel
With the complicity of Rolando Grandi

Author of the Turing test that was designed to measure machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour.
IBM, American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, June 2017.