IBM is convinced that its Watson supercomputer is capable of doing a whole lot more than winning at Jeopardy--and the company wants to make sure it stays that way.

To that end, IBM is making a push this week to urge lawmakers not to fall victim to artificial intelligence fear mongering. David Kenny, IBM Watson's senior vice president, sent a letter to Congress on Tuesday stressing the importance of pushing A.I. forward instead of restricting it. According to Recode, he's meeting with a group of Representatives today to discuss the technology.

"When you actually do the science of machine intelligence," Kenny wrote in the letter, which IBM published Tuesday, "and when you actually apply it in the real world of business and society ... you understand that this technology does not support the fear-mongering commonly associated with the AI debate today."

Kenny argued that fears of "massive job loss, or even an eventual AI 'overlord' " are overblown. "I must disagree with these dystopian views," he wrote. "The real disaster would be abandoning or inhibiting cognitive technology before its full potential can be realized."

IBM has an interest in ensuring that the government chooses not to restrict the use of artificial intelligence. While the Watson system is perhaps most famous for beating Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings in 2011, it's since been applied to a variety of tasks. Watson is used to recommend treatments for patients in medical facilities including the Cleveland Clinic and New York's Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. H&R Block has begun using Watson to prepare client's tax returns. In April, the software was applied to the Masters golf tournament, letting online viewers quickly see the most exciting highlights, which it selected automatically based on factors like crowd noise and player reactions.

Even so, in recent months, some in the A.I. world have expressed surprise that Watson isn't further along in its capabilities, given what it did six years ago. The company's ambitions for more widespread applications of its tech mean the company has a lot at stake.

As A.I.'s abilities expand to tasks like driving, reading X-rays, diagnosing illnesses, and performing paralegal work--all of which it's already capable of doing on some level--millions of jobs could be lost. Recent expert predictions on the number of jobs lost have ranged from from 6 percent by 2021 to 50 percent by 2035.

Yet IBM is the latest A.I. company to assure the public that its fears of the technology are overblown. Adam Cheyer, co-founder of Apple's Siri and virtual assistant A.I. startup Viv, compared the fears that A.I. will become too smart to worrying about overpopulation on Mars. "We're barely at the beginning of A.I.," he said. "There's nothing to even be done yet."

Last month, Jeff Bezos, whose popular Amazon Alexa relies heavily on A.I., said during a chat at the Internet Association that the problem with artificial intelligence is that we don't have more of it. "Basically," he said, "there's no institution in the world that cannot be improved with machine learning."

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have also spoken out in defense of A.I.

Meanwhile, there's also a vocal group within the tech industry that errs on the fear-mongering side. A recent survey of academics and industry leaders found they believe, on average, that A.I. will be capable of performing any task--from driving trucks to writing novels--better than humans by 2060.

Elon Musk, whose Tesla vehicles rely on artificial intelligence, soon chimed in with the notion that this would happen closer to 2030. "I hope I'm wrong," he tweeted.

Other Silicon Valley giants have warned against the technology. Peter Thiel co-founded OpenAI, a non-profit to ensure A.I.'s safe use, along with Musk. Earlier this year, Bill Gates suggested that robot taxes could help slow the loss of jobs to automation. And Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, recently warned that A.I. could one day replace financial institutions and control the world economy.

The lobbying push from IBM comes about a month after the formation of the Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus, a group of Representatives that will study A.I. and seek to create policies related to its use and implementation. Congressman John K. Delaney of Maryland, one of the group's co-founders, recently met with Amazon and Google, according to CNBC. The meeting with IBM on Wednesday is the group's next step.

Published on: Jun 28, 2017