SOMERS — How will smarter and smarter machines shape our futures?

Foxconn Technology Group’s director of U.S. strategic initiatives, Alan Yeung, gave a probing, thoughtful glimpse into the future of artificial intelligence and other advancing technologies Saturday morning. He was keynote speaker at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Sports and Activity Center for the university’s 50th-year winter commencement, and 393 students were eligible to participate, compared with 346 last year.

During the standing-room-only program, Michael Grebe of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents said nearly 60 percent of the graduates were the first in their families to earn a university degree. He also said Parkside has the greatest percentage of minority students in the UW System.

Yeung, a UW grad himself, got a strong, favorable reaction when he introduced the topic of the future Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park that Foxconn is building. He said that “Foxconn has a keen interest in solving problems and meeting society’s needs. Our Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park, along with the innovation centers we are building throughout Wisconsin, will become the catalyst for change, for more discovery, for innovation.”

Yeung then talked about Foxconn’s mantra that it is here to build the so-called AI, 8K (big data) + 5G (next generation of wireless technology) ecosystem.

“This ecosystem will empower and enable advanced manufacturing, education, sports and entertainment, security and smart communities,” he said. “It will contribute to the continued development of talent, like yourselves here, in Wisconsin.”

Artificial intelligence, now and to come

Yeung said that AI is a device, algorithm or agent that perceives its environment and then takes actions to maximize its chances for success in achieving its goal.

“Doesn’t it sound like us humans?” he asked rhetorically. “To many, AI is about machines that mimic the cognitive functions that we humans have — meaning understanding, learning, transfer, applying to problem solving.”

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Already, AI has become an essential part of society,” Yeung said. “Those applications include speech, facial and object recognition.”

“For the smart homes, smart office and smart cities we strive to build here in Wisconsin,” he said, “AI will be the tool for sound decision making. Your homes, offices, vehicles, your phones will all be interconnected in an AI, 8K, 5G world.”

Yeung said AI will allow autonomous vehicles and even flying cars. As an aside to Parkside Chancellor Deborah Ford, he promised all that those things “will not take 50 years. Maybe only a couple — at least on the autonomous vehicle side.”

“AI will allow us to have more time to do more intelligent work,” Yeung continued. “AI will create jobs that we don’t know about today, but it will also eliminate jobs. That means training, workforce development is more important than ever.”

Workplaces of the future will involve communication and collaboration not just among people, but also with machines, he said.

Machines will automatically learn and become smarter through rewards and punishments, Yeung said. “Amazing — and scary, isn’t it?” he added.

“Machines indeed are taking over some of our jobs, our tasks, and have the potential of causing great dangers and challenges for humans,” he said. “As graduates, as our next generation, we ask: How do we harness this power — AI, robotics, deep learning — or will we be overtaken?”

AI, Yeung said, “is forcing us to confront the fundamental question: What makes us human?”

“(Artificial intelligence) will create jobs that we don’t know about today, but it will also eliminate jobs. That means training, workforce development is more important than ever.” Alan Yeung, Foxconn’s director of U.S. strategic initiatives

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Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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