Marco Landi: Artificial Intelligence


My interest in Artificial Intelligence ( often briefly named AI ) started in the 90’ when I was Président of Texas Instruments based in Hong Kong. I was very curious and when my business reason where bringing me into Dallas I wanted to visit the advanced Research centers of TI.  At that time we used more the term  “ Experts Systems “ instead of AI. May be that we should have continued to use this terminology as many people would have been less scared of what we define today “ A I “ !

My interest has continued when I become President and COO of Apple Computer based in Cupertino. Apple at that time, around mid 90’ , was less involved that TI in Artificial Intelligence   It was the period that people called “ the winter of AI “ as the advancements of this technology where not so as expected, mainly due to lack of large quantities of DATA that are at the basis of AI, the petrol of this technology, and limited power computing.  But it’s the innovation brought by Steve Jobs with the first iPhone that accelerated the developments that we see today in multiple sectors, : e-Commerce, Health, Education, Mobility and so on ! Siri has been the most visible example of what the AI could do to simplify our life! Let’s ask ourselves : what is  AI , or as we called before these “ Experts Systems “ ??

Artificial intelligence (often used briefly as ‘AI’) is not a new phenomenon, but it is only recently that it has become the talk of the town. If you feel confused by the multiple – often even controversial – descriptions of what artificial intelligence is or isn’t, that’s completely fair. Taking into account that there is no agreement on the definition of artificial intelligence, and that the technology which can be understood under this umbrella term is changing at a fast pace, it is difficult to pinpoint what artificial intelligence really is. In this article we will try to shed some light on what artificial intelligence means, whether it’s a good or bad thing, and look at what the future may hold for it.


A brief history of artificial intelligence

In the early 1950s, John Von Neumann and Alan Turing revolutionized the computers of the 19th century and constructed the architecture  of our contemporary machines. Coupled with the quest to find out how to bring together the functioning of machines and humans, the era gave rise to visions about what computers might be able to achieve. Still today remains important the famous Alan Turing text, also called the Imitation Game. It’s a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable .from that of a human. In summary answering the question : can a machine think??

An event in 1956, hosted by John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky in Dortmund, aimed to spark discussions about the possibilities lying within these technological advancements. It’s during this workshop that the term “artificial intelligence” was also coined for the first time.

The developments of artificial intelligence have been strongly connected to those of computing power and availability of large quantities of data  which enabled computers to perform complex tasks that they couldn’t do before. From 1957 to 1974, computers became faster, cheaper, more accessible and could store more information. Such unrealistic statements as Minksy’s claim in 1970 that “in from three to eight years we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being” were essential to raise the popularity of artificial intelligence among the public and boost funding for research in the field.

As the years passed and Minsky’s promise turned out to be empty words, people lost interest in artificial intelligence. This was well expressed by the fact that in the 1990s, the term artificial intelligence had nearly forgotten or even become Taboo.

So more accurate variations such as “ experts systems “ or  “advanced computing” replacing it. The current ‘renaissance’ in artificial intelligence’s trajectory , mainly due to the introduction of the iPhone, , is due to the improvements in computational power and the vast amount of available data.


Key developments concerning artificial intelligence.

During the 1990s and 2000s, computers achieved a couple of important milestones . In 1997, world chess champion Gary Kasparov was defeated by IBM’s Deep Blue chess-playing program. In the same year, Microsoft’s Windows operating system implemented a speech recognition system. In 2011, IBM’s Watson won the game show Jeopardy”, defeating former champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. In 2015, in a match against Fan-Hui the computer program  Alpha-Godeveloped by DeepMind, become the first computer GO program to beat a human professional GO player without handicap

Such events are often highlighted to suggest that artificial intelligence is smart. Today, artificial intelligence is everywhere: we have virtual personal assistants, artificial intelligence-based systems decide whether our loan request will be accepted or rejected, and artificial intelligence can even help determine our final grade at school. I invested in an Italian  company, Questit, that has been able to develop an Artificial Human capable to communicate with deaf people thru the sign languages.

Definition of artificial intelligence .

Many people I meet are too much influenced by the sci-fi world along with futurists who like to suggest that artificial intelligence amounts to sinister robots who become obsessed with eradicating humanity. It’s fun to contemplate such fantasies, but they nonetheless give us the false impression about what artificial intelligence actually is.

To provide a first definition of AI let’s look at what it means through the example of artificial intelligence used to hire people.

You need to hire someone for a role with specific requirements. To create an AI-based system for this purpose, you need to feed the requirements the job entails into an algorithm. How do you do it? Well, the easiest, if available, is to feed previous CVs into the algorithm– of both successful and unsuccessful applicants. This provides the software with examples of what constitutes a successful application. Then all incoming applications will be screened by your artificial intelligence, and it will decide which applications to forward on an HR employee and which ones to reject.

But the algorithm must be prepared in a way that you avoid any biased situation.  We should recall the Amazon “ ,hiring algorithm “  in which women were found to have been discriminated against. Since the CVs fed to that algorithm were of existing employees and they were predominantly male, the algorithm set its criteria of the perfect candidate as male. It directly rejected any application that contained the word ‘woman’. This is the reason why more and more the specialists demand that an algorithm must have three charactertics : Must be Inclusive , Reliable and Sustainable.

In order to simplify the understanding of what is AI I usually discuss it in these terms:

AI is the continuation of philosophy  The many Greek and Latin philosophers where asking themselves  “ Who are we? Where we came from ? Where we are going ?  Paraphrasing what Carl Von Clausewitz said about Politics “ War in the continuation of Politics in others ways I say that “ Artificial intelligence is the continuation of Philosophy in others terms “  We try to understand how our brains is functioning and then us use the results in machines that will help us to simplify our life.

Are we going to be able to answer the Turing Test? At this stage not yet. The machines we are able to build are capable of only specifics tasks, useful but limited  With the advent of quantum computers, that will provide enormous computing power and the immense availability of data thru the IOT we may probably be able in a near future to build new, innovative machines that will be more intelligent but certainly not capable to have a conscience as we humans.

A leader with long experience in global hi-tech business. Marco has been COO of Apple Computer in Cupertino responsible for Global Operations, Marketing and Sales after a successful turnaround of Apple EMEA activities as President of Apple Europe. Previously he spent over 20 years at Texas Instruments managing all business units in EMEA based in Brussels and ASIA based in Hong Kong. During his 3 years tenure, TI Asia increased its revenues from $1B to over $4B. In Brussels he won the prestigious European Quality Award and was appointed Chairman of the American-European Electronics Association representing over 300 thousands workers at the European Commission in Brussels.