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The technologies referred to as “artificial intelligence” or “AI” are more momentous than most people realize. Their impact will be at least equal to, and may well exceed, that of electricity, the computer, and the internet. What’s more, their impact will be massive and rapid, faster than what the internet has wrought in the past thirty years. Much of it will be wondrous, giving sight to the blind and enabling self-driving vehicles, for example, but AI-engendered technology may also devastate job rolls, enable an all-­encompassing surveillance state, and provoke social upheavals yet unforeseen. The time we have to understand this fast-moving technology and establish principles for its governance is very short. 

The term “AI” was coined by a computer scientist in 1956. At its simplest, AI refers to techniques that combine data and algorithms to produce a result. Those techniques can be as simple as Google Maps digesting traffic data to provide the fastest route, ­Amazon’s Alexa “understanding” the question “What time is it?,” and your iPhone “recognizing” your face as the ultimate password. 

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