Mar 25, 2024 - Technology

The future of AI: Personalized systems tuned to your needs, Amazon exec says

An AI powered robot asks how it can help you

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Advanced AI won't arrive as a single, monolithic intelligence, but as a whole swarm of personalized systems tuned to individual needs, a key Amazon AI executive predicts.

What they're saying: Amazon wants to use its Alexa voice bot as one building block toward that goal, says Vishal Sharma, Amazon's VP for artificial general intelligence, or AGI.

  • The future is a personal AGI for everyone, Sharma told Axios onstage at SXSW earlier this month.

The big picture: AGI remains the industry's sought-after grail. OpenAI's mission is to deliver it for humanity's benefit, and both Google and Meta are committed to the quest as well.

  • But industry players don't agree on how to define AGI. It could be AI that can outperform humans on standardized tests. Or AI that can hold down a job. Or AI that demonstrates consciousness.
  • Delivering AGI "is going to be a series of developments" rather than a big bang in which one company or government announces AGI has arrived, Sharma said.

Between the lines: Both Google and the Microsoft/OpenAI alliance are committed to seeking AGI by making their models bigger and more powerful.

  • Amazon's vision suits its role as the leading provider of cloud services. A world where everyone has a personalized AGI is a world that requires a lot of infrastructure support that Amazon is positioning itself to provide.

Yes, but: "Personal" AGI systems provided by big tech companies may be tailored to your individual needs and style, but they'll pose the same privacy and control challenges as social media — unless users own and control all their data.

Amazon has long championed the idea of "ambient intelligence," exemplified by the Alexa assistant. It's AI that presents itself when needed, then fades into the background when it's not.

  • Today, "under the covers there's something like 30 models" powering Alexa's more than 130,000 skills, Sharma said.
  • 40% of smart home interactions where Alexa is in use are now initiated by Alexa, without a customer saying anything, per Amazon.

What's next: Alexa has been Amazon's starting point toward AGI, but Sharma is striving to "apply AGI to everybody and every situation" — and that increasingly means delivering embodied AI.

Proactive AI interactions will be increasingly common, Sharma says.

  • Alexa's Hunches feature can lock your door if you accidentally leave it open, but Sharma wants to push much further.
  • "Imagine a patient whose physician is automatically consulted by their AGI based on a change in some vital metrics and then care suggestions are brought," Sharma said.

Reality check: We're still a long way from AGI, and today's generation of AI models may hit a ceiling.

  • "There's more fundamental work that needs to be done," Sharma said. He worries that language may be too abstract to train AI to the degree of knowledge necessary to attain AGI.

The bottom line: Sharma is an avid reader of dystopian science fiction but remains convinced AGI will be the foundation of an "age of abundance" — a version of venture capitalist Marc Andreessen's manifesto.

  • Amazon's workforce has "doubled in size in the last few years" even as the company integrated generative AI into all its workflows and products, Sharma said.
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