Adept — Making AGI, But Not The Killer Robot Kind

Regular followers of my blog or anyone who has kindly picked up a copy of my debut book, AI by Design: A Plan for Living with Artificial Intelligence, will no doubt be aware of my human-centric take on our future working relationship with AI.

I firmly believe that AI technologies won’t swoop in and snaffle all our jobs as they become more prevalent in the workplace (although, please see the end of this blog for more on this). Rather, they’ll generally make those jobs easier, picking up the boring, repetitive tasks they’re best suited to and freeing up our time to focus on the more fun, creative assignments only humans can tackle with any real flair. In essence, then, we’ll work with machines to make our professional lives easier and more rewarding, but it’s crucial to make sure we remain in full control the entire time.

Adept

Thanks to the real potential of artificial intelligence to transform the way we work, venture capitalists are now throwing billions at the companies developing AI tools and the necessary architecture. That’s why it came as no surprise this week to read that Silicon Valley VC firm Greylock Partners and others had made a whopping £52 million Series-A investment in Adept.

Adept is a machine learning research and product lab building artificial general intelligence by enabling humans and computers to work together creatively. And by AGI, the company means models capable of understanding and learning, like humans, a diverse set of tasks — only much narrower in scope than the killer robots some of us are convinced will spell the end of the world.

A Human-Centric Path To AGI

Adept believes in a human-centric path to AGI, one on which AI systems are built with humans at the centre rather than one where machines are smarter than humans. Its vision is for machines to work together with people in the driver’s seat, discovering new solutions, enabling more informed decisions, and giving us more time for the work we love.

I feel such a strong connection to this concept I’m almost convinced Adept’s founders have somehow helped themselves to a rummage around in my mind. *Ahem* swiftly moving on from accusations of Inception-style creative espionage, the company strives to transform work by combining understanding and action in a way that existing models, which have moved beyond task-specific functionality thanks to the creation of Google Brain’s pioneering Transformer neural network architecture, simply cannot.

Consider OpenAI’s vaunted language generator GPT-3 (and perhaps even Meta’s recently announced alternative) as an example. The model understands and generates convincing prose, but it is limited in the sense it can’t take actions in the digital world, which would provide real value to users. Adept explains:

“You can’t ask GPT-3 to book you a flight, cut a check to a vendor, or conduct a scientific experiment.”

However, the firm (founded by a team that actually includes the brains behind the Transformer) has grand plans to change this. Greylock Partner Reid Hoffman says:

“Adept takes a different path from other AGI companies. Rather than building general intelligence to take over valuable tasks, they’re building AI tools that empower humans to get stuff done.”

A Universal AI Collaborator

In other words, the firm has no interest in building models that undertake tasks people can do better. Instead, its natural language interface, trained on every software tool and advanced programming interface in the world, acts as a universal AI collaborator. An overlay with the user’s computer, it operates alongside knowledge workers, using existing software to do tedious things like submitting expense or compliance reports. This frees up those workers to concentrate on tasks that excite and energise them, radically improving effectiveness and productivity.

Reid declares the system gives knowledge workers “superpowers,” which I’d try to argue is a mighty bold claim, only I recently said the exact same thing about the impact of AI on the auditing profession. It seems Mr Hoffman (a co-founder of LinkedIn, by the way) and I are equally all about the drama!

Final Thoughts

Speaking of drama, I know my statement at the start of this post that AI won’t steal our jobs will enrage a few readers because it isn’t strictly true. While AI will replace some roles altogether, it’ll also create new opportunities for any displaced workers. In the UK, for example, as part of its National Artificial Intelligence Strategy, the government has already started to create the next generation of AI talent through continued support for postgraduate learning, retraining, and improving access to specialist courses.

On that note, Adept is hiring, so check out its vacancies and reach out if you have the right skills under your belt.

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Catriona Campbell

Catriona Campbell

Behavioural psychologist; AI-quisitive; EY UK&I Client Technology & Innovation Officer. Views my own & don't represent EY’s position. catrionacampbell.com