In the Age of A.I.

FRONTLINE Investigates the Promise and Perils of Artificial Intelligence

  • Fred Vigeant

This episode of FRONTLINE explores some of the ways in which our world is being re-shaped and reimagined by the technology of artificial intelligence — whose development has been compared to the industrial revolution and the discovery of electricity as an epochal event in human history.

In the Age of AI begins in 2016 with what’s been called “the Sputnik moment” for the Chinese government, when a computer program developed by Google’s DeepMind defeated the world champion in the ancient Chinese game of Go — a game of strategy with more possible moves than there are atoms in the universe.

At the heart of the race to harness AI’s power is the breakthrough technology that led to DeepMind’s victory. By using an AI program that essentially taught itself how to play and win at Go, scientists unleashed a new power into the world – self-learning algorithms that, if fed enough data and given a specific goal, can essentially program themselves to assess a problem, make predictions, and come up with solutions. It’s called deep learning.

As the film explores, the commercial applications of deep learning are enormous. Alex Rodrigues is the 24-year-old CEO of the self-driving truck company Embark. His trucks are already delivering freight from California to Arizona on Interstate 10. There is a driver in the cab, but he is not driving. The aim is to eliminate him – something that could happen, Rodrigues says, within “less than half a decade.”

In the Age of AI raises concerns about how in both China and the United States artificial intelligence is violating privacy and intruding into personal lives. In China, cameras with AI-powered facial recognition are everywhere, while various pilot projects use AI to give people a “social credit” score, punishing some for certain behavior and rewarding others for what the government considers good citizenship.

In the Age of AI also follows the argument that in the U.S. there is a pervasive but more hidden form of “corporate surveillance,” in which AI algorithms gather data to learn as much about us as possible, in order to sell our private information to advertisers.

This special two-hour FRONTLINE episode broadcast November 5 at 9:00pm on WITF. The program is also available through our website and the PBS Video App.

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