In this story, you can read about:
- Who is Martin Spano and why he published the book on AI
- What are the most common myths about AI
- How AI can be useful against climate change
As a boy, he loved to read books. Particularly his father's books about history, politics and science.
When he was eight years old, he picked a great-looking book, Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Oddysey. The boy loved the topic of space research, but what intrigued him the most was the HAL 9000 computer, the artificial intelligence on board the ship. As he read the book, little did he know that it would change his life.
Martin Spano, 33, is a computer scientist and a futurist. He wrote the book Artificial Intelligence in a Nutshell, ranked among Amazon bestsellers.
“I wanted to pass my knowledge to the public, so I decided to write a book,” Spano told The Slovak Spectator.
Artificial intelligence (AI) may sound like a complicated and completely unfamiliar topic to many people. Their ideas are shaped by sci-fi movies, imagining robots willing to destroy humankind. Spano explains that AI is also present in our everyday life.
“When you check your e-mails, the AI decides whether your messages go to the main inbox or to spam,” he explains in the book. AI also decides what we see in our newsfeed after logging on to Facebook. On the other hand, by uploading content to our personal accounts, we all feed AI with data used for machine learning.
Do not tell a machine what to do, let it learn
Spano had been interested in computers since he read about them in 2001: A Space Oddysey when he was small. One day, he entered his father’s study and was surprised to see a PC on his desk. His father, an accountant, had purchased it for work. But it soon became hard for him to get to his own computer: his son Martin was always sitting in front of it and learning how to code.
Spano’s father did not stop him and instead opted to shift his own work to the late night hours. His mother was a little more worried about her son's activities. One day, she sent him to play outside. When she came to check on him an hour later, she found him sitting in the garden with the PC, “playing outside”.
When Spano was about to decide what to study at university, his choice was clear: computer sciences. He moved to Prague and obtained a degree from Charles University. He had some classes on AI at the university, but at that time hardly anyone thought it would be an important topic for humanity.
AI research started in the 1950s. Scientists thought that they could create AI just like a programmed digital computer. But they could not achieve it. Then they looked at nature. The revolution in AI came in about 2012 with deep learning. Spano had already been working as a software engineer in Vienna. He takes the example of his baby daughter to explain AI.
“I don’t tell her exactly what to do,” he said. “I just prepare the environment, so she can learn on her own.”
This is basic for machine learning as well. In a simplified way, people create a suitable environment for machines, give them a lot of data and they learn on their own.
Robot trees against climate change
During years of research, Spano very often encountered myths about AI. This was the main impetus for him to write a book that would explain the basics to everyone.
The most common myth that Spano observed is that AI is evil and a threat to our existence. This myth is often perpetuated by media but also supported by world-renowned scientists like Elon Musk, Steven Hawking and Bill Gates. Spano said that those messages are mostly concluding sentences and the media are not putting them in full context.
For his part, he remains optimistic. He does not believe that robots will kill us all. He tends to say that humankind, with its nuclear weapons, does not need AI to become extinct.
The second most frequent myth is that robots will take all people's jobs.
“In my opinion, a paradise with no work is possible, but we need to work really hard beforehand and solve the challenges of humankind first, such as climate change, to be able to get there,” he said.
Climate change is one of his fields of interest. He would like to use AI to find a solution.
“If we limit ourselves from emitting CO2, it is not enough,” he said, adding that there is the concept of artificial trees and robots that “breathe in” CO2, turning it into concrete that can be further used. This technology is very expensive, the same as most of the technologies new to the market, but Spano believes that it can be more affordable in the future.
AI can also be used for the better analysis of data. Spano explains that we need some sensors around the globe to analyse how the climate responds to various inputs. New technology could offer some new ideas about the problem.
“There is a lot of data. We need to find patterns in the data and AI can do it. We might be able to save lots of people. This is not a solution, it is prevention,” he said.
Slovakia developing AI?
Despite his optimism, Spano is aware that Slovakia is, according to the OSCE, the country most endangered by automation. He would like to turn his home country into a leader in AI development. He indeed cooperates onAI strategy for Slovakia, under the auspices of a centre to be created at the Slovak University of Technology with the IT Association of Slovakia as well as other academic organisations in Slovakia. He met with 30 other people who are supposed to create the strategy.
“I am assigned now to spread the word. Maybe more students will study it, more people will be interested in what it is,” he opined. “Slovaks are very interested in such opportunities, many people would jump onboard.”
Spano now lives in Vienna with his wife and daughter but does not rule out returning to Slovakia one day. When he settled down in Vienna, it was in 2009 and so much different than in Slovakia.
“I was amazed, I liked it there,” he admitted. Now, the differences between Bratislava and Vienna have decreased. Slovakia became much richer, he sums up.
“I used to say that I would never return to Slovakia. Now I am much more cautious about such statements,” he said, adding that Vienna is excellent, but Slovakia is his home.