As computer programs have increased in complexity and sophistication, they have assumed control over ever-greater parts of our lives. Today whenever you buy groceries, drive to work or surf the Internet, the chances are you will at some point have engaged with an autonomous, learning system. But what if a computer program was promoted to your company's board of directors?
That's the reality being faced by employees of venture capital firm Deep Knowledge Ventures, who recently appointed a computer program called Vital to one of the top spots at the firm.
Vital actually has a vote on board decisions, and pitches in whenever they consider investing in a specific company or not. According to Deep Knowledge Ventures, the program has already approved two investment opportunities.
Deep Knowledge Ventures are a Hong Kong-based venture fund management company
focused on mid- to long-term biotechnology investments. Unsurprisingly, they also have several horses in the machine learning and data analysis race.
Vital analyses and cross-references a huge amount of data in making its decisions, gleaning decisions based on financial information, clinical trials for particular drugs, intellectual property owned by the firm and previous funding.
"On first sight, it looks like a futuristic idea but on reflection it is really a little bit of publicity hype," said Prof Noel Sharkey of the University of Sheffield. "A lot of companies use large data search to access what is happening on the market, then the board or trusted workers can decide on the advice. With financial markets, algorithms are delegated with decisions."
He went on to argue that the idea of the algorithm voting is a "gimmick".
"It is not different from the algorithm making a suggestion and the board voting on it," he said.
The Vital software was developed by UK-based Aging Analytics.
Recently AI has been put in greater positions of responsibility, with the CCTV networks of entire cities being put under the control of an autonomous, learning computer program called AISight.