Episode 5: A Conversation with Daphne Koller

In this episode, Byron and Daphne talk about consciousness, personalized medicine, and transfer learning.



Daphne Koller is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University and is the co-founder of Coursera. Her general research area is artificial intelligence and its applications in the biomedical sciences.


Byron Reese: This is Voices in AI, brought to you by Gigaom. I’m Byron Reese. Today our guest is Daphne Koller. She’s the Chief Computing Officer over at Calico. She has a PhD in Computer Science from Stanford, which she must have liked a whole lot, because she shortly thereafter became a professor there for eighteen years. And it was during that time that she founded Coursera with Andrew Ng. She is the recipient of so many awards, I would do them an injustice to try to list them all. Two of them that just stick out are the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and, famously, The MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

Welcome to the show, Daphne.

Daphne Koller: Good to be here, Byron. Thank you for inviting me.

I watched a number of your videos, and you do a really interesting thing where you open up by defining your terms often, so that everybody has, as you say, a shared vocabulary. So what is ‘artificial intelligence’ when you use that term?

Well, I think artificial intelligence is one of the harder things to define because in many ways, it’s a moving target. Things that used to be considered artificial intelligence twenty years ago are now considered so mundane that no one even thinks of them as artificial intelligence—for instance, optical character recognition.

So, there is the big lofty AI goal of general artificial intelligence, building a single agent that achieves human-level type intelligence, but I actually think that artificial intelligence should—and in many people’s minds I hope still does—encompass the very many things that five years ago would have been considered completely out of reach, and now are becoming part of our day-to-day life. For instance, the ability to type a sentence in English and have it come out in Spanish or Chinese or even Swahili.

With regard to that, there isn’t an agreed-upon definition of intelligence to begin with. So what do you think of when you think of intelligence, and secondly, in which sense is it artificial? Is it artificial like artificial turf, is it really turf, or it just pretends to be? Do you think AI is actually “intelligent,” or is it a faux imitation intelligence?