Sergey Markov: ''Going down that road is a very characteristic fluctuating trend for Russia''
The expert in AI on the helplessness of the modern elite and the next step of technologies. Part 2
In the first part of his interview with Realnoe Vremya, Sergey Markov, expert in artificial intelligence and machine learning system and the founder of XX2 Century portal, told about the future of automation, pace of progress and the idea to substitute militaries for robots in the army. In the second half of the talk, the speaker shares his ideas about the conflict of generations and advantages of Russia in global technological competition it hasn't lost yet.
About the youth and focus to apply technologies
I'd like to talk about a younger generation. It seems that a part of these guys are much smarter than their predecessors, while the other part, on the contrary, is degrading thanks to gadgets and the Internet. How do you think they are doing?
I've been recently slightly shocked when I looked at the age pyramid and understood there were more people younger than me than older. There is always such temptation to say the youth are somehow worse. Even Socrates and Hesiod considered that the youth worsened, they didn't respect traditions, were rude to adults and became very stupid in general. This happens because the world changes, while the young adapt to live in the world they were born and exist. It doesn't look like the world their parents or grandparents grew up in many aspects. The latter evaluate the youth's actions from a perspective of how well they cope with the tasks they consider important and use to measure intelligence. But the world has changed, and the efficiency in performing completely different tasks is becoming important. I, for example, clearly observe it in programming.
A person who knew many algorithms and knew how to implement them was the most qualified programmer in the 90s. You downloaded a three-volume book of Knuth together with Introduction to the Development and Analysis of Algorithms, the graph theory and combinatorics. And now if you shut him in a room with a computer and say: ''Friend, write me Dijkstra's algorithm, this person sits down and, indeed, — Oh, my God! — writes the programme that implements this algorithm. I managed to become a tiny part of this generation because when we went to international programming olympiads, we also had our own head, a keyboard and a computer – sit and make everything up on your own. A modern-day programmer works in a different way. He goes to Google, finds a piece of the necessary code, copies it to the programme, and that's it. It works, and he has spent much less time. This is why it's important for him not to keep much information in his head but rather have such a search index that enables him to find necessary information faster, correctly formulate a search request. This labour's character has changed. If we look at a modern-day programmer from a perspective of yesterday's standards, a start-upper will say: ''No, they can do nothing, they even don't know this and that algorithm. But setting them both practical problems to solve, the second one will likely win.
Because of the changing world, the older generation will always be discontent about the youth, while the youth will doubt the adequacy of the older generation. It's an eternal conflict between fathers and sons. I think the faster the world develops, the faster this conflict escalates because the world of the youth is very different from the world of adults. The more different they are, the less they understand each other. It's important to consider it and make an amendment: if you're suddenly an old grandfather, you don't like the behaviour of the youth and you think they are a bit silly, understand that actually this is wrong, they're smarter than you in something, it's the gospel truth. And, on the contrary, if you are a youngster and listen to your grandfather's lamentations, understand he is also correct, he once went hunting for a tiger with a stick, he has his own standards of what's necessary and what's not. The more we understand this, the easier it's to establish a dialogue.
If we look at a modern-day programmer from a perspective of yesterday's standards, a start-upper will say: ''No, they can do nothing, they even don't know this and that algorithm. But setting them both practical problems to solve, the second one will likely win
What about the youth that became obsessed with the same smartphones and don't develop?
Smartphone is just a tool. You can do different things with it: read books, talk with a huge number of different interesting smart people, you can write texts, programme.
The thing is that if we look at the previous generations and the tools they had, they also didn't apply them to their advantage. People used to read newspapers, today they are reading newsfeed in social networks on smartphones. The current generation plays computer games, while the older generation used to play Preferans or dominoes. I shudder to think how much time was spent on such things, not to mention hunting, fishing. Of course, it's cool entertainment for many people, but they aren't very educational – a person doesn't get a lot of useful knowledge. This is why I wouldn't exaggerate here the danger of new technologies. Anyway, there are people who will spend their lives in vain, whatever technology you give them. Roughly speaking, if you give them empty hands, they will find a way how to apply them unproductively.
About connection of the country's politics with technological successes
What position do you think Russia has in the race for new technologies?
I'd say that everything is ambiguous here. We have strong points. The remains of the mathematical school created in the Soviet era are the strongest. Due to this, we still train quite good specialists in this sphere.
Those who stay. Many people go abroad.
It's clear this happens under the influence of the difference in income, under the influence of, actually, many non-economic factors. When there is some stupidity, for instance, the ban on concerts of some rappers or something else, we should always understand each time another talented person, likely not alone, decides: ''Come on, I will go from here, from this loony bin.'' Unfortunately, it also works this way.
There are relatively not rich countries that have certain image-related politics designed to keep the talented youth. This works in several cases. Singapore is a good example, a country that in general didn't have any natural resources, that as a result of a conflict exited the Federation of Malaya, that remained alone and made a serious transformation. Moreover, within quite a short term. First of all, because there was a certain clear strategy the state followed. But, again, Singapore, to put it mildly, isn't the most democratic country in the world, there has always been a lot of criticism about actions of the Singaporean administration.
The country in general was built with severe repressions against the opposition. I mean we can't say they have some outstanding democracy that created the society of prosperity thanks to the democratic climate. Nevertheless, it might seem despite all these drawbacks, the presence of a clear strategy, understandable and clear guides helped to solve the problem.
''Singapore is a good example, a country that in general didn't have any natural resources, that as a result of a conflict exited the Federation of Malaya, that remained alone and made a serious transformation.'' Photo: gapp.az
Russia is also often criticised for lack of democracy and so on. Yes, this is bad, but there are countries that solved technological development problems even amid a lack of democracy. Not the development of democratic institutions is the problem. Our current economic and political elites mainly were ''born'' in the 90s. It's people for whom success in the 90s depended on their effectiveness when performing one task. There was so yummy corpse of the USSR that needed to be cut in pieces and eaten. Those who showed themselves as the most effective scavenger went up, and today they own corporations, the state and so on. I don't want to say there aren't people with another mentality among Russian elites, there are. But, unfortunately, they don't account for a majority. Look how the Russia elite expresses itself, what an image it tries to create. It poses itself by buying expensive yachts, palaces, realty abroad, sending their children to the West. Great hypocrisy is behind this all, of course. And not teachers but successful people teach the children. Imagine that in the 90s we had an entire generation that went to school, and the teacher told them they should aspire to knowledge and so on. They looked at her and said: ''Marivanna, you are a damned fool with your knowledge. You're paid 3,000 rubles, and you're nothing in this society. But Uncle Vasya with his crony earned money racketeering and developed their own chain of kiosks. Good for them, we will follow their example – those who rapidly took something away, not those who created a position in society with their knowledge, effort and labour for decades.
Generations who grew up during those years learnt this way of thinking, this set of values. It's a very severe injury that society suffered and that won't heal soon. To heal, it needs a society where you can really go up thanks to knowledge, talent and occupy a deserving place, become a respected person. If we have such a society, we can hope a new environment for an economic breakthrough will mature in several decades after that.
Everything looks quite gloomy and sad in the short term, unfortunately. Our country has already gone through it. There is a feeling that going down that road is a very characteristic fluctuating trend for Russia. Ivan the Terrible once faced that the old elite got too fat and didn't perform its functions, he reduced it a bit, created oprichnina. Peter the Great did the same thing by cutting beards and forcefully transforming the elites, elevating people from the bottom. The same thing happened in 1917 when the old elites were treated not very politically correct, so to speak. To tell the truth, I suspect that the next twist will look similar and will be as painful as it was. We'll see, perhaps I'm wrong, and we have a more inoffensive era.
Back to the talk about countries. Against the backdrop of the political and economic pressure, Russia is trying to create some autonomy – from foreign technologies, from the Internet. For instance, the Central Bank was going to turn Visa off. Do you think this is possible?
It's a forced measure. They're afraid Russia payment systems will be simply turned off as a result of sanctions. A solution here is to only try to build our domestic alternative or look for countries that won't join this blockade of Russia. Compared to the Soviet Union, Russia has much fewer resources to go into isolationist politics just because its share in the world economy has fallen manifold. For this reason, I think this politics is unlikely to bring to success, the gap with the first world countries will increase. To be honest, I don't believe that Russia can go into such politics in the long term because a growing domestic economy is needed for it. But those resources inside the country that could help to grow aren't seen so far. And representatives of elites themselves are the same people who are telling us today we need to cut off the rest of the world – they sent their children to study abroad, withdrew their assets abroad, have dual citizenship and so on.
This is why, to tell the truth, I suspect this rhetoric is aimed at domestic consumption only in order to make people feel an occupied fortress in a bad economic situation, make us all think we are at war with the whole world and need to support our own power at any price, as it's not the time for quarrels.
What do you think we should expect in technologies in the next five years?
I don't like to do forecasts very much, especially in high-tech sectors just because technological breakthroughs difficult to predict are made so often here. If we just extrapolate possibilities of technologies, if development paces are the same, we can substitute people in the same call centres in simple dialogues with clients, we can do it in more complicated cases in five years. As for facial recognition, I think, of course, this technology will be used more everywhere. Now the technology is quite actively used when looking for criminals, but it can be used to identify people. For instance, automated check-in systems based on facial recognition are introduced at many airports. So we person checks in, a machine can compare if this is the person or not faster, more accurately and cheaper.
Nevertheless, it's a fact that technologies will be used wider than today. And probably the first thing I expect in the next 5-10 years is the extensive application of those technologies that have been created in laboratories today. Now the expansion of technologies is mainly limited not by their possibilities but the presence of specialists who are able to introduce these technologies to different spheres of our life. The period when achievements made in laboratories will gradually spread in our life and become a part of different projects, different sectors will go on in the short run. For this reason, I think many interesting things expect us. Many ways of application of already invented technologies haven't been made up yet.