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14 November 2017

Intelligent patents for artificial intelligence

From HAL 9000 to the Terminator and on to GlaDOS, Hollywood and the games industry have ingrained in us the idea of murderous artificially intelligent machines. Is it any wonder then that Elon Musk recently stated, “Competition for Artificial intelligence superiority at a national level is the most likely cause of WW3”1? Against the backdrop of such ominous predictions, discussing artificial intelligence, or AI as it is more commonly known, in the context of patent law may seem somewhat of an anticlimax.

Thankfully, not all leaders in the field hold such a bleak point of view of the future of AI. Google’s AI chief John Giannandrea believes comments such as those from Musk to be overblown and simply fear mongering2, and AI is already transforming many of the less dramatic aspects of our lives. Speech recognition and natural language processing have provided us with intelligent personal assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, and it seems only a matter of time before driverless cars become a common sight on our streets.  Given the technological advances that are involved in these, and other, applications of AI and its potential applicability to just about every industry, it is inevitable that there will be an increasing interest in patenting AI related inventions.

The definition of AI in its broadest sense can include any intelligent activities performed by a computer; from speech recognition to autonomous agents. AI is itself not a new technology; the ideas behind neural networks, for example, can be traced back to the 1940s and 50s, when neural networks were proposed as a method for computing logical functions and for incremental learning using supervised feedback3. It is not until recently though that computing power has made the implementation of AI on a widespread basis feasible.

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