This Man Is the Godfather the AI Community Wants to Forget

Ashlee Vance:

Many of the biggest names in the technology industry are consumed with developing an artificial general intelligence, or AGI. Unlike today’s leading artificial intelligence software, an AGI wouldn’t need flesh-and-blood trainers to figure out how to translate English to Mandarin or spot tumors in an X-ray. In theory, it would have some measure of independence from its creators, solve complex, novel problems on its own, and herald an era in which humankind is no longer superior to machines.
The consensus among our pitiful fleshbrains is that if humans ever manage to create an AGI, it’ll arise in Mountain View, Calif., Beijing, or Moscow. All three cities are near world-class AI research universities and are home to companies that have pumped billions into the AGI race. There exists, however, a chance that the breakthrough will come from the Swiss city of Lugano. Yes, Lugano.
The picturesque slice of Switzerland’s southern tip is home to about 60,000 people, including a computer scientist named Jürgen Schmidhuber. He’s a professor, a researcher, and the co-founder of a 25-employee AI startup called Nnaisense. (Pronounced like “nascence,” the name is proof that Silicon Valley holds no monopoly on ridiculous company names.) Schmidhuber is a pioneer who effectively figured out how to give AI systems memories. His ideas appear in one form or another in just about every smartphone, social network, and digital assistant. He’s not shy to mention these things, or to cite reams of documentation to back himself up, or to say things like, “My team plans to change the course of human history,” in between bites of salmon lasagna at a Lugano cafe.