The exponential development of technology has posed a difficult question for economists, philosophers, engineers and politicians: At what point will technology exceed human control? Perhaps their greatest worry is artificial intelligence. We may be many decades away from mastering this technology, but, according to Marconi Pacific CEO Thomas Gage SOM ’80, businesses are making great strides in the world of artificial intelligence.

On Friday morning, the Yale School of Management hosted a symposium on disruptive technology. The symposium included two lectures by Gage and a discussion panel featuring Gage, Amazon Robotics Senior Product Manager Shilpi Gupta and IBM Associate Partner Binoy Damodaran. Approximately 30 people attended the symposium, which took place in Evans Hall.

The idea of disruptive technology derives from the concept of disruptive innovation, defined as a breakthrough that creates a new business market and disrupts an already established market. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen invented the term “disruptive technology” in his 1997 book “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” Examples of disruptive technology include smartphones, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and social networks.

At the beginning of his lecture, Gage emphasized the importance of timing in the technological business market.

“It was 50 years ago when we began to really see this concept of artificial intelligence,” Gage said. “We knew this was coming, but it has taken 50 years for us to get here. And I’m going to tell you that timing is really the most complex issue around technology. It is understanding the timing of when this is going to happen.”

The symposium was divided into two lectures, the first titled “Navigating the Next (Fourth) Industrial Revolution.” Gage stressed the transformative role artificial intelligence will soon play in the technological world.

“I believe that we are on the threshold of the fourth industrial revolution,” he said. “It’s going to be much bigger than everything we’ve ever seen, mostly because of AI. … We are really on the threshold of a huge set of changes across a huge set of technology fundamentals.”

Artificial intelligence is widely affecting manufacturing practices, both domestically and globally, Gage said. He added that continuously developing artificial intelligence may force businesses to phase out manufacturing workers.

For less developed nations with lower costs of production that often attract large, global manufacturers, the pressure on manufacturing jobs could prove especially damaging. With increasing artificial intelligence, jobs in less developed nations could be phased out.

“If people can’t find jobs, what are the implications for societies that have a huge number of people?” Gage asked. “We are several decades away from the steady state … and disruption in that period of time is likely to be overwhelmingly massive.”

The second lecture was titled “Robotics, AI and the Other Underpinnings of Vehicle Automation.” Gage touched on automated-brake technology in automobiles, describing the problems such technologies have faced as “bloody hard.”

“You can have false positives or false negatives,” Gage said. “So the vehicle can mistake a wind-blown plastic bag for a pedestrian and brake, or it doesn’t see the pedestrian at all and doesn’t brake. … So what problem we’re trying to solve is teaching the machine to see the difference between the wind-blown bag and the pedestrian.”

Gage made reference to a recent incident in which a driverless Uber vehicle hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.

The symposium concluded with a panel discussion involving Gage, Gupta and Damodaran.

Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81, New Haven’s economic development administrator, questioned the panel about the potential for using robots for dangerous jobs, such as being a police officer or a firefighter. Although Gupta cited a demand for this particular product, Damodaran brought up the major problem that AI technology, despite its ability to outperform humans in speech recognition, is still imperfect 2 percent of the time.

“In the 2 percent scenario where it is imperfect, what is going to happen? Who is responsible for that?” Damodaran asked. “Those are the complex questions.”

One audience member asked Gupta about the limitations to which businesses should hold artificial intelligence. In response, he emphasized the roles of regulations and human responsibility in the face of technology, saying that technology has both negative and positive potential.

“I feel like there is a tipping point for the bad side of any technology we can think of,” Gupta said.

According to top consulting and auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, robots will take over 21 percent of the jobs in Japan, 30 percent of jobs in the United Kingdom, 35 percent of jobs in Germany and 38 percent of jobs in the United States by the year 2030.

Nick Tabio | nick.tabio@yale.edu