Rotary speaker highlights innovations in artificial intelligence, robotics


Attorney Stephen Wu of the Silicon Valley Law Group discussed artificial intelligence and robotics at a Rotary Club of Los Altos meeting Nov. 1, noting that their impact “will be so profound, we can hardly comprehend it.”

Wu’s presentation, “Artificial Intelligence: The Impact on Our Jobs, Community, Nation and World,” opened eyes – and made some blink – at current and future examples of how dramatically innovations are already changing people’s lives.

Wu highlighted developments in autonomous vehicles – Waymo’s driverless cars were recently approved for testing on local streets, Stanford University tests autonomous cars on demanding race tracks to glean lessons for navigating ordinary roads and Tesla offers advanced driver assistance systems requiring only minimal intervention and plans to offer fully automated cars in the future.

Aerial drones will provide a future means of transport, Wu said, with some companies testing drones to carry humans to their destinations. He also noted the proliferation of personal robots such as SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper that can serve as companions, and telepresence robots that enable caregivers to check on their family members at home. Surgical robots can control precise actions during operations, Wu added, even those at a distance, and telemedicine holds great promise for those without doctors nearby.

In medical settings, nanotechnology uses AI to introduce extremely small devices into the bloodstream and body to diagnose illnesses and deliver medication. Wu said the latest brain-computer interface has reached the point where the motion of prostheses can be controlled through patients’ thoughts. In experimental conditions, one person’s thoughts can already cause a colleague in a separate room to press a button upon mental suggestion.

According to Wu, large-scale AI – such as IBM’s Watson, a question-answering computer system – already boasts myriad applications. For example, in a retail/financial setting, by analyzing purchase patterns, Target discovered that a teenage girl was pregnant even before her indignant father guessed it. In smart cities, location of available parking and payment will become a breeze. AI can help in pursuing due diligence in corporate deals or investigating fraud by following financial transactions to discover whether funds are being used as bribes, Wu suggested.

Larger trends show that the exponential growth of artificial intelligence has produced ever-increasing computing power in computers and smartphones. The main memory of today’s iPhone is 250,000 times greater than a computer running an entire government agency in the 1970s, Wu said. At the same time, prices for computing power have dropped dramatically.

Ethical concerns

The human condition is changing due to artificial intelligence in 3-D printers, security technology and robots. However, Wu said, AI, coupled with pervasive surveillance and mass collection, also has the potential to become a tool for authoritarian governments, as seen in China. Deepfake technology can now manipulate images and video, for example, to show a celebrity or politician appearing to say things recorded by another person. It is essential for the public to distinguish between what is real and what is manipulated, Wu cautioned.

In response to the vast potential uses of AI, Wu warned that machines must not replace human connections. Society’s values must be protected by law so that fundamental legal values can prevent and remedy unlawful conduct. There is now a resurgence in studying ethical values, he said.

Wu advised that people must prepare for sweeping changes in technology, and everyone has a role to play in protecting key values and freedoms.

For more information on the Silicon Valley Law Group, visit

Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit

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