28 December, 2018

AI | Machine Learning

The AI Journey: Beyond the Bells and Whistles of a Trending Buzzword

It’s everywhere. Increasing numbers of startups, established companies, multi-national corporations and even governments are trying to gain traction by weaving the term Artificial Intelligence (AI)– often indiscreetly – into their unique selling propositions, visions as well as elevator pitches. From The Logic Theorist – a program designed to mimic the problem solving skills of a human in the 50s – to the developments made towards driverless cars, the technology has evolved considerably from theory into tangible innovations across varying industries. We take a look at the AI phenomenon and where it stands today, seeking to answer certain questions. What is AI really and where is it heading?

AI at its core

The term AI is so often used across print and digital channels as well as in person that many have confused it with its two major subsets, machine and deep learning. Although there are overlaps, AI is the overarching phenomenon that more often than not encompasses the other two disciplines. Machine learning can be explained as a set of algorithms that adapt and improve as more data is accumulated over time. This springs off into deep learning, which as the name suggests, is the process where layers of neural networks learn from vast troves of data. Both subsets facilitate AI on a whole. Rather than stating with what it is not, let’s define what it is at its basest level:

A subset of computer science, the concept of AI was founded to facilitate the ability of a machine or a computer program to think, act, and learn like humans. We see it whenever there is a machine capable of interacting with the environment, amassing data and deploying this gathered information in a manner considered intelligent.

Most of us have been adopting such technology in one way or form over the last decade, even if it was to find the fastest route possible to reach a destination with Google Maps or whenever we have asked Siri a question. We are even leveraging AI whenever we access recommendations through platforms such as Netflix.

Advancements in the field are seeing developers and programmers work towards a shift from narrow AI, where machines are programmed to perform a single task within a pre-determined, pre-defined range to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). The latter aims to see machines understand and reason its environment as a human would. Terence Mills, CEO of AI.io and Moonshot thinks that although we are two decades away from true AGI, “There are some incredible people and organisations working on ways to make computers function like the human brain”. He cites a Japanese company that leveraged complex neural networks to write a book that won a literary award.

A happy balance for now

For the time being, at least over the next decade, machines will not be capable of fully biting the very hands that fed them. There are too many moving parts in the phenomenon that suggests otherwise. Radiologists do so much more than look at images. Human traders need to be at hand to negotiate a block trade.

A limitation of the AI industry comes in the issue of replacing one key attribute that humans bring to the table, empathy. According to Mohanbir Sawhney in an article for Forbes, “Jobs that require a one-on-one connection – such as in healthcare, education, hospitality and tourism – will remain firmly in people’s hands”. This is one of the chief reasons why many experts claim that doctors’ jobs are being threatened by technology – AI will be responsible for more accurate diagnostics in the future, with even surgery seeing major developments through robotics. Nurses, on the other hand, will still be necessary due to the personal touch they offer.

SPECTRUM member Siddarth Prabhu Correya from Adgo put it well when it comes to the marketing sphere, “Advancements in tech are all about finding the right balance. Data can inform creativity but never replace it”.

Creatives will for some time need to be at hand to ideate an angle for a pitch and content writers will provide flair to complement Grammarly’s mastery.

We’ll get there but we’ll be ready

Governments are trying to learn to adapt to keep the status quo, partly by facilitating educational development for training in areas that are not immediately replaceable by machines and robots. If reports from a couple of years ago that about 47 percent of jobs will eventually be replaced by automation and around seven percent of those by 2025 come true, some experts claim that the main solution is the implementation of a Universal Basic Income. Others claim that the solution lies in providing skills, training and job search assistance. Whatever the solution, the trickle down effect will span most fields and private enterprise has to be ready for this shift as well; even insurance companies have begun to pivot their plans to be ready for the driverless car industry.

Till AI has proven to be capable of taking over complex functions of the human brain, it’s a wait and see situation. After all, a computer trader to replace the emotion-ridden human being would have been refuted as a long shot at best a few decades ago but many expected that we would be able to encode our consciousness successfully by now. Not just yet.

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AI | Machine Learning

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