Artificial intelligence–What is so 'artificial' about it?

Despite all the technological progress we have made, the human brain continues to be the most powerful computer.

Updated: Aug 3, 2017 04:10:28 PM UTC

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AI is supposed to assist human beings in doing their jobs better.

What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

Are you intrigued by the sheer ease with which Facebook tags your friends and family when you post a photo? Or how Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa & Microsoft’s Cortana help you find information, give you direction and add events to your calendar? How does Outlook know that some emails should go into your Clutter folder when you never marked them as spam? All these are powered by Artificial Intelligence technologies. But what is AI after all?

Despite all the technological progress we have made, the human brain continues to be the most powerful computer. Intelligence is a combination of learning, logical reasoning, problem-solving, perception, understanding languages and the ability to communicate using these languages. The human brain can do all of these using a fraction of a typical computer’s resources, and with a tiny amount of power. For decades, computer scientists have pursued the goal of making machines more intelligent, by trying to impart these attributes of the human brain to them and AI is the end product of these relentless efforts.

Why should we care? From the time we wake up to the time we go to bed, AI is already entrenched in most aspects of our personal and professional lives. Here are just a few examples of a far longer list:

  • We wake up and open our email. Important mails are already separated from clutter & spam.
  • We open Facebook and don’t notice posts that we don’t care about; posts from our friends and relations are at the top of our feed.
  • Google’s AI based assistants make sure we don’t miss important appointments, by giving us the right information at the right time. Weather & traffic updates, flight information, movie releases - the information that matters to us appears when it matters, without us asking for it.
  • When stepping out for the morning workout, our fitness tracker is using AI to track our steps accurately and make sure that not only is the workout more fun but also effective and tailored to our fitness goals.
  • As we get into office and have a call with a colleague in Latin America who doesn’t speak English, Skype translator helps us bridge this communication barrier too by providing real time translation as we speak.
  • When we call an airline to make changes to our booking, chances are we’re talking to a software robot (aka a bot) that assists us with these changes
  • As we get home Amazon Echo, an ‘always-on’ assistant at home, understands voice commands and helps us explore recipes, play music, get the news and answer almost any question we can ask it.
  • And as we switch the lights off at night, our fitness tracker continues tracking & analysing our sleep patterns to suggest tweaks to our lifestyles to keep us healthy.

Enterprise AI
Now that we’ve seen how AI is already part of our lives, let us see how various enterprises are adopting AI, or at least thinking about it.

  • With the ability to look at pictures and identify objects, machines are acquiring ‘vision’ capabilities, which opens up a huge range of possibilities. ‘Visual Commerce’ will allow customers to conduct visual searches – look for items similar to those in a given picture, or to shop for items within an image. Retailers like JCPenney & Macy’s have already introduced visual search in their Mobile Applications. In addition, we will soon see companies using computer vision to identify damaged packages, security agencies using it for intruder detection and auto insurers using it for detecting the damage to a vehicle during the claims process.
  • AI technology has tremendous potential for analyzing large sets of past data to build predictive models. We anticipate that airlines & hospitality companies will be using these technologies to build dynamic pricing engines, manufacturers using it to build proactive maintenance models to minimize production downtimes and consumer packaged goods companies using it to precisely target their product development, assortment, marketing and trade promotion planning.
  • AI has already made a substantial impact in healthcare. IBM Watson’s diagnosis accuracy rate for lung cancer is 90% compared to 50% for human doctors. Close to home, late in 2016, Manipal Hospital entered into an agreement with IBM to use Watson for oncology.
  • And of course the most commonly discussed area for AI is that of autonomous vehicles. This is a highly competitive area where Google, Toyota, Ford, BMW, Uber, Mercedes Benz and many others are all testing self-driving vehicles. When these offerings appear on our roads is now a question of regulatory and social acceptance rather than technological challenges.

Responsible AI
When compared with human intelligence, machine intelligence is still in its infancy. It is like a baby learning shapes, colours and numbers in its formative years. In addition to these foundational concepts, babies also slowly learn behaviour and the ability to differentiate between good and evil. Every responsible parent wants their baby to grow up to become a responsible and respectable individual. The onus is now on the IT industry to build machine intelligence that will display similar responsibility and care.

Isaac Asimov’s 1942 Runaround’, a science fiction piece, merits a mention in this context. In this work, Isaac introduced three laws that governed the behaviour of robots, known to generations of sci-fi fans as the Three Laws of Robotics. These laws are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

These laws were profound and ahead of their time. Simple as they appear, these laws are currently very challenging to implement in the machines being created. Nevertheless, the IT industry must continue its pursuit to leave no stone unturned in incorporating and building upon these to ensure the creation of ‘Responsible AI’.

How do we stay relevant?
Understandably, there is a lot of fear and concern about AI and its impact on society. In particular, there are conversations about AI & Automation taking millions of jobs away. In my view, AI is supposed to assist human beings in doing their jobs better. I quote Dr. Somashekhar from Manipal Hospitals after they introduced IBM Watson in the oncology department.

"Doctors also have different opinions on what treatment protocol to follow for a patient, based on different experiences. In Manipal, we normally sit together to decide. Now, we have another important member (Watson). It not only gives the right treatment option, it also provides evidence for why option A will work better than option B".

Like any wave of technological & social change (the Industrial Revolution, the introduction of electrification, the advent of the automobile, successive waves of computing led change among other technological advancements) there will be some jobs that will lose relevance due to AI. There however will also be more new jobs and professions created by AI, which will allow people to focus on activities only humans can do, which will be more interesting and fulfilling. Some interesting jobs that AI is likely to throw up include:

  • Machine tutor – While teaching machines the skill of vision, it is required to use a large corpus of images so that the machine learns to identify a specific object. We will need tutors that teach machine different aspects like vision, speech, etc.
  • Machine linguists – Teachers using their linguistic skills to help machines understand languages
  • Simulation experts – Many predictive models that will be built using AI technology will need simulation. For example, when you build an airline disruption prediction solution using AI, simulation is required to understand the impact of disruption to better prepare, control the cost of disruption and making the business impacts less chaotic.
  • Modelers – AI technologies are built on strong mathematical fundamentals. People with strong mathematics backgrounds and statisticians who deal with large amounts of data will find a new niche as modelers who will build predictive models around various business processes.
  • AI software validation – Testing AI software will pose a completely new set of challenges. For example, how do you test a predictive model for dynamic pricing for a hotel? How do you test for “friendly/rude” behavior of a chatbot? These are going to be new challenges offering new opportunities.
  • AI policing – However responsible we are going to be in building AI led solutions, there will be rogue elements as machines learn to learn. There will be a new role in finding these rogue elements/ bots/ intelligent machines and blocking them from causing harm to society.

There are numerous opportunities that AI presents us with, for improving our day-to-day lives and helping organizations build intelligent systems that will improve efficiency, boost the top-line and enhance the customer experience. The key for us as individuals is to be curious and approach these with open minds. We need to be ready to embrace these changes as generations before us did with industrial & agricultural automation. If we reskill ourselves to adopt new ways of doing things, there are opportunities that the AI-driven world will offer us. And if we understand this world well, we can fulfil our obligation to build ‘Responsible AI’ by baby-sitting these new machines and imparting the right behaviours to them. It’s time to embrace the possibilities!

- By Madhusudhan KM, Senior Vice President – Chief Technology Officer

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