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Recent reports about the dangers of artificial intelligence (AI) have painted a dark picture of the future. According to some of the leading thinkers in the technology and science arenas, the very machines that serve such a fundamental part of our daily needs today could one day subject us to slavery and even extinction. Considering how pervasive technology has become, and how it is set to become even more so under the new wave of connected devices and automated systems, it’s an important discussion to have.
Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk late last year called artificial intelligence “our biggest existential threat” and made a donation of $10 million to the Future of Life Institute (FLI), which will run a global research program aimed at keeping AI “beneficial to humanity.” In a recent interview, Bill Gates echoed these concerns, saying he is “concerned” about machine super-intelligence.
More ominously, Professor Stephen Hawking, arguably the most respected thinker alive today, said the development of full artificial intelligence “could spell the end of the human race.”
However, the benefits of AI are hard to ignore. Hawking, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), uses AI to communicate. Google is piloting self-driving cars that rely on a form of AI that enable them to make split-second decisions without human intervention. AI – at least a basic form thereof – is also being used in fields such as marketing to automate some of the processes traditionally associated with the job, and in health care to improve and personalise the care patients receive.
One of the key technologies used by my team is machine learning, a fundamental building block of AI. Machine learning is the science of developing algorithms that can learn from the data it processes. Machine learning doesn’t necessarily wait for instruction on what to do next, instead relying on a model to make predictions and decisions automatically.
To mitigate any fears that customers and other stakeholders may have about potential pitfalls around machine learning, we employ a dual process of “co-discovery” and “co-creation”. During the co-discovery phase, we partner with organisations across a range of industries to help identify and overcome their unique technological challenges. This partnership is evolved during the development phase into a process of co-creation, where we work closely with our clients to develop solutions that are built on our expertise in machine learning and delivers to their unique organisational and technological needs.
By taking this partnership approach, the risks are shared, and both parties – the client and ourselves – get an opportunity to analyse the outputs for any concerns, and to interrogate those concerns so that a suitable solution can be found.
While the doomsday picture of rampant AI soldiers running amok is great fodder for Hollywood fantasy movies, we believe that it’s just that – fantasy. The benefits of machine learning to all aspects of our lives are too great to ignore. Companies should look for technology partners that recognise the potential dangers of machine learning, and are willing to jointly work toward a solution that delivers true organisational value without putting anyone at risk.