Is artificial intelligence taking over our lives? Can we cope with it? Or is our fear misplaced? t2oS explores
In the last few weeks, some of the global headlines grabbing our attention have been Apple poaching Google’s chief of artificial intelligence John Giannandrea, AI researchers boycotting a South Korean university over a possible partnership with a leading defence company which may lead to “killer robots” and how AI may make healthcare more accessible in India.
The concerns are not out of place. In Kochi to attend #FUTURE, a two-day conference to discuss ‘Towards a digital future’, organised by the government of Kerala in late March, we met and heard some global thought leaders on technological disruptions and artificial intelligence. It reminded us of what science fiction novelist William Gibson had observed: ‘The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.’
WHAT IS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE?
CEO, Innovation Incubator Inc
Historically, AI and computational intelligence were two separate threads. AI was more into expert systems and symbolic systems (intended to produce general, human-like intelligence in a machine), whereas computational intelligence (ability of a computer to learn a specific task from data) was about neural networks, genetic algorithms, chaos theory, fuzzy systems.
My second start-up was an AI company and it built tools that allowed people to use AI technologies to rapidly build models — geology, financial and other models. Then we would do predictions or generate new insights with these models. When you fast forward, different companies took different strategies. So IBM took the strategy of Watson, which was basically a Q&A strategy. Google and Amazon have a lot of data, so they focus on big learning strategies. But now people are realising that you need both.
AI will create jobs, but different kinds of jobs. We are seeing that data is in a mess. You see healthcare, real estate… data is in a mess because there is a lot of unstructured data and also because no standards are being followed. Because of this, a data scientist’s role is critical in making sense of data. But before they do that, you need curators who know the domain. Then you need people who understand algorithms.
The old world of IT is gone. The new world of IT — data, blockchain and so on — are becoming important. I see agriculture to be a huge, huge area. Then there is healthcare where there will be a massive impact. Also, there is a societal impact when we talk of agriculture and healthcare.
HOW DOES AI HELP?
Corporate vice-president, artificial intelligence & research, Microsoft
Seeing AI is an app that empowers the blind to sense the world and hear the world. It can recognise people. It can help you understand the environment. It can understand products. Amazingly, there are even people who watch TV using the Seeing AI app. This is one small example of how artificial intelligence can enhance the human ability and compensate for challenges we may have.
So how does AI really help? First, AI gives software the ability to interpret the meaning of data; interpret images, video, voice… it makes all of the data understandable in deep ways.
Second, it allows you to learn from vast amounts of data and form conclusions and understand what might happen in the future, so you can act.
Third, it allows you to interact with software in very natural ways; it allows computers to talk to you; it allows computers to take commands from you and do things for you.
AI is empowering the next billion and we have made several launches in India. We have applied AI to education, to healthcare, to citizen speech and to improve productivity in agriculture.
Let’s take the example of students. There are 250 million students enrolled in schools in India today and millions of students drop out every year. The government of Andhra Pradesh has taken a new approach to solve the problem. They implemented AI to find the probability a student would drop out of school.
Another example. Climate change is affecting millions of farmers in India. Can AI help improve their lives? We are now able to use data about the weather, local soil conditions and a number of things that affect crops to create great predictions. For example, when to sow groundnuts for the most yield and to compensate for potential variability in weather and still ensure farmers get healthy crop each season.
In the future, all software applications will be built like this — they will be on the cloud, all combining data and AI, and working with our mobile devices.
WILL I BE JOBLESS BECAUSE OF AI?
Katherine Dusak Miller distinguished service professor of finance at University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and former governor of RBI
With artificial intelligence, there is a lot of promise. There is also fear. Even as we see the promise of the future, we have to think of two important things. One, how is this going to affect society and how can society take advantage of it.
Even in the industrial world, there is a strong fear that people will not have the incomes to benefit from the bounties technology has to offer. We have already seen over the last 30 years or so, a steady loss of jobs… jobs that are routine. These are jobs that were typically in low-level assembly, those went first to countries with low-cost labour and increasingly our society is getting automated.
Even routine skilled jobs are being replaced because these can be done easily by a machine. What are left are non-routine skilled jobs, that is, job of a consultant, a lawyer, an engineer, a doctor… typically high-paying jobs. And non-routine unskilled jobs where the robots don’t have the perception or flexibility to replace humans: The job of a gardener, the job of a cook….
It is true that jobs in the middle have disappeared and the jobs at the extreme are what have remained. With advances of machine learning, AI and robotics, this is going to change further.
So what jobs can humans do in the next 10-15 years that are immune to threats? Clearly jobs that require high intelligence and creativity, but not all of us can be Einsteins.
The second set of jobs are those that require human empathy, like in nursing where having a caring person is helpful.
Third, and this is quite unfortunate, we humans don’t like to be waited upon by robots and we have a greater sense of importance if we are waited upon by people.
Where that leaves the average human being, like a professor? Will I be without a job? Yes, to some extent. If you have seen the talks around massive open online courses (MOOCs), these are classes that can be taught by superstar professors, so you don’t need the ordinary professor. The problem with MOOCs so far is that dropout rate has been huge. Some combination of MOOCs and local teachers — that may well be the combination that works. But for the professor, he or she can now have more time for creative writing and research.
Is the world going to get there soon? History suggests no. Ever since industrial revolution, there has been the fear of man getting replaced by machines. One place where the fear is reflected has to do with universal basic income, the historic antecedents for which can be traced to the ’60s when former US President Lyndon Johnson set up a committee to look at what would happen when humans are replaced by robots. What the committee proposed was universal basic income. We are still debating the topic because we still think that in the next 10-15 years we won’t have jobs.
Society has always found ways to adapt even if there is always a claim by technologists that this time it’s going to be different. That’s a source for hope. Another source: There is always hype around technology. We always think the future will come fast. Since the 1950s, scientists have been thinking AGI (artificial general intelligence) is coming. It’s always coming 15 years from now. Even today.
WILL AI LEAD TO PERSONALISATION?
Chief digital and innovation officer, Emirates Group
Automation will happen. A good friend of mine is an eye doctor and he has been doing surgeries for 30 years. I recently met him and he said he has been made redundant by a robot because robots don’t sneeze! What’s his new job? Programming the robot.
What is powering our insights about what customers want is artificial intelligence. You can have big data but you can use it only if you use artificial intelligence. Data alone means nothing. It’s the science of extracting information from it is what we are engaging in. If a person is engaged with fashion and is travelling to Hong Kong, our machine will automatically find a fashion show in that city. There is no loyalty left. So you have to deliver on user experience.
Spotify is recommending me the same song weeks in a row, even though I don’t like them. Consumer behaviour wants personalisation and personalisation will drive industries, including travel.
Every smartphone in the world is different because within 24 hours of its purchase, there is personalisation which happens in the form of apps one chooses. That’s also our vision for travel. It would be nice if you could buy an airline ticket and upon arrival an envelope containing the local currency and local SIM card is awaiting. It’s not about rewriting the software of your business model. It’s about rewriting the entire business model.
AI AROUND US
Apple’s personal assistant is a friendly voice-activated computer we interact with often.
Amazon’s creation listens to us and can decipher speech coming from anywhere in a room.
Elon Musk’s self-driving car has been in tough spots but make no mistake, this car is getting smarter.
Depending on what you watch, Netflix makes accurate predictions. What comes after House MD?!
The non-player characters in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor have memories of past interactions and variable objectives.
WHY AREN’T WE TALKING ABOUT UNEMPLOYMENT?
John Zwaanstra professor of international studies and of economics at Harvard University, and economic advisor to the chief minister of Kerala
In the last 10 years everybody would agree that there has been an immense pace of technological breakthrough and a huge amount of disruption in every sector. But if you look around advanced economies and ask what has happened to productivity, we are all talking about low productivity growth but we are not talking about job loss in general.
The unemployment level in the US is at four per cent. So it’s kind of curious that we are saying that there has been this immense growth in technology, which then means that it should show up as higher productivity growth, higher labour productivity. What we are grappling with now is low productivity growth. Globally we are seeing unemployment rates that are at a 40-year low. But in India the worry is what is going to happen not just because of technology but whether we are going to be able to create the kind of jobs that we need to.
There is no doubt that we need to create more jobs. There is no doubt that we need a lot more skill in India. There is no doubt that there is a need for lot more Make in India in all sectors. This is the right time to think of the right strategies. There is no reason to panic.
HOW DO I COPE WITH THE TECH INVASION?
Founder & CEO, BYJU’S —The Learning App
Some jobs will disappear, others will grow and jobs that don’t even exist today will become commonplace. This is why, the most important skill that will determine how successful an individual can be in the future is that of “learnability”. The need of the hour is to educate the youth to transform into a high-quality workforce.
It’s important for parents to understand that the right type of education will prepare their children for the undefined jobs of tomorrow. We will see a new range of jobs emerge. In fact, five years from now, over one-third of skills that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed.
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.