AI is undoubtedly one of the hottest technologies of our time, and it’s understandably received huge amounts of attention, both in terms of what it could potentially achieve, and also identifying and mitigating the risks associated with the technology.
Despite this huge amount of interest, knowledge of the technology remains low. A recent report from the Brookings Institute revealed that just 17% of executives are familiar with AI technologies. Sure, they understood it was big, but quite what the implications were for their business most could not say. The report aims to fill in some of those blanks.
What can AI do?
First things first, the report attempts to give a realistic picture of what AI can, and cannot do. It’s a worthwhile reminder that AI is a long way from the ‘thinking’ machines that so many supporters believe it to be.
“Artificial intelligence algorithms are designed to make decisions, often using real-time data,” the authors say. “They are unlike passive machines that are capable only of mechanical or predetermined responses.”
In a basic sense, it’s using a lot of data to train the algorithms to spot patterns, then making sure it has a lot of data upon which it can make incredibly fast inferences in practice. Where adaptability comes in isn’t the ability for the algorithms to apply themselves in fresh ways independently, but to constantly evolve their knowledge base in response to feedback.
The report then goes on to highlight some of the ways AI is being used today, in industries ranging from financial services to healthcare.
It also covers the various ethical and legal issues surrounding AI at the moment, and the developments being undertaken around the world to address them. It covers areas such as availability of data, biases in AI, ethics and transparency and legal liability.
Of course, none of these things are especially new, and indeed I’ve covered many of them (many times) on this blog before, but the intended audience is the uninformed executive, so some leeway has to be afforded.
Where things are perhaps more valuable, even for the well informed, are in the recommendations the authors make that they believe are crucial to ensure that AI technologies develop in a way that benefits the maximum number of people in society, with some of the main ones included below.
Spreading the benefits of AI
- Improving data access – For AI to thrive, it needs access to a lot of data that is open and well structured. The European Union are leading the way in ensuring that public data is exactly that, but there are opportunities in the rest of the world.
- Increase government investment in AI – Which is broadly in line with recent news that the UK government is investing heavily in the technology.
- Promote workforce development – This is a topic that has been covered an awful lot, both in terms of helping those whose job is disrupted by technology to adapt, and to give employees the skills to work effectively alongside AI, and indeed to develop it in the first place.
“The world is on the cusp of revolutionizing many sectors through artificial intelligence and data analytics,” the authors conclude. “There already are significant deployments in finance, national security, health care, criminal justice, transportation, and smart cities that have altered decisionmaking, business models, risk mitigation, and system performance.”
It seems at the moment that any organization with even the smallest stake in this issue are producing reports that all broadly say the same thing. Most advocate actions that someone else will have to take, and results in a lot of talk without anything really meaningful occurring.
Of course, I am possibly being a little unfair, and with so few senior leaders appearing to know much about AI, this kind of stream of content is needed to guide and inform a group that appear immune to attempts to date.