Are many companies put off adopting AI due to its name and dystopian image?

There is no doubt that one of the most exciting technologies around at present is Artificial Intelligence, or AI for short. During 2017 it made headlines around the globe for its potential to revolutionise almost every industry. From healthcare to manufacturing, from transportation to agriculture, AI is finding a niche to improve speed, efficiency, quality and performance. What’s not to like?

With any new technology there is always a downside, and with AI one that is causing the greatest concern is that it may lead to the loss of many jobs, millions in fact, as AI has the potential to undertake certain work far faster and with greater accuracy than its human counterparts.

AI is also being heralded as the start point from where armies of autonomous killer robots will emerge. Creating vast armies of unrelenting machines whose only purpose is to fulfil their programmatic obligations.

Will we see these, or other such doomsday scenarios unfold? That’s difficult to say, but it does appear that AI is getting a bad name for itself, one that is perhaps not truly justified. So what if its name was changed, would the adoption of AI into businesses be seen in a more favourable light?

When the term ‘artificial’ is used, its immediate connotations is that of replacement, and replacement scares people. What AI is actually going to do is extend our capabilities and support us in undertaking tasks that we are not very good at. Tasks where we get tired or are highly repetitive, or ones that require checking thousands of images, documents or files, where a human may miss a tiny detail because they were having an off day.

If we could replace ‘artificial’ with ‘augmented’ and thus AI becomes ‘augmented intelligence’ then understanding how it is here to extend our capabilities, as opposed to replacing them, becomes a very different proposition.

IBM Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty, during an interview with Bloomberg Business Week in the later part of 2017, when asked about the fear-mongering surrounding AI stated “I would have preferred augmented intelligence. It’s the idea that each of us are going to need help on all important decisions”

And that is the key, we are going to need help. There is no escaping the fact that over the last decade data creation and analysis has exploded. The rise of Big Data, of smartphones, of wearable technology, of IoT, has fuelled the generation of datasets of such magnitude that superlatives for how they compare in size to the contents of the complete Encyclopedia Britannica are impossible to make.

As this data growth has occurred, analysing it, mining it and generating fast and accurate analysis is impossible for a human to do. The often quoted example is that of medical scan images. These images have increased exponentially in generation and resolution in the last few years. Leading them to be used for early-stage diagnosis of the world’s most challenging diseases. AI, in the ‘augmented sense’ scans them and highlights areas of concern that do not create a diagnosis, but suggests to their human expert that they should be studied in more detail. The ‘augmentation’ of the skill set reduces the workload by a margin such that a greater number of people can obtain the scan in the first place, leading to more chances of catching medial issues early and preventing them from developing further.

Other such examples of augmentation can be found in agricultural crop management where pesticides or fertilisers are only applied to individual plants that need them, as opposed to the entire crop. Leading to fewer pesticides. Does this take away skills of a farmer? No. But it will increase his yield, whilst reducing his cost. That is a clear case of augmented intelligence.

There is a huge potential in AI, but it is not one to be feared. It is one to be embraced and utilised to extend, not replace our abilities. All it needs is a name change.

SCC is assisting companies adopt AI technologies through its dedicated AI Practice.

Further Reading

IBM Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty. Interview by Bloomberg Business Week

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