Artificial Intelligence: not just reality, it’s here to stay


Those working in the industry will know that rather than a future technology, AI is already fairly ubiquitous.

You can categorise AI into three distinct levels. Artificial Narrow Intelligence – or weak AI – is pretty commonplace today, whether that’s the digital assistant in your smartphone or the learning algorithms that are helping to monitor accounts for fraud. It specialises in one area, like playing a game.

The next step-up from this is Artificial General Intelligence – or strong AI. This is when a computer possesses the intelligence and thinking capabilities of a human.

The third level of AI is Artificial Super intelligence and represents, as you might expect, an artificial intelligence that far surpasses even the most bright of human minds.

Far from being the sole preserve of science fiction, AI has been one of 2016’s inescapable hot topics – and this remained the case at this year’s leg of Web Summit.

Room for debate

There’s a general consensus among my industry peers that AI has the potential to totally transform technology, culture and society. However, there are marked differences in opinion when it comes to whether it will do our human race more harm than good in the end.

Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have been vocal with their concerns. Both believe that AI (specifically strong AI) carries huge potential risks, many of which may be largely inconceivable to us today.

Though it’s distant at this point in time, there are fears that AI programmes will eventually develop a will of their own. Equally, there is an understandable concern for what might happen should these tools fall in the hands of dictators or authoritarian regimes with a disregard for human rights.

These kinds of discussion are as fascinating as they are important, but it’s also vital that we are open to the wealth of positive potential in AI.

There was a huge amount of technology on show at Web Summit to demonstrate how AI is already helping to cultivate business innovation and productivity.

The UK & Ireland has also seen success with a number of its own AI companies such as DeepMind (which grabbed headlines with AlphaGo earlier this year), confirming a place as one of the global leaders in this space.

Governing change

In addition to all of this, the UK Government has this month released its views on AI in a report weighing up the opportunities and implications for society and future governments.

The report echoes my own views that, if governed responsibly, AI has real potential to enable innovation and massively transform businesses, economies, and society as a whole.

Realising this won’t be without its challenges. Most notable is the challenge around the use of digital data and its governance.

Staying positive

The reality today is that forms of weak AI are delivering considerable benefit to businesses and citizens.

By helping organisations make sense of large volumes of data and aiding humans in interpreting and acting on these results, AI is already providing a productivity boost.

It’s helping keep our networks secure. By looking for patterns in Internet traffic to help us identify potential cyber threats. It’s also turning our data centres into intelligent time machines, arming businesses with insight that puts them ahead of the competition.

While the debate on how to govern AI will undoubtedly continue, as it quite rightly should, the events of the past few weeks have further convinced me that AI is here to stay.

We need to prepare for this intelligent future. The decision-making capabilities in AI need to tie to a human responsibility to ensure that its impact proves to be the positive one we know it can provide.


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