CIO Folder: AI is simple — it lacks intuition and imagination

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11 June 2018 | 0

The advance of AI continues with some pace —  possibly outrun by the collective imagination of film makers. The film of that title (A.I. Artificial Intelligence) was issued in 2001, featuring a robotic boy who wished to be ‘real’ so he can regain the love of his human mother. A less sentimental take is that of Ex Machina, featuring Alicia Vikander as an attractive autonomous ‘female’ robot which eventually rebels against her creator and ‘owner’.

These movies are based on the fantasy that human-like robots with artificial intelligence are possible, indeed only years away. We doubt that. Robots are computer-powered and it is a leap — a giant leap — for computers to develop feelings, sensations, emotions, intuition and all of qualities that make a human being. There is a distinct possibility that robots/androids with AI will become autonomous, self-regulating and indeed self-replicating. But they will always be governed by programming. That field will undoubtedly be adapted to machine learning and indeed machine learning from experience, analysing errors and re-programming to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

“There is a distinct possibility that robots/androids with AI will become autonomous, self-regulating and indeed self-replicating. But they will always be governed by programming”

But AI with the characteristics — the defining characteristics — of humanity are logically impossible. However, convincing the masquerade, like Westworld and other fiction, there will a gulf between humans and AI. In certain respects, indeed in many respects, the ‘intelligent’ performance may outstrip humans — faster complex calculations, for example, and faster reactions/actions as a result. AI may very well prove to be superior to human intelligence in many areas. Indeed, we may use AI instrumentation — even implants — that augment our human brains. But that does not mean that a robot/android can ever be the same as human intelligence and personality. IT may be complemented by II — Intuition and Imagination — those utterly human traits and talents.

Convincing role
The most convincing film character representing AI is clearly HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. For a start, it is not an android or even mobile, but represented as a synthetic voice. The film is now 50 years old and the concepts are as realistic as ever. Especially HAL. Full name HAL 9000, this is a Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer that controls the ship, the environment, all the systems and, ultimately, the crew and passengers. The ‘sentient’ computer eventually develops impairments, which is what we can perhaps expect of robots and AI without human supervision and occasional re-programming — or simple updates. “I am completely operational and all my circuits are functioning perfectly” is a well-known quotation* and ironically revealing the true nature of AI.

On the other hand, all CIOs should pay attention — and probably are — to the advances in AI and machine learning. It is in many ways it is the next generation and future of computing and will profoundly influence business development and even human society. Think of the clever things AI will enable us humans to do, from voice recognition by tame and useful robots around the house to new autonomous weapons of war — not so benevolent. Every aspect of human and social activity will be impacted by AI. Largely it will mean progress, with the odd rallentando. Think of our experience globally of computer failures and software glitches, data theft and scams, hacking by amateurs, pros and state espionage teams with limitless funding. Cyberwarfare is one inevitable aspect of the future and it will not be bloodless.

But business and society are our concerns — and that of Irish CIOs — and the imminent pervasiveness of AI has to influence our thinking, planning and investment. Like computing from its inception, the choices are to be ahead or on the curve, to be just behind it or to wait until the new technology has settled down and adopt the second generation. It does not really matter. Enterprises tend to make decisions as their position in the market demands, or as their finances allow.

The arts of analysis applied to data have developed in many ways. The trend is to have analytics teams combining the strengths of specialist domain knowledge, statistics and mathematics and experience in analysing data. Analytics is not like mathematics, a neutral area of knowledge. It is an applied science, with more than a touch of art. Knowledge and experience of the domain, the sector or line of business, is essential to the value and relevance of analytics. Reminds of the (possibly mythical) revelation of an expensive early investment in retailing analytics that 91% of disposable nappies are bought by women aged 24 — 34. Crikey, who would have guessed that?

Analytics uses data mining and combines mathematical/statistical and IT methodologies. But the briefs and the questions to be asked should be agreed by a knowledgeable and informed team to deliver significant results. That is the ‘human’ aspect. After that, any technology that will contribute may be used — AI or machine learning, rapid processing, historic or third party data, IoT data is increasingly relevant and machine vision is coming up on the inside rail. It will complement and augment our human intelligence and enable us to make more rapid progress in business, science and research, healthcare, education, public administration and other useful fields. It will also contribute to entertainment — from video to gambling — and domestic and personal applications including house and appliance management and disability assistance across a wide range.

Those good things will be paralleled by AI applied to crime, warfare and politics. The Cambridge Analytica scandal and the manipulation of social media has not gone away, you know.

In business, the progression of AI and machine learning will enable two major lines of advance and development: faster computing and automated processes. Sounds simple. But AI will enhance the value of our engineering development in contributing the advances in chip power, memory modules and miniaturisation. As always, what was high-end computing in a previous generation becomes commonplace. That will increase the speeds of smart networks, from telecommunications and the Internet to data centre links and on-premises networking.

But the real deal is automation. This column’s imagination — not to mention the collective expertise of IT gurus — has barely grasped the almost infinite universe of automation. The potential spans autonomous vehicles (land, sea, air and triphibious), industrial or business processes including the most sophisticated financial ones, and state agencies and government.

But we have to be wary. Everyone knows that invisible or closed systems have their perils — but we continue to take electronic crimes or glitches in our stride. In Ireland we continue to have paper voting in response to the failed e-voting machines. Yet we fall for web scams every day. No personal data theft, however large, has really impacted on the consumer world. Multimillion frauds have made the headlines, yet to the ordinary citizen on ordinary earnings it is the stuff of fiction.

AI Automation (AIA?) will compound the threats. The more powerful the technology the more dangerous as the counter-technology will be equally capable. The reason states and military and intelligence and financial institutions are ahead of their enemies (usually) is that they lead and invest and their opponents react. But in a world of AI automation, the threats are literally autonomous and self-perpetuating. Think of ‘logic bombs’, malware that remains dormant until triggered by some event or string of code. When AI is in charge of nuclear reactors, power stations, aviation and public transport — not to mention weapons of war — the same threat is multiplied. The dangers are extended beyond the computers and data to human life.

But we persevere and hope. AI can be turned against threats as well and there is a — faint — possibility that its power will protect us as well as running tomorrow’s world.


*  Your humble columnist confesses that this was the WAV file played at every successful boot-up through successive generations of PCs — reinstated last month.



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