A R T I F I C A L I N T E L L I G E N C E :: Ferenc Pongrácz

Since 2011, when IBM’s revolutionary supercomputer –named Watson after the founder of  the over a 100-year old old tech giant–won the quiz show Jeopardy!,Artificial Intelligence has become a hot topic again. Watson’s victory over the best ever human players not only resulted in strong press presence, but revitalized the research around AI that has been going on for decades.

According to Fortune.com equity funding in AI, related startups reached an all-time high in the last quarter of over 1 billion dollars. Since 2011, the investment in such startups exceeds 7.5 billion and more than 6 billion has been invested since 2014.

IBM itself created a new line of business and has invested $15 billion in Watson and what it calls data-analytics technology iover the course of a few years. One of the most promising results of the investments is the expert system called Watson Oncology advisor. Watson is capable of processing  25 million medical papers in about a week. In addition, it also scans the web for clinical trials that are open at other centers. By now, Watson can make a diagnosis and suggest therapy in case of certain cancer types in a level of high profile medical teams with decades of relevant experience.

There are multiple definitions for Artificial Intelligence. One of the interpretations is that machines are doing something that previously only human intellect could do. The definition of AI has been dynamically developing as widely used “commodity” technologies are falling out from the definition. Formerly optical character recognition was classified as an area of AI, but nowadays we treat it as a “business as usual” routine IT solution. Nowadays we call AI technologies like natural language processing or autonomous vehicles theapplication areas of which require systems that are capable for sensing, learning and problem solving.

The billions of dollars invested in the discipline are clear indicators of the high expectations towards an emerging technology that most probably will at least as much change change to our daily lives than the Personal Computer and the internet a few decades ago or smart phones more recently. The spread of the mentioned technologies has resulted in major changes in the economy and society. It is not a surprise that different business, academia or government players are expressing their opinions related to theseupcoming changes.

Best Practices

One of the latest improvements is that Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft has established a Partnership on AI “to study and formulate best practices on AI technologies, to advance the public’s understanding of AI, and to serve as an open platform for discussion and engagement about AI and its influences on people and society” as they write on the website of the newly established partnership.

The US government has also issued a document with the following title: Preparing for the future of artificial intelligence. According to the authors, while remarkable progress has been made on what is known as Narrow AI –which addresses specific application areas such as playing strategic games, language translation, self-driving vehicles, and image recognition–, the so called General AI will not be achieved for at least decades. In other words, machines can reach and exceed human capabilities in more and more specialized areas, but we do not expect machines to reach human capabilities in all cognitive areas in the near future.

The study proposes a list of recommendations in order to support innovation and protect the community on the same time. As they write in the conclusion of the report: “As the technology of AI continues to develop, practitioners must ensure that AI enabled systems are governable; that they are open, transparent, and understandable; that they canwork effectively with people; and that their operation will remain consistent with human values and aspirations.”

Automation and Autonomy

Automation is about machines doing a job that was done by humans before. Automation is not a new phenomenon and it is inquestion whether the current new wave of automaton is different to the trends we have been experiencing for centuries now since the first industrial revolution. Mihály Varga, Minister of National Economy of Hungary has even forecasted the number of jobs expected to disappear due to automation. Technology development on the other hand not only makes certain job roles unnecessary, but also creates new professions and demand for employment. The balance between old and new employment opportunities is not coming from itself though. The dynamically changing labor market requires new skills and adoption requires efforts from all players of the labor market.

Autonomy is about IT systems adopting to the circumstances without human control, just like in case of autonomous vehicles. This emerging domain raises long list of issues to solve from legal and ethical aspects.

Augmented Intelligence

Recently, IBM’s research unit also summarized its view in a paper titled ’Computing, cognition and the future of knowing – How humans and machines are forging a new age of understanding’. IBM’s approach is about Human-Machine Teaming that we often call Augmented Intelligence rather than Artificial Intelligence, when people are not replaced by machines, but supported in areas where they can better perform. IBM calls the new area of this advanced systems the area of cognitive computing. From chess to medical science, there are many examples showing that human expert teams supported by such technologies are more successful than machines without people or people without such advanced computing systems.

Everyone is invited to work with Watson

IBM strongly believes that humans and machines can make revolutionary breakthroughs in areas like medical science, ecology and education. Many components of the Watson product portfolio are publicly available for developers all over the world, what is more, the companyannounced a high profile contest with X-Prize to apply AI solutions for the public good. According to the call “IBM Watson AI XPRIZE is a $5 million competition, challenging teams globally to develop and demonstrate how humans can collaborate with powerful AI technologies to tackle the world’s grand challenges.” The race is still open -– registrations are accepted till mid-January next year.

The laws of robotics, the robots of law

The world of law could nor remain unattached either. Lawyers are already supported by more and more intelligent search engines and natural language processing algorithms when they need to look up a certain regulation, court practice or precedent. It is now possible to review thousands of pages according toparticular aspects by machines.To some extent,  modern systems are also capable to create legal documents without human interaction, and in the near future we can expect machines to support building negotiation strategies as well. On the other hand, law needs to regulate new technologies and its developers and users as well.

Isaac Asimov has published his famous laws of robotics in his short story Runaround back in 1942. What was science-fiction over seventy years ago has partially become reality and it seems that similar laws are indeed necessary in the world of more and more intelligent machines.

Ferenc Pongrácz
Business  Development  Executive
IBM  Southeast Europe