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Artificial Intelligence: an evolving landscape

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) landscape has gone from a postulated concept in the 1950s – an idea brought to life by Marvin Minsky, Allen Newell, Herbert A. Simon and John McCarthy – to a science fiction favourite to a burgeoning business reality. Alongside the spheres of virtual and augmented reality, the cloud and big data, AI has started to come into its literal own, creating solutions that are both wildly intelligent and stunningly stupid. While few AI creations are at the standard of the human mind, many are transforming business and society.

In the healthcare industry, AI is making impressive inroads into research and diagnosis. The concept of deep learning is being used by research teams to uncover how AI can impact on improved diagnosis, surgery techniques and healthcare support, while the idea of AI as a healthcare phenomenon has seen the healthcare startup sector surge by 160% over the past five years. One of the most impressive of these is Imagia, a healthcare startup that uses AI to predict cancer patient outcomes for improved personalised care. Another is BenevolentAI, a startup using AI to reduce time to market for revolutionary medications.

Of course, AI isn’t restricted to the healthcare sector. There have been advances across almost every field from finance to agriculture to crime. AI investment has seen startups look at using AI and machine learning to highlight patterns in cyber-criminal behaviour and highlight potential fraud, to build customer relationships and even analyse content online.

It isn’t just the startup and enthusiastic entrepreneur that’s leaping into the realm of AI with both feet. At Oracle OpenWorld, the company revealed a variety of AI-related projects that ranged from applications using AI to integrating it into existing solutions. Apple’s acquisition of Regaind is about to see the company flex its AI muscles in photo personalisation, Microsoft has pushed AI into almost every corner of its business applications and is now focusing on healthcare, IBM has been leading the way in AI developments so successfully it is almost as close to AI as Hoover is to vacuum cleaner, and Google is committed to creating the ultimate AI faster than anyone else. This is to just name a few.

That said, AI still isn’t of the calibre that most businesses need, nor that the consumer has come to expect. It is just…useful. Siri gets it more wrong than right and the new Google AI that has an IQ twice the size of Siri is still nowhere near as smart as the average six-year-old child.  Chatbots are slowly showing signs of becoming the next best thing to the call centre agent, and many solutions are extraordinary in their ability to fool the average person. In fact, a recent survey by PwC found that 31% of those users who had engaged with a chatbot weren’t sure if they had just finished a conversation with a person or a machine. Impressive stuff.

However, AI has its fair share of detractors. Many feel that people are boldly surging ahead to see who can do the most with the technology without considering the consequences. One of the most well-known and outspoken of these is Elon Musk, a serial entrepreneur and inventor whose race to space is partly fuelled by his desire to be ready for when the machines take control. SpaceX is his dream of interplanetary colonization, but it is also the platform from which he warns that AI needs to be moderated and that people need to be cautious. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, Demis Hassabis, Deep Mind, and John Giannandrea, Head of Google AI, don’t share his fears.

Today, of course, there is little to fear in the ability of AI. It hasn’t got to the point where it can learn as humans do, nor are the capabilities as extensive as they need to be in order for true AI domination to be a concern. Perhaps humanity should approach AI with a modicum of common sense. Competition and determination are the cornerstones of innovation, but with some cults already forming around the concept of an AI god, these qualities need to remain controlled by moderation and forward thinking.

Until next time, thank you for your continued support of First Technology.

Warm Regards

Johan de Villiers Managing Director


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