One of the most common statements you hear today is ‘We are living in a digitalized world’. But are you actually aware of what ‘digitalized’ entails and the implications it has? Digitalization is led by developments of so called ‘Deep-tech’ — disruptive technologies. Examples of such are IoT (Internet of Things) and AI (Artificial Intelligence). The former is easier for everyone to understand as its name is self-explanatory: the connectivity of ‘things’ (smart phones/TVs/computers etc.) through the internet. Its work is visible and easily implemented. Artificial Intelligence on the other hand, is much more incomprehensible for non-experts.
When it comes to technical terms and concepts such as AI, definitions are fundamental especially to make non-experts and the entire society truly comprehend what it is about. I was first properly introduced to AI by a great professor during my Master’s degree, who started the first lecture by underlining how one of the most common definitions of AI given by Marvin Minsky (pioneer in AI research): “the science of making machines do things that would require intelligence if done by men” is innately flawed as it contains one of the terms you are trying to define, in it: ‘intelligence’.
So how can we more directly and easily explain what AI is? In very simple words, it is the ability of machines, which are trained by humans, to mimic and exhibit human-like behaviour. AI is also an extremely invasive technology which silently infiltrated our lives without us properly being aware of it or its implications. And then all of a sudden, accidents such as the scandal of Cambridge Analytica occur which introduce people to the power and magnitude of ‘Artificial Intelligence’.
This lack of information regarding what AI is and people’s awareness of it has led to it being mostly feared by society. The threats posed by AI are beyond imaginable, but so is its positive potential. What is often published and most known to society and non-experts, is the former. The negative impacts of AI such as its ability to create fake news, its algorithmic biases born from human prejudice, and its innate privacy invasion given the constant tracking of our activities and conversations through any electronic device we own, is indeed, scary.
At the same time however, prior to being properly introduced to AI, I feel that the negative effects of it were what most sources fed to me. For example, the first time I introduced my mother to AI was in a context of how it can help sustainable development, and after a few hours of her doing her own research, she came back to me expressing her concerns about it, due to what she had read regarding its negative effects.
Try mentioning AI to a non-expert, and most likely the first thoughts that will come to their mind will be ‘Privacy’, ‘Safety’ and ‘Bias’. But what do all these terms have in common? A human being behind it. AI has an aura around it that it is more powerful than us and therefore scares us. What must not be forgotten however, is that humans are the creators of AI, of its privacy invasion, of it not being safe and of the bias they incorporate in its algorithms. As such, the one big concern society should have about AI is not AI itself, but rather who creates and uses it. It is indeed a powerful tool which like any other, can be misused by people with wrong intentions and can also be created in such ways that yield negative outcomes.
2. Using Artificial Intelligence to detect COVID-19
3. Real vs Fake Tweet Detection using a BERT Transformer Model in few lines of code
4. Machine Learning System Design
If used appropriately however, AI can largely benefit us. This is mainly due to its ability to accelerate processes, increase their efficiency, reach locations that humans cannot and thus lead to unimaginable discoveries. If any of you have seen the movie ‘Spotlight’, what becomes clear is the advantages that AI could have brought had the technology been there. The Spotlight team of journalists spent months manually gathering data from old archives, books, searching in libraries and so on. Had that data all been electronically stored, an algorithm could have easily detected the patterns of priests on leave they were trying to decipher and come to the tragic conclusion of cases of paedophilia amongst priests, sooner. The advancements in medicine due to AI have also been essential. For example, did you know that a computer system can detect 50 different eye diseases and recommend the right treatment to 94% accuracy? Of course, when it’s about medicine, ‘94%’ isn’t enough as you can’t risk giving humans the wrong treatment. However, this shows the potential that AI has, and as it advances it will lead to even greater ones.
The last example I’ll give you is a very relevant one. During this global pandemic, communication about COVID-19 cases across regions and countries globally was essential to monitor trends and patterns. The amount of data that was entered by medical experts all over the world would have been overwhelming for humans alone to process. AI, however, allowed for this process to be fast, efficient, and allow for instant communication about countries’ situations as well as constantly keeping society up to date with the latest news of the situation.
Many of you must be thinking about the numerous fake news that were at the same time being created thanks to AI during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no denying this, but there is also the need to underline that AI can also be used to detect fake news. Moreover, with the blurring of lines of news mediums, one must always remember to question the information they read, especially where they read it from. Many times a source that claims to be a legitimate newspaper is shared on social media such as facebook, and turns out to be fake news.
To conclude, I’m not here to say that AI is great and has no flaws. What I am here to do though is to give a more holistic and simple description of what AI is to society as a whole. What I believe AI urges us to do is to be more attentive, more careful and aware of the type of information we use, where we share online, and where we read it. This is however what should already be happening ever since the introduction of big data. I was once stopped on the streets in London by a couple of journalists who asked me what I thought we should do to make sure our data is secure online. To that I answered that it is impossible to ensure security of data on the web as we now live in an era which runs on technology and there is no going back from it. It is thus about being smart regarding the type of information you disclose and where you disclose it. As a summary, it is about adapting to a new normal which calls for increased awareness in order to yield a better future.