Featured image by Raven Kelly Smith
I want you to imagine the future with me — you have an important project due, you’re in the midst of meetings, trying to teach your kid their multiplication tables, Googling that weird rash on your shin and coming up with creative interpretive ideas, and you forget one very important step: research. Luckily, according to the experts at the panel “Big Data & AI: SciFi vs. Everyday Applications” at SXSW Interactive 2016, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will soon be the key to help solve all these issues, simplifying your life.
Robots replaced blue collar jobs in the Industrial Revolution, and now it seems like white collar jobs are next. Apparently we can expect “data analyst” positions to become obsolete in the next five years. The three expert panelists claimed that AI was simply better at connecting the dots, and actually doing something with those results should be left to the humans.
— Phil Howard (@pnhoward) March 11, 2016
Kris Hammond, a “Narrative Scientist” and professor of computer science and journalism at Northwestern University, is working on a program that will analyze big data and deliver the results to you. No, not by graph or spreadsheet: AI instead will actually tell you a story with the data. He claimed that humans are far more inclined to engage with data if it resonates with them. As storytelling is an integral part of the human experience, they chose that method. This would improve company campaigns and meetings, allowing people to focus on actually creating a product with the data instead of focusing on the data collection itself.
Rayid Ghani, director of the Center for Data Science and Public Policy, was the more cautious voice on the panel, stressing that while customized ads and programming are great, researchers need to consider the ethical issues of AI. For example, in a hospital, doctors might not care why the AI gave them the specific answer to a question as long as the answers are consistently correct and reliable. Rayid stressed that it was the role of the researcher to always question the machine on how it reached those decisions. Otherwise we may fall into the trap of AI segregating certain groups of people when it comes to loan applications, political views, or even medical care.
Dr. Doug Lenat with Cycorp discussed how AI can be used to improve the human experience, from governments to households to education. For example, most AI learning devices focus on teaching students by being just a little bit smarter than the student, and constantly teaching them things just out of their range of knowledge. But we now know that humans, in fact, learn information more efficiently when they need to teach it to others. Dr. Lenat is working on AI that is always slightly more confused than the student, so the student is consequently learning and becoming more confident in their own knowledge through teaching their AI counterpart.
— silvia sella (@silviasella) March 11, 2016
So what if AI wasn’t simply restricted to classrooms, but caregivers to the elderly? Machines aren’t bored by listening to the same war story 56 times, and can also provide constant reminders to take medication, and even provide around the clock surveillance.
Overall, there is a very real fear that AI may replace jobs, but there’s also hope for it to fill roles that humans are limited or unable to, such as providing individualized tutoring for every student, personalized care for the elderly, or instant research analysis for busy professionals.