Applied AI & AI in business /

You will never understand AI if you only try to understand AI

March 4 2019/6 min read

What the hell is AI, and why should you care? Most people around the world don’t know what artificial intelligence (AI) is, or how to relate to it. Unfortunately the same is true for many of the influential people who are currently active in discussions and work with topics where AI plays a significant part for our future.

Standing too close to see the elephant?

In general, people’s perception of what AI is, comes from movies and media, with doomsday scenarios and super-intelligent robots taking over the world. It’s not surprising, given the unprecedented speed of development in AI, and the hype that has come with it. Our inclination as a species to seek out familiar references as a method to understand new concepts does not really help either.

The realities of AI are very far from the general perception and discussion. AI, and in particular Deep Learning, is absolutely amazing at solving very very precise tasks. There are endless opportunities to improve the lives of people around the world, in all areas of society. There are millions of tasks where humans do an okay job today, but where we can use the cognitive power of AI to do greater things, solve new problems. Like finding and segmenting a brain tumor, skin cancer, optimizing industry and decreasing emissions, predicting weather patterns, autonomous cars that never crash, anticipate health needs. The list can be made endless.

When we operationalize AI technology on a broad scale, the positive impact on society will be enormous. Far greater than anything humanity has ever seen before. You should not only care, but you should go crazy with excitement about all the fantastic things the future holds in store.

So, why isn’t everyone crazy with excitement?

This area of change is currently dominated by AI experts who come from research, with a focus on algorithms and technological advancements, methods, and publishing of new findings. I personally work and interact with a lot of them. They are some of the smartest and most beautiful minds I have ever met. They are doing a fantastic job of uncovering new science, techniques, and methods to solve problems.

But, when asked to explain the topic of AI they often fail to convey what the future has in store, and how it will affect our lives. Instead, they focus on their field of expertise, the science. Not the end usage. This is not strange. Research is their driving force. But, these AI experts are regularly invited to business summits and political meetings to explain what AI is. They are also frequently asked to comment for articles by media, where journalists pick a quote here and there and try to cover the topic. Very often this results in someone on stage explaining the concept of convolutional layers to an audience who really want to know how it affects them, their lives and their businesses. The best analogy I have heard is if you were to see a car for the first time in your life, and went on to ask the question “what is that” whereupon the mechanic started to explain the concept of combustion engines. It probably wouldn’t make you super excited about taking that car for a drive. 

People outside of the academic world care about how their lives will be affected

Another great example is Professor Damian Borth from St Gallen University.

People outside of the academic world usually do not care about how things work. At the very least, they do not care about that as the first step in their process of learning. They care about how their lives will be affected. They need to understand how it will affect them on a personal level.

But, does everyone need this knowledge?

The short answer is yes. Currently, AI technology is being operationalized by a few large tech companies around the world and governments. This is happening faster than any technological shift humanity has ever seen before. For people all over the world to enjoy the positive change of scientific advancements, knowledge is the crucial key. Without knowledge and understanding, we cannot have fruitful discussions. Without knowledge, we cannot make informed decisions. Without that, the technology will not be made widely available for everyone across the world, in healthcare, education, infrastructure.

How to tell the AI story

We need to convey what the future holds in store for people for as many people as possible to understand what AI is. For individual persons in society. For you, me, our children, friends, siblings, colleagues, and neighbors.

In every ‘AI story’, there are five main chapters:

  1. The problem. The thing we want to solve; improve efficiency, predict something, find something.
  2. The data. The available data used to train an AI model.
  3. The AI model. When trained and deemed be ‘successful’, i.e. able to see patterns, come to conclusions and predict outcomes better than previous methods, or humans.
  4. The deployed AI model. When an AI model has been trained, it needs to be put into production, in a stable environment where it can be hosted, maintained, retrained, etc — but most importantly called upon by the actual products or services using the AI model. For instance a service for weather, traffic, or support for radiologists to segment cancer tumors faster and with higher accuracy.
  5. The effects. Caused by the AI model, and the service or product. For business, society, for people.

Currently, most stories are only told with chapter two and three, data and AI-model.

Unless we talk about the problem we want to solve, what service we need to build, and how they will affect people — people outside research and academia will not understand AI.

All major discussions about the future, regulations and ethics for AI, how society, business will be affected, are useless if you do not have all five chapters to base it on.

Next time you discuss AI, or invite an expert speaker, start from the end with chapter five. Ask the following questions: How will AI affect us? What problems can it solve? What services are needed to make it happen?

  • Kye Andersson

    Kye Andersson

    Head of Communication & Global Public Affairs

    Kye Andersson is the Head of Communications & Global public affairs at Peltarion and a Delegate of the Swedish AI Council.

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