The age of AI

Digital World Blog

From smart speaker systems to autonomous driving, androids and drones, Artificial Intelligence – AI – appears to be everywhere. But this is just the beginning of the AI revolution, as the debates at ITU Telecom World 2018 will explore.

At heart, AI is simply a machine programmed to make sense of data on a scale humans can’t deal with.  It is the king of the algorithm, a highly intelligent machine capable of learning from experiences and producing logical conclusions based on input. As part of the digital technology connecting people, things and machines on a big data platform, it can enable solutions saving time, energy and lives, opening up opportunities as yet undreamt of.

AI is able to unlock scale and opportunity to deal with the grand challenges facing the world today, from ageing populations to sustainable urban living, access to food, healthcare, water and education, reducing poverty and increasing gender equality. Physical AI has the potential to free humans from mundane, routine tasks, allowing them to concentrate on higher-end work and releasing creative potential.

In emerging markets and smart cities alike, AI can help overcome natural limitations to growth such as geographic size or lack of natural resources, creating new markets and new value, rather than merely improving on existing models.

Improvements on current models is, however, where AI will first be in evidence, leading to significant cost savings, increased productivity, lower production cycles and improved back end or internal processes.

In the telco industry itself, AI will accelerate the evolution of network operator infrastructure into intelligent networks able to offer smarter, faster, tailored and more scalable services.

In the financial services sector, for example, AI can reduce the hundreds of thousands of hours needed to carry out regulatory compliance to a matter of seconds; or the time, effort and investment necessary for a mortgage to a few minutes. New financial services may include mass market personalised services, opening an enormous market of lower earners, or microfinancing for the unbanked. In call centres across a range of sectors, AI can work alongside humans analysing complex data sets in parallel to the human customer-facing contact, or take calls as a co-worker as far as possible before passing on to human expertise.

In all cases, AI is a tool to augment human abilities rather than replace them. It is therefore only as good as the person inputting information and parameters into its system.

Ensuring that AI is provided with data in a way that does not reflect and perpetuate inherent bias, unconscious or not, is therefore of great importance. We need to be aware of, and work to avoid, replication of existing divides and inequalities on gender, race, geography, the urban/rural split, access to education, investment in infrastructure, the availability of talent, the provision of adequate cyber security. The danger is that AI will otherwise prolong or deepen these divides, limiting its benefits to the developed world.

Providing open public data and open APIs to allow private companies and individual developers to create solutions for public and commercial services is key to democratising AI – and fast-tracking its deployment. This means balancing access to large datasets to improve quality of life against data protection, privacy and security issues.

Preparation– and education – is critical. The international community, government, businesses and individuals should be as ready as possible for the seismic changes that the widespread adoption and deployment of AI will bring with it.

The biggest of these is the transformation of the current labour market. It is estimated that up to 75% of all jobs will be impacted by AI over the next ten years – not only routine, low-skilled jobs, but also traditional blue collar sectors such as journalism, law or financial services. Productivity and revenue should rise as costs are cut, but the societal disruption will be enormous.

Standardization is critical to enable AI to function in a multi-vendor ecosystem environment, but is complicated by the fact that AI is an active machine, learning in real time with real data. AI is often invisible, raising issues of transparency and accountability; international codes of conduct or frameworks are an important first step towards regulation.

The deployment and impact of AI will be central to debates in the Forum at ITU Telecom World 2018 – a neutral platform for key stakeholders from government, industry and academia to come together, share knowledge, explore the key issues, and make real progress.

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