Technology Special: What Is AI?
What is AI?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a wide-rangi...
We take a deeper look at what is meant by artificial intelligence, its uses and how it works.
What is AI?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a wide-ranging branch of computer science concerned with building smart machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. AI is an interdisciplinary science with multiple approaches, but advancements in machine learning and deep learning are creating a paradigm shift in virtually every sector of the tech industry.
The different types of AI:
At a very high level, artificial intelligence can be split into two broad types: narrow AI and general AI.
Narrow AI - Narrow AI is what we see all around us in computers today: intelligent systems that have been taught or learned how to carry out specific tasks without being explicitly programmed how to do so. This type of machine intelligence is evident in the speech and language recognition of the Siri virtual assistant on the Apple iPhone, in the vision-recognition systems on self-driving cars, in the recommendation engines that suggest products you might like based on what you bought in the past. Unlike humans, these systems can only learn or be taught how to do specific tasks, which is why they are called narrow AI.
There are a vast number of emerging applications for narrow AI: interpreting video feeds from drones carrying out visual inspections of infrastructure such as oil pipelines, organizing personal and business calendars, responding to simple customer-service queries, coordinating with other intelligent systems to carry out tasks like booking a hotel at a suitable time and location, helping radiologists to spot potential tumors in X-rays, flagging inappropriate content online, detecting wear and tear in elevators from data gathered by IoT devices, and so much more.
General AI - Artificial general intelligence is very different, and is the type of adaptable intellect found in humans, a flexible form of intelligence capable of learning how to carry out vastly different tasks, anything from haircutting to building spreadsheets, or to reason about a wide variety of topics based on its accumulated experience.
What is machine learning?
Machine Learning is the science of getting computers to learn and act like humans do, and improve their learning over time in autonomous fashion, by feeding them data and information in the form of observations and real-world interactions.
One of the most common mistakes among machine learning beginners is testing training data successfully and having the illusion of success; Domingo (and others) emphasize the importance of keeping some of the data set separate when testing models, and only using that reserved data to test a chosen model, followed by learning on the whole data set.
In terms of purpose, machine learning is not an end or a solution in and of itself. Furthermore, attempting to use it as a blanket solution.
Check out some of our articles on artificial intelligence:
AI Shows its Value; Governments Must Unleash its Potential
2020 has revealed just how far AI technology has come as it achieves fresh milestones in the fight against Covid-19. Google’s DeepMind helped predict the protein structure of the virus; AI-drive infectious disease tracker BlueDot spotted the novel coronavirus nine days before the World Health Organisation (WHO) first sounded the alarm. Just a decade ago, these feats were unfathomable.
Yet, we have only just scratched the surface of AI’s full potential. And it can’t be left to develop on its own. Governments must do more to put structures in place to advance the responsible growth of AI. They have a dual responsibility: fostering environments that enable innovation while ensuring the wider ethical and social implications are considered.
It is this balance that we are trying to achieve in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to ensure government accelerates, rather than hinders, the development of AI. Just as every economy is transitioning at the moment, we see innovation as being vital to realising our vision for a post-oil economy. Our work in his space has highlighted three barriers in the government approach when it comes to realising AI’s potential.
First, addressing the issue of ignorance
While much time is dedicated to talking about the importance of AI, there simply isn’t enough understanding of where it’s useful and where it isn’t. There are a lot of challenges to rolling out AI technologies, both practically and ethically. However, those enacting the policies too often don’t fully understand the technology and its implications.
The Emirates is not exempt from this ignorance, but it is an issue we have been trying to address. Over the last few years, we have been running an AI diploma in partnership with Oxford University, teaching government officials the ethical implications of AI deployment. Our ambition is for every government ministry to have a diploma graduate, as it is essential to ensure policy decision-making is informed.
Second, moving away from the theoretical
While this grounding in the moral implications of AI is critical, it is important to go beyond the theoretical. It is vital that experimentation in AI is allowed to happen for its own sake and not let ethical problems stymie innovations that don’t yet exist. Indeed, many of these concerns – while well-founded – are born out in the practical deployment of these end-use cases and can’t be meaningfully discussed on paper.
If you take facial recognition as an example, looking at this issue in abstract quickly leads to discussions over privacy concerns with potential surveillance and intrusion by private companies or authorities’ regimes.
But what about the more specific issue of computer vision? Although part of the same field, the same moral quandaries do not arise, and the technology is already bearing fruit. In 2018, we developed an algorithmic solution that can be used in the detection and diagnosis of tuberculosis from chest X-rays. You can upload any image of a chest X-ray, and the system will identify if a person has the disease. Laws and regulations must be tailored to unique use-cases of AI, rather than lumping disparate fields together.
To create this culture that encourages experimentation, we launched the RegLab. It provides a safe and flexible legislation ecosystem to supports the utilisation of future technologies. This means we can actually see AI in practice before determining appropriate regulation, not the other way around. Regulation is vital to cap any unintended negative consequences of AI, but it should never be at the expense of innovation.
Finally, understanding the knock-on effects of AI
There needs to be a deeper, more nuanced understanding of AI’s wider impact. It is too easy to think the economic benefits and efficiency gains of AI must also come with negative social implications, particularly concern over job loss.
But with the right long-term government planning, it’s possible to have one without the other; to maximise the benefits and mitigate potential downsides. If people are appropriately trained in how to use or understand AI, the result is a future workforce capable of working alongside these technologies for the better – just as computers complement most people’s work today.
We’ve to start this training as soon as possible in the Emirates. Through our Ministry of Education, we have rolled out an education programme to start teaching children about AI as young as five years old. This includes coding skills and ethics, and we are carrying this right through to higher education with the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence set to welcome its first cohort in January. We hope to create future generations of talent that can work in harmony with AI for the betterment of society, not the detriment.
AI will inevitably become more pervasive in society, digitisation will continue in the wake of the pandemic, and in time we will see AI’s prominence grow. But governments have a responsibility to society to ensure that this growth is matched with the appropriate understanding of AI’s impacts. We must separate the hype from the practical solutions, and we must rigorously interrogate AI deployment and ensure that it used to enhance our existence. If governments can overcome these challenges and create the environments for AI to flourish, then we have a very exciting future ahead of us.