Our General Manager, Connon Daly, recently attended AI-Day in Auckland. He shares his thoughts after that event.

Few would deny that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to become a significant part of almost every industry over the next few decades. The questions business owners and managers often ask are: “what does it mean for my industry?”, “how fast is it going to happen?” and hopefully “how do we take advantage of this new technology?”

The AI-Day event hosted in Auckland was a showcase of local experts and some organisations attempting to progress and disrupt using AI.

My three key takeaways:

  • I wasn’t wowed by any of the technology on display
  • There was more interest in the data protection and ethical concerns around AI
  • There appears to be a broadening of what constitutes AI

What is AI?

AI could be classified as any computer program that attempts to take non-binary inputs (i.e. not “yes” or “no”) and interpret them well.

This means that since the early days of the internet we have been using AI technologies and didn’t know it. For example;

  • Ask Jeeves
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking
  • Even the terrible ISP voice recognition technologies form the 2000’s that never-ever worked

are all amazing AI tools!  My concern is that this is becoming a marketing ploy to target the ‘intrigued’ business manager or owner.

Whilst no cutting edge technology was on display, you don’t have to do a lot of research to see that there are impressive AI technologies out there that are developing at pace. An example of this is Googles ‘Duplex’ tech within its ‘AI Assistant’ which was recently launched in the US.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YaAFRirkfk)

There is a significant difference however between technology demos and technology that is in mainstream commercial use.

Privacy and Ethics

The privacy and ethics discussions were interesting and topical. Whilst a fair amount of it was not related to AI there was robust discussion around the failure of the AI at Facebook to stop the Christchurch Mosque attack video circulation and how valuable it would have been had it succeeded.

Additionally, there are real concerns around what data organisations need to obtain around demographics and personal information to allow their AI systems to be effective.  For example an AI insurance system trying to determine the risk profile of an individual will take a facial photo, obtain medical information (online via permission) and listen to the user speak.  It will then store all this information!  That is a far cry from a coffee and a chat with your local insurance broker.

The ethics of implementing these cutting edge technology systems is interesting. On one hand there are great concerns around rolling out this technology too early in the medical industry and risking lives (i.e. Theranos https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theranos).  On the other hand, millions of people have died because we didn’t have self-driving cars on the roads 20 years ago!

I need to give some additional credit to the conference. It did have some other interesting content. Here are some key points;

  • Education is going to be heavily influenced by AI and self-teaching will support children who are struggling or who are exceptional, better than our current teaching environment.
  • Digital Assistants & Chatbots were popular with several organisations showcasing their versions. This is likely to be one of the current AI techs that many businesses could subscribe to (although I’m aware that I personally never use a chatbot on a website).
  • Jobs won’t disappear (overall).  Although AI will disrupt certain industries, it will also create some. Expect to retrain.
  • Some of the providers were using Amazon Alexa /Google Home as the platform to interact with their AI. These systems are great at increasing the accessibility to all.

I will probably attend the event next year to see the progress. In the meantime, I’ll continue to sigh when Alexa can’t understand me.