By Jonathan Miller, National Technology Network Manager – ICT
In recent months we have seen some pessimistic and fearful projections by powerful people of the capabilities of artificial intelligence. They have speculated that the developments of computers and robots could eventually create Terminator-like monsters that would turn on their creators.
I have a more positive view of developments: that artificial intelligence will instead, governed by checks and balances, offer real opportunities in such areas as medical advances, and will bring general time savings that will enhance humans’ lives and provide forward-thinking businesses with an edge.
Returning from an artificial intelligence conference on a plane recently I sat beside an oncologist who said that computers’ ability to interpret thousands of scans would improve the productivity of the diagnosis process, as computers would be able to work without succumbing to the fatigue that stops doctors working 24/7. That is just one example of the opportunities offered by the rapid development of artificial intelligence.
Artificial intelligence can be defined as using computers to mimic human intelligence or to give human-like insights. New Zealand already has quite a name for itself in this field.
In the 1990s, at the University of Waikato, a group of scientists developed a machine-learning platform called WEKA, which became a global sensation that has been downloaded millions of times and is acclaimed world-wide. More recently, at the University of Auckland, Mark Sagar is working on his ground-breaking Baby X project– which involves an uber-realistic avatar of a baby, and learns and responds to its environment like real a human.
Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence that has evolved into deep learning which is taking Silicon Valley by storm. Deep learning uses neural networks that mimic the way a human brain works to recognise patterns.
Deep learning is the leading trend in artificial intelligence. Andrew Ng of Baidu Research in Silicon Valley has recently highlighted how computer scientists four years ago had an ability to make a neural network with 10 million connections; now at his company they have made one with 100 billion connections! The leading IT companies in the world such as Google and Facebook know this development will be game-changing and they are buying up the small innovation companies working in this space.
Along with advances in medical diagnosis, new voice recognition technology will offer major breakthroughs. Increasingly in the future the interface with a computer will be by voice, not hands, and voice recognition will be increasingly accurate, as Siri is becoming on my iPhone.
How should New Zealand companies respond to these developments? I would say that at one level, most tech companies need to at least watch this space. There is no shortage of commentary on the internet; I quite like Shivon Zilis’ graphic of The Current State of Machine Intelligence for starters.
Companies whose value stems from large and complex data sets need to pay close attention to developments. They may also consider sending executives and leading R&D staff to international conferences on deep learning or artificial intelligence to stay in the lead. Certainly CTOs and data scientists should be staying up to date with information over the internet. Callaghan Innovation can put companies in touch with local experts in universities, and can connect them up through meetups that offer the chance to exchange ideas on the topic.
This field is changing at breath-taking speed. There is intense interest in Silicon Valley and there is an arms race among the global IT players. This creates an exciting environment for New Zealand entrepreneurs. For those with an innovative business model enabled by this type of technology, the opportunities are great.
Jonathan Miller is National Technology Network Manager of information and communications technologies for Callaghan Innovation.