What Is AI?

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by Nicola Eschenburg, Global Head of Analyst Relations – Cyber Security at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence


I had the pleasure of being invited to join the Advisory Board of the Artificial Intelligence All Party Parliamentary Group (AI APPG) earlier this year. It was convened by Stephen Metcalfe (Conservative MP) and Lord Clement-Jones CBE (Liberal Democrat Peer) to consider the future and implications of artificial intelligence, and is expected to run for two years. This is the first in a blog series following the discussions of the Group.

The advent of electricity altered the shape of social engagement, redefining industry and work, and bought the Industrial Revolution into the home. Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) hold a similar potential to fundamentally reshape the way we work and live, to the extent that the role of the individual or even organisation could be eliminated. It’s not just hyperbole dubbing these changes the fourth industrial revolution; we have the potential to connect billions more people, dramatically improve efficiency in organisations, and enhance our day-to-day lives.

However, much of the operational activities of AI will involve data and decision-making, which will need strong and appropriate standards and regulations to maintain a level playing field and not breach ethics and privacy concerns. If governments fail to regulate these new technologies to capture their benefits for the greater good, if organisations fail to adapt, and if emerging security concerns aren’t addressed, there is a very real risk that inequality between social stratas could become even more entrenched.

To realise this promise and hopefully sidestep the pitfalls, the first question we asked ourselves at the AI APPG was perhaps the most fundamental: what is AI? It’s undoubtedly evolved from its early days enabling the growth of semantic web applications, being able to support autonomous vehicles, and creating usable natural language processing. Google’s AlphaGo has been unbeaten in over 60 matches[1], and it’s a key enabler for the gaming industry, with techniques such as machine learning underpinning data mining applications and profiling consumers for marketing purposes.

None of this suggests any great level of agency however. It doesn’t replicate experience or intuition. AI’s operational activities involve data and decisions, revealing patterns of behaviour and intent and crunching volumes of data the human brain could simply not cope with. It advises the end user how to take advantage of its findings. AI’s success therefore is based on processing power and data storage, being able to analyse patterns, data and trends – effectively working in an entirely different, and (more importantly) an unhuman way.

Would you agree with our conclusion that AI should be seen as a tool rather than the character of popular sci-fi? The argument that AI should be renamed ‘augmented intelligence’ is hardly a new one, but it is a critical difference as we look ahead to the moral and ethical implications of what’s to come. The impact AI has already had on our lives mean it would be nigh impossible to stop, even if we wanted it to – so the question becomes how to best support and encourage its exploitation in a responsible manner.

You can read more on the discussion from the first APPG meeting on what AI ‘is’ here, and I’d love to hear what AI means to you in the comments below.

[1] https://qz.com/877721/the-ai-master-bested-the-worlds-top-go-players-and-then-revealed-itself-as-googles-alphago-in-disguise/

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