Experts on hype, past, present, future, and ethics of AI

A panel of experts give their views on the current state of AI and what happens next

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Artificial intelligence as a term dates back at least to the 1950s to denote a computer’s ability to learn; as a theoretical concept or artistic theme it goes back further. Today it is very much back in vogue in part perhaps because old algorithms are becoming more popular as a way to automate more and more popular projects (autonomous vehicles and the internet of things among them) and new algorithms are being created and applied in novel ways.

But like any popular meme, AI has also been kidnapped by the media and marketing communications industries to the point that the term is sometimes used in a slapdash way. To get a grip on where AI is today, I contacted a selection of experts in the field. The following is an edited version of their responses to my questions.

AI has been around for decades. Why do you think the term is getting so much airplay and attention today?

Jurgi Camblong, CEO of Sophia Genetics, a Swiss specialist in data-driven medicine, simply says: “Because it’s happening! In health care, AI is already routine within hospitals, delivering concrete benefits to patients every day and saving lives.”

Sohrob Kazerounian, data scientist at security threat monitoring firm Vectra Networks, takes a broader view: “Firstly, access to tools and systems that use AI is far greater than at any previous point in time. Future visions of AI in the 1960s were always impossibly far away and inaccessible to all but the economic and political elite. However, today, what we would have once thought of as the basic substrates of any AI system (for example, the ability to perceive arbitrary speech, visual inputs at near-human levels, network monitoring, cybersecurity detection, and interact with humans through natural language, both understanding and responding to queries) are now readily available to the population, often at the low end of consumer electronics pricing. That alone has transformed the landscape for AI perception and adoption.”

Andrew Joint, managing partner technology law firm, Kemp Little, sees a combination of factors: “It feels like the technology has started to catch up with the years of science fiction and future-gazing about its predicted use. The combination of vastly improved processor speeds, the rise of the cloud and big data and the development of the AI algorithms themselves make the conditions seem ripe for AI to begin to flourish. We are now seeing everyday devices in both the home and office which use (admittedly weak) forms of AI. That everyday use is beginning to generate trust in the tools, and benefits that we can see and appreciate.”

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