I’m calling it – we’re in the Summer of Artificial Intelligence. Ok, it might not sound as glamorous as the Summer of Love or Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69, but it’s just as seminal – if not more so.
Over the past couple of years we’ve seen a trend where technologies previously reserved for the elite or big tech giants have been opened up to mass consumption. We saw this last summer, when the launch of Pokémon Go and the game’s meteoric rise – amassing 10 million downloads in its first week – brought Augmented Reality (AR) into the mainstream. A year on, consumers across the world use AR without batting an eyelid every time we add a Snapchat filter.
This year, we’re seeing Artificial Intelligence go through the same kind of shift. Amazon Alexa’s domination shows no sign of stopping, and June saw the successful launch of Amazon Echo Show, adding video to the highly competent voice technology. Now, for the first time, Alexa has been built natively into a smartphone – the HTC U11. Even the most traditional of British institutions are using AI to enrich the consumer experience, with Wimbledon using IBM Watson to create a voice assistant called Fred (after Fred Perry, obviously) to direct fans to the nearest strawberries. Gone are the days when AI sounded like science fiction – we all interact with it countless times every day; knowingly or not.
The democratisation of these kinds of technologies is a wonderful thing. As well as allowing people to run around cities catching Pidgeys and Rattatas to their hearts’ content, AR is enabling surgeons with limited resources to get interactive training from other doctors overseas. And the applications of AI stretch miles beyond Alexa telling you the weather forecast – with mobile health apps now giving millions of people in developing countries access to instant diagnosis.
Consumer trust in Artificial Intelligence is growing, and adoption around the world is rocketing – but we must make sure that as trust in this kind of technology grows, accountability comes with it.
Earlier this month, Elon Musk told a roomful of US governors that AI poses an ‘existential threat’ to civilisation, and went on to merrily suggest ways that AI could wipe out humanity. With all due respect to the Tesla founder, this is a little catastrophic. We have far more to gain from AI than fear.
What is worth discussing, though, is the responsibility of the tech community to ensure that they are creating this technology in an ethical way – with safety, equality and accessibility at front of mind. To this end, Sage has created a set of five guidelines for businesses to follow as we embark on the Fourth Industrial Revolution – it’s called The Ethics of Code.
For AI to truly work, this is what we think it should do.
1. It should reflect the diversity of the users it serves.
We all know that we have unconscious biases relating to gender, race, sexuality and more – let’s not build them into our software. The first voice recognition software couldn’t understand female voices – because it was tested on an all-male team.
2. It should be held to account – and so should its users.
The trust we place in technology needs to be taken seriously – AI must never be allowed to be too clever to be accountable. We don’t accept unpleasant or unethical behaviour from people in the workplace – why should we accept it from our technology?
3. It should be rewarded for ‘good behaviour’.
Most organisations now have a variant of ‘doing the right thing’ as one of their values – we need to hold our technology to the same standards. When designing AI, it should be rewarded for performing a task successfully, but also for how it aligned with good values to get there.
4. It should level the playing field.
AI should have minimal barriers to access, and should work to democratise services that were previously off limits to groups of people. Voice recognition software makes multiple solutions accessible to people with sight impairments, as well as those with dyslexia and limited mobility.
5. It will replace jobs, but it must also create them.
Ok, the robots aren’t going to steal all our jobs – but they are going to take on some roles that automation is better suited to. But for any jobs that AI is going to replace, its existence will also evolve existing jobs and create new ones. I have a friend who’s a conversation designer, writing the personality of a chatbot – jobs like that weren’t even thought of five years ago.
Although I’m calling this the ‘summer of artificial intelligence’, this technology is far more than a passing trend. Unlike fidget spinners and ripped jeans, AI will stick around – continuing to evolve and permeate all aspects of our daily lives. And this isn’t something to fear. It will bring huge opportunity, and open up a host of services previously reserved for the most privileged – if we create it in the right way.