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Artificial intelligence

An interactive ecosystem needed to make use of the AI revolution

Inken Braunschmidt says signs of the AI revolution – in which computers rely on each other, not humans – are apparent, and it will take a collaborative and interactive culture of scientists and business leaders to take full advantage of this

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 January, 2018, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 January, 2018, 2:01pm

The economy is changing rapidly, driven by technologies including computing, deep learning, artificial intelligence and the internet of things. New business models are emerging, going beyond analytics or data into prediction and prevention.

Devices and machines are becoming smart, connected and autonomous. Smartwatches, capable of collecting all kinds of personal health data, may someday be able to send it to a health insurance company to determine annual premiums or alert doctors in emergencies. A remote capability allowing smartphone users worldwide to monitor their predisposition to health conditions like diabetes and hypertension is under development. This could replace in-person, diagnostic blood tests and provide medical guidance based on retinal imagery.

Society has become increasingly digital and autonomously controlled by computers, and now we don’t even need to operate them. They can interact with each other and make autonomous decisions. If a car has sufficient processing power and energy, a digital payment system may be integrated. The car can then not only drive us autonomously, but can even pay the tolls.

The technology enabling this is based on blockchain. Such peer-to-peer decentralised technologies will be standard, enabling not only individual users to act directly with each other, but machines to act directly with each other.

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We can now use messaging and social media platforms as mobile payment tools and, as seen with WeChat’s 980 million global users, as virtual hosts for digital ID cards. As technology becomes more essential, there is a growing awareness of both emerging opportunities and threats.

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While some in the West fret about AI eliminating jobs and worsening wealth inequality, China believes the opposite. The government is investing heavily in technology, as are its companies in nurturing and developing AI talent. China, alongside the United States and places like Japan and Singapore, may emerge as the leading force in AI.

There are huge opportunities for AI in industries like infrastructure safety, water security and air quality monitoring. I have been in China recently meeting with start-ups, plus talented engineers and scientists, and while AI may have been invented in the West, you can clearly see its future taking shape in China.

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With fewer obstacles to data collection and use, China is amassing huge databases. The results can be seen in the growth of facial-recognition systems: they now identify office workers and customers in stores and authenticate users of mobile apps. We are working with one of these leaders to integrate the same facial-recognition systems with our own retinal scanning technology to check for glaucoma. This convergence is needed to build the software to train AI systems and explore that technology’s full potential.

According to a Machina Research report from 2016, the total number of internet of things connections will grow from 6 billion in 2015 to 27 billion in 2025. Today, 71 per cent of such connections use short-range technology like Wi-fi and Zigbee. The big short-range applications making this the dominant technology category are consumer electronics, building security and building automation.

The same report finds China and the US will be neck and neck for dominance of the global market by 2025, with China accounting for 21 per cent of global internet of things connections, ahead of the US at 20, with similar proportions for cellular connections. However, the US will do better in terms of internet of things revenue (22 per cent vs 19).

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Industry and market boundaries will vanish. Alongside Google, Alibaba, Amazon and Baidu, new “disrupters” will be the GEs or insurance companies of the world, not to mention start-ups, which have been taking technology and hardware and developing algorithms and software to monetise on the data and the insights they have to offer.

As the economy continues to change, business leaders and chief information officers must meet this face on, sharing best practices and building an ecosystem that can accelerate learning, share digital business model transformations and identify emerging digital social media, platforms, partners, vendors and agencies. We must be innovative, interconnected and, increasingly, collaborative.

Dr Inken Braunschmidt is chief digital and innovation officer at Halma plc