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CogX: An insight into what a world with AI could look like

Ellen Children
July 2, 2017

Last week, CogX — a conference promoting the exchange of AI-based ideas and innovations — looked to debate the impact of AI on industry, government and society. Founder Charlie Muirhead said: “The accelerator pedal is foot to the floor, but it’s not clear who’s got their hands on the wheel or in fact where we’re all going.” CogX sought to bring clarity to this conundrum and below is a snapshot of some of the conversations that took place over the two days:

Day one, 20 June:

  • The event opened with a robot, Sophia, on stage. Built by Hanson Robotics, Sophia featured amazing aesthetic detail and was able to interact and showcase an ability to learn from people. But whilst robots might be people’s assumed embodiment of AI, less obvious silent AI transformations are also taking place without us even knowing it — the integration of chat bots into the online customer experience is a great example of this.
  • A common theme across all the panels, and articulated especially well by Dr. Pippa Malmgren, founder, H Robotics, was that: “forward-looking human creativity cannot be replaced by AI — only enhanced.”
  • Data and AI have a complex relationship. The world of AI needs more data to train models and grow — yet at the same time need to ensure more robust frameworks are being used as more and more data is implemented. Interestingly AI is not overtly covered by the upcoming GDPR, which the ‘Data privacy, data ethics and GDPR’ panel noted could become an issue. Aggregated data is the way forward as it allows companies to analyse and segment customers without needing to be focused on the individual, therefore keeping privacy intact.
  • Matthew Hancock, Minister for Digital, delivered the keynote of the day and emphasised the need for a forward looking and optimistic framework for AI. Indeed the panel about the impact on society, felt that AI could create a fulfilling Star Trek economy — where robots do the boring jobs and humans continue to explore new frontiers would be the ideal. AI presents so many opportunities for society, but at the same time it needs to be put in the hands of more people.

Day two, 21 June:

  • Lord Young addressed the audience on the second day. He tellingly said that “Mankind needs a job, a purpose.” AI, he claimed, would only enhance this ambition not destroy it. The question is whether government and policies can keep up with the rate of change in order to balance the job losses that come from AI with job creation.
  • The insurance sector is ripe for technical disruption, but with only three people in the audience for the insurance and AI panel, what does that say about its appetite for such change? Helen Crooks, Chief Data Officer, Lloyds of London, revealed it has developed a cognitive AI capability. Brooks said that in a regulated environment, AI requires work and testing as you can’t afford to get it wrong but that she was keen the insurance industry changed how it thought about and applied AI. However, when asked to predict the relationship that insurance would have with AI in a year, Matthew O’Kane of Accenture felt the timeframe was too short for any tangible change to be evident.
  • Another reference to Star Trek came in the customer experience panel, with William Tunstall-Pedoe, founder of Evi (now Amazon Alexa) saying that the technology has now passed a threshold of usefulness making the computers of Star Trek possible. The key conclusion of this group was that transparency will be key to AI’s success — people do not like to feel duped. Paul Ryan, IBM’s UK Head of Watson, gave the example of Vodafone, which created an avatar for its AI service and people were happy with this because they knew it was not a person. When that line isn’t clear, it was felt the potential to cross into the realms of creepy increased significantly.

After two days of discussion, the potential applications of AI in different industries and its impact are somewhat clearer. No-one shied away from difficult topics such as job losses but what’s less clear is the path forward. Many questions remain around the guidelines and frameworks that will be needed to oversee the application of AI and if, as a society, we’re ready for the next frontier.