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Núria Argell on artificial intelligence and its impact on society today
On March 13th, ESADE Alumni welcomed Núria Argell, director of ESADE’s department of operations, innovation and data science, to talk about the reality, challenges and risks of artificial intelligence.
“No one can deny that machines are part of everyday life. We have robotics in industry, in services and even in our mobile phones with personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, said Argell.
Since its creation, AI has triggered considerable change and also new training needs: since 2013, there has been a 4.5% increase in jobs that call for knowledge of robotics or AI.
Thanks to Big Data and vast data storage capacity, machines can now carry out more complex tasks. Far more data are now available, making it possible to create new techniques or increase the connections in artificial neural networks, so these machines are increasingly important. Drawing upon the theories of Marvin Minsky (regarded as one of the fathers of AI), the speaker defined AI as “a branch of computer science that enables machines to do things that require intelligence when done by a human being. The aims of AI include recommendation, interaction and adaptability, the ability to take decisions or solve problems. “The main aim of AI is to carry out non routine tasks, tasks that a human being cannot mechanise, explained the speaker.
The AI evolution timeline began in 1943 when Alan Turing, using his Enigma machine, managed to decipher messages from the Germans and bring World War II to an end earlier than expected. Since then, AI has evolved exponentially. In 1997, the first machine able to beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov was built; in 2002, the first service robots such as Roomba were created; and finally, in 2017, unsupervised, self-teaching robots came on the scene, e.g. AlphaGo Zero, able to generate chess strategies by simply looking at its own mistakes.
Argell focused on the importance of deep learning. “Nowadays, with Big Data, machines can gather more information and create more patterns and strategies. There are still, however, certain challenges along the road to making machines more efficient. One such challenge is general intelligence: machines must be able to generate a general concept from the specific concepts available to them. Another great challenge concerns types of reasoning: robots lack humans’ ability to solve problems when faced with danger warnings because they are not accurate in all circumstances. They would also have to deal with problems such as interactivity, creativity and the ability to empathise with humans, and also the supervision of automatic systems such as driverless cars.
Commitment to AI also means taking risks. The four main risks are employment, privacy, bias in collaborative systems and cyber attacks.
The creation or elimination of jobs following the introduction of machines is an on-going concern although professor Argell believes that this issue remains uncertain. The lack of legislation about robots and their huge ability to store data could lead to an invasion of people’s privacy as they gather data about the preferences and needs of each user and convey them to companies. This could be a problem in the long run because companies might use these data to make machines recommend products which are more expensive or for other reasons. The problem of cyber attacks must not be overlooked either. The onset of machines and Big Data gives hackers more opportunities to access people’s data.
Argell ended her conference by summing up some of the main points. “Firstly, we must bear in mind that AI is part of everyday life. Secondly, many challenges must still be solved in order to improve this service. And thirdly, legislation and ethics are very important to ensure that machines are used appropriately.