AI: Killer robots. Blaggers and the doomsday that might never come

The chair of BIMA's AI Think Tank believes that the industry has reached peak levels of irresponsible nonsense when it comes to talking about AI

AI is one of the most talked-about technologies of our time and during our recent research with 240 companies across the UK digital industry, the present and future mean many things to many people. According to Gartner, we're already at ‘peak hype', and if that's true, then we've managed to reach its peak even before people within its native digital industry genuinely understand what it can do—and even what it is!

The term has permeated pitches and conversations, for good and bad. We interviewed an industry leader who stated; "I don't care if it's real AI or not, if the clients are buying it, we're selling it".

Troubling to say the least.

Alexa is the new vernacular for innovation, and chatbots are the panacea for customer support. While a lot of agencies are convincing clients it's the new new, the data science and machine learning community are retreating further away and towards credible product companies like DeepMind. 

Three-quarters of the companies surveyed stated that this technology is exponentially changing the sector beyond recognition.

But when we asked respondents "What is AI?", more than one is three chose the pre-canned response "Machines that can learn to do our jobs."

Roles will of course change and services that were once reliant on people may become fully tech-automated, but many of our respondents also felt that if AI learned their role, it would offer the potential to take the drudgery out of the day job. We might also see whole new disciplines emerging, like the conversational UX designer, a hybrid of research, copywriting and strategic disciplines. 

As a Think Tank, we're concerned about how the views of some individuals have started to seep into opinions about everyday ideas of AI. Doomsday scenarios are unnecessary and pretty irresponsible, especially when it's cannibalising positive messages about the AI community. Of course, we need to have a serious discussion about ethical issues like bias in data and transparency in a GDPR world. But killer robots? It's science fiction.

In his recent SXSW appearance, Elon Musk stated that "AI is far more dangerous than nukes". Over in London, at the same time, the Wired Health event was awash with AI-powered products for supporting Alzheimer's patients. Algorithms and games for the early detection of mental health in children. Robots for in-home care of disabled people and so many other positive stories — what trended on Twitter? Elon Musk.

To understand the problem better, we asked how confusing the current conversations around AI were? More than one-third of respondents (35%) stated it was "Getting Worse" and 25% said it was "Very Confusing".

We also wanted to explore high-level, and low-level understanding of the topic so asked people "Do you know what Machine Learning is?" 97% of participants said "yes", but then failed to recognise a series of terms that power Machine Learning such as Linear Regression, Supervised Learning and Reinforcement Learning. This is an important statistic because it proves that, while AI and even Machine Learning are ingrained parts of the digital industry lexicon, a deeper level of knowledge is absent.

As a group of industry leaders, we’ve agreed that the most important job we can do as a Think Tank is help set some standard understanding and realistic definitions of what AI is and what it isn't. Help companies think about its applications and filter out some of the noise. 

The dust will settle on this fascinating evolution that's upending our industry and we may look back and wonder what all the hype was about. Either way, the ride is going to be a lot of fun, and colourful characters like Musk will give us exciting and engaging views that will light-up our news feeds and inspire reverie… just take some of it with a pinch of salt, the job right in front of you is prepping for the simpler challenges.

Pete Trainor is an author, co-founder of Us AI and chair of the BIMA AI Think Tank

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