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Artificial Intelligence: The future is co-operative

by AprilSix Proof

“We can start the conversation, but we’re not here to finish it” – that’s how Anthony Bartolo, Microsoft’s senior cloud advocate, outlined the importance of consumers in the future of artificial intelligence during his address to the AI and Big Data Expo last Friday.

One of the key themes of his presentation was that tech is evolving based not upon the agendas of big companies, but instead how people use it. It was interesting to hear how important the open source nature of software is in determining where it all goes next; allowing a process in which people can use, adapt, report and ultimately shape its development based on what they need from it.

An example of this was the ‘Child Finder’ bot, which, when activated, creates a dossier of a missing child’s internet activity over the previous three days, with a particular focus on any activity involving what’s termed ‘romantic intent’. That dossier is then sent to the local authorities to inform their search. As the bot has been put to use around the world, it’s been adapted to the needs of each specific location; for example, in India facial recognition was added to the software to help identify the missing.

With the huge amounts data now being sent from all around the world, however, we are presented with an issue. It’s estimated that by 2020, there will be 30 billion connected devices around the world. The question: how do we deal with the terabytes of data that will be produced as a result? It would be impossible for human monitors to go through it all, so the answer to this ‘data overload’ lies in making the devices smart; specifically, smart enough to make their own decisions.

For an innovative demonstration of this, we were told how the Canadian Coast Guard had collaborated with Microsoft to save on the considerable $1.2m cost of launching a lifeboat to investigate a vessel in distress. Attaching Raspberry Pi computers to drones meant that they could use artificial intelligence to teach them to recognise what a lifejacket looks like and whether there is a body mass present inside it.

The drones can then fly out to the scene in place of a full launch, produce a report of the situation and, if needs be, autonomously make the decision to turn back to an area of connectivity to report any positive identification of sailors in the water. This was just one of the experiments through which they’re teaching ‘recognition without connectivity’, so devices can understand what it is they are looking at, all in response to the direct needs of a user.

Amidst all this unbridled optimism we were also reminded of the potential dangers of an interconnected ‘IoT’ world and the fundamental role security has to play. Mentions of hacked fridges and casino fish tanks helped emphasize the point that ‘your data is somebody else’s currency’. The answer, again, was self-awareness – devices that can recognise they’re being hacked, take themselves offline, report and reset; protecting the pathway whilst adding a layer of security to the vulnerable endpoint.

Summing up with the statement ‘where this tech is going is based on our creativity as users’, Bartolo reinforced the impression that the future of computing will rely heavily on the partnership between those designing the technology and those putting it into practice. The message is that how artificial intelligence impacts real world scenarios will have a lot to do with how we collectively want it to, and that is in itself a far friendlier and more convenient prospect than some visions of the future have suggested.

Written by Dan Crowther

Next month we are hosting a panel debate; vision, values and communications in the age of the techlash. This follows on from our Feedback Loop report last year. With public trust in technology seemingly at an all-time low, the debate will focus on how tech companies can use PR and communications to not only articulate their vision and values, but also shape them in a way that contributes to both share value and wider societal good.

Please contact if you are interested in receiving more information about the event.