In recent years, there has been a significant increase in sensationalist headlines about artificial intelligence. From Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerburg to Elon Musk to Bill Gates, everyone has an opinion about innovation in artificial intelligence. Headlines that range from What Would an “AI Doomsday” Actually Look Like? to Will AI Enhance or Hack Humanity? have raised questions about the future of artificial intelligence, but is there any reason to fear innovation? Artificial intelligence is a technology that has the potential to change global society for the better.
In Australia, many ongoing projects are using AI to deliver creative solutions to problems such as environmental conservation, digital health, water safety, and more. Artificial intelligence is tackling problems with measurable negative impact on the world. Those who fear technological innovation have done little to prove that the risk of developing artificial intelligence outweighs the benefits. While concerns about responsible technology implementation are legitimate, stoking fear for the sake of sensationalism is not the answer.
Companies such as Appen, provide services to improve biased data models and develop better algorithms for proactive identification, management and removal of malicious content. The development of new technology requires checks and balances, and there are companies doing their part to make sure artificial intelligence develops responsibly. In fact, the fear of innovation is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, some people have been suspicious of new technology, especially when the creativity disrupts their business models or their jobs. As technologies eventually settle into a normal part of daily life, we mostly no longer give them a second thought!
Here are some examples of technologies that initially spread mass hysteria:
Telephones: Despite the implications of this wondrous innovation, many people feared the telephone. From time-wasting to electric shock, the telephone was greeted with apprehension and suspicion. In Sweden, preachers called the phone the instrument of the Devil, and telephone lines were destroyed and stolen as a result! Imagine the thought of carrying telephones in our pockets and purses!
Televisions: When the television was invented, a common fear arose that sitting too close to the television would ruin one’s eyes. Possibly arising from an incident when General Electric shipped TV sets that emitted X-rays (yikes!), there was generally minimal risk to health, but the myth and the warning carried on through time. Now, there are screens in nearly every room, on airplanes, and in hospitals, and most people spend all day at work looking at electronic images. Eye strain can be real, but that irrational warning was more than a conservative health precaution. It was an overt rejection of new technology by over-hyping fears and warnings. Television brought new ideas into the home, new images from faraway places. The social and political effects of television technology were profound.
Wi-Fi: The attack of the “killer” Wi-Fi was dashed throughout the headlines when it arrived for public use. Stories about “electrosensitivity” and cancer went viral, despite the lack of reliable evidence on true health concerns. Wi-Fi has since become a powerful enabling fixture of daily digital connectivity.
Fear has surrounded major innovations throughout history. The concerns surrounding artificial intelligence are simply within the natural cycle of adaptation. Fear of a phone, television, or Wi-Fi seems quite laughable today. In twenty years, it is very likely that artificial intelligence will join these other technologies as permanent fixtures in daily life.
What’s New in Artificial Intelligence?
With potential applications in every industry, artificial intelligence is booming at a dizzying pace. From drones that save swimmers from crocodiles to wearable tech that predicts heart attacks, artificial intelligence is shaping our world.
Although artificial intelligence, innovation, and automation will change the way we interact with the world, humans have survived countless waves of innovation throughout history. In fact, artificial intelligence research is tackling major problems within health, fintech, engineering, and countless other industries.
IBM and Adelaide-based digital agency KWP have joined forces to help prevent erosion on Australia’s beaches. Scientists are using AI for image segmentation to reduce hours of sorting video footage. Why is AI a breakthrough technology in this case? Rehabilitation is expensive. The Gold Coast Council alone has invested AU$14 million into rehabilitation projects for a 12km stretch of beach. That’s more than a million dollars per kilometre! Prevention requires planting and monitoring of seagrass, which is all done manually. AI cuts the time to analyse the footage, giving scientists more time to implement restoration efforts.
Similar technologies are also being used to save the Great Barrier Reef. Released late last year, the RangerBot eliminates coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish and monitors the reef for health indicators and maps underwater areas. This multi-functional drone has led the way to the development of larval bots. The larval bots are capable of delivering larvae coral to reefs for reseeding. Users of the larval bot operate it via an iPad. Pilot testing was initiated in November 2018. Environmental conservation is an industry relying on AI innovation to solve problems and overcome the race against time to save our environment.
Australia’s first Google.org AI Impact Challenge asked scientists to develop a digital health solution powered by artificial intelligence to reduce the risk of heart attacks. The University of Sydney’s Westmead Applied Research Centre has been awarded a $1M prize for their efforts. The digital health program delivers tailored advice. It combines AI-driven clinical and consumer-data from wearable devices and applications to increase the accuracy of heart risk assessment. According to The Heart Foundation, twenty-one Australians lose their lives to heart attacks each day. Innovations such as these offer potential life-saving solutions.
As part of a collaboration between Little Ripper Group and the University of Technology Sydney, croc-spotting drones were developed to tackle the problem presented by the Queensland government: how to keep Australian swimmers safe from crocodiles. Considering Australian rivers have seen an increase in the number of deadly attacks due to a thriving crocodile population, this was no easy feat. These AI-sporting drones feature sirens, speakers, and flotation devices which can be brought to swimmers in danger.
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A wave of innovation in artificial intelligence within ASEAN causes major ripples in various industries.
Malaysia’s airport has signed a major deal to bring the world “Airport 4.0“. The airport will use AI and the IoT to enhance connectivity and to streamline the flow of real-time information. The creation of a fully integrated digital ecosystem within an airport could mean the end of delays, long security lines, and badly communicated gate changes. At least, that’s the hope.
Singapore is developing an AI-enhanced smartphone to help farm employees correctly identify pests. Since the improper application of pesticides can destroy crops and soil, this innovation might revolutionise the global agricultural industry. Trials will be implemented during this upcoming crop season.
Australia and AI
Even with all of the promising innovation projects within the AI sphere, many people are still concerned. In order to address these concerns, The Australian National University (ANU) launched a new research project that will focus on designing Australian values into artificial intelligence (AI) systems. The humanising machine intelligence (HMI) project involves 17 core researchers building a design framework for moral machine intelligence (MMI) for widespread usage.
Innovation can be scary, but can you imagine a world without trains, television, and Wi-Fi? Without innovation, the technologies embedded into the fabric of our daily lives would be merely science fiction. A new bold future awaits, and innovation leads the way.
Innovation in Australia
The Warren Centre’s Innovation Lecture Series puts successful Australian innovators in the public spotlight, showcasing innovation across the engineering universe. We are privileged to present an exemplary selection of Australian achievers and to recognise great individual accomplishments in innovation.
Innovation Lecture 2019 with Chris Vonwiller, Chair, Appen
This story is featured in the 6 September 2019 edition of The Warren Centre’s Prototype newsletter. Sign up for the Prototype here.
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