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A Practical Look At AI
May 1, 2017

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A Practical Look At AI

Today’s AI provides a millennial with a smartphone in Sierra Leone, and a millionaire in Toronto with equal access to all of the world’s information.


Everywhere we look there is evidence that artificial intelligence (AI) is here to stay. In fact, it is arguably one of the most influential technologies driving continued improvement in our standard of living.

Last month we learned that AI is not an easily defined term. Research has predominantly focused on applied AI or advanced information processing. This includes analytics, reasoning, learning, perception and language. Strong AI, or machine intelligence that is indistinguishable from human intelligence, has proven more difficult for scientists to get a handle on.

At its core, AI is the ability of a computer program to understand us when we ask a question and to search limitless cloud-based databases to provide the correct answer. AI also levers off cloud-based resources to process huge amounts of data and to either directly make or provide appropriate actions based on its analysis of that data.

Most of you will know some of AI’s early successes. The most famous is Google’s search engine. Just imagine the volume of data this now-ordinary tool analyzes before prioritizing and displaying results in response to your query. Other AI successes include some well-known wins over humans, such as IBM Deep Blue’s victory in chess and IBM Watson’s win against two of Jeopardy’s greatest champions, as well as Google’s win at the game of Go and Carnegie Mellon University’s Liberates’ triumph at poker. But it’s more than games — AI is the technology that makes automated parallel parking and autonomous vehicles possible. Even more important are the emerging AI tools for natural language processing, as evidenced by Apple’s Siri, Microsoft ’s Cortana, Google’s Assist and Amazon’s Echo.

AI is all around and for good reason: distribution is free or nearly free. Because it’s digital, it can be integrated into just about anything. By virtue of its pervasiveness it has the potential to level the playing field for humankind across the globe. In January/February’s column (“2017: A Year of Abundance”), I noted that this year promises to be a tipping point in our evolution, as more than half the world’s population will have access to an Internet connection. Today’s AI provides a millennial with a smartphone in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and a millionaire in Toronto equal access to all of the world’s information.

Last fall, AI research labs at Stanford University diagnosed potential skin cancers just as well as human dermatologists. Soon, smartphones will be able to make the same diagnoses available to everyone. Recently, a surgical robot injected a drug directly into a retinal vein. The procedure requires the needle to be held still for 10 minutes. Few surgeons can perform this task. Other surgical-specific bots will be built on this platform.

Toronto’s Humber River Hospital, the first digital hospital in North America, uses robots for a variety of tasks, from pharmaceutical pill selection and packaging to chemotherapy drug preparation and the delivery of meals and medical supplies.

This year, Canada joined France and the UK in ushering in the courier drone era. Transport Canada approved its first drone test range near Foremost, Alta. The state of Virginia passed legislation allowing for the “operation of electric personal delivery devices on the sidewalks.” Soon UPS drivers won’t need to leave their trucks to complete their deliveries. And Dubai hopes that by this summer, it will have autonomous taxi drones flying passengers back and forth across its skyline.

Of course, with every advancement — from the discovery of fire and onward — comes risk. Benefits must be weighed against those risks. I believe AI will provide us with more advantages because it will not be controlled by any one person, entity or government. Rather, it will be in the hands of billions and will become even more universal as it, and we, continue to evolve.

This post was originally published in CPA Magazine