March 13, 2019
By T.C. Doyle
Have you seen how artificial intelligence (AI) is being used today? It’s progressed more than you may have noticed.
AI-enhanced “sewbots” are beginning to turn out T-shirts and other articles of clothing in a factory in Arkansas that are cheaper and better made than what humans can produce on their own. Elsewhere, researchers are developing AI-enhanced neural networks that can identify pathologies in radiological images “more reliably than an average radiologist” in some cases, according to the Harvard Business Review.
AI has become so advanced that it can now do things that for millennia were unique to us. AI can now beat humans at emotional recognition, according to a landmark study released in April 2018 by a team of researchers at Ohio State University. AI can also create art that touches the soul and sells for astronomical prices. Last fall, for example, Christie’s auctioned off an AI-generated painting, “Portrait of Edmond Belamy,” for $425,500. The price was 45 times the pre-auction estimate.
Along with emulating some of the finer qualities of we humans, AI has been put to use to magnify some of the worst. Take the production of “deepfake” videos, for example. Hollywood is in an uproar over the growing use of AI to produce pornographic videos featuring the likenesses of celebrities without their permission or involvement. More recently, lawmakers have raised concerns that politicians will be edited into deepfake videos, podcasts and text messages in order to embarrass or implicate them in some phony misdeed. The fear is that the technology could literally change conventional opinion as we know it.
(For an idea of what I am talking about, be sure to check out film director and comedian Jordan Peele’s demonstration of deepfake technology featuring former President Barak Obama. The website Vox says, “This deepfaked warning against deepfakes almost makes its point too well.”)
Concerns over AI and its misuse have reached the highest levels of our government. In January 2019, for example, CNN reported that the Department of Defense has commissioned researchers in the U.S. to develop technology that could identify deepfake imagery.
Add it all up and you see why Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk famously said in 2017 that “AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.” Love him or hate him, Musk also said that robots will eventually do everything better than us — and take all of our jobs.
The latter, of course, brings us to the information and communications (ICT) channel. Channel companies today use AI in a variety of ways. They use it to protect customer networks, better identify sales prospects, improve customer service and even qualify job candidates.
In addition to using AI-enabled technology to augment their internal capabilities, IT consultancies are using and selling the technology to help end customers achieve their own business goals. For proof, look no further than Basking Ridge, New Jersey-based WildFire or Genpact or automation specialist Ayehu.
If you’re the owner of an MSP shop, you no doubt have a team of technicians who respond to support requests every day. How many of them will be replaced in the years ahead? It’s impossible to say. But some will. And so will other employees performing important tasks.
If you work on a tech bench and think I’m being flip, please accept I am not. After all, journalists are under threat from AI, too.
The best thinking today concludes that AI will be a form of …
… leverage as much as it will be an existential threat. In their 2018 book on AI, “HUMAN + MACHINE: Reimagining work in the age of AI,” Accenture researchers Paul Daugherty and Jim Wilson showcase how companies leverage AI to improve decision-making, increase profitability and enhance customer service. Instead of replacing critical workers, smart companies will deploy technology to complement or augment their best thinking.
“The bottom line is this,” Daugherty and Wilson conclude, “Businesses that understand how to harness AI can surge ahead. Those that neglect it will fall behind.”
I’m not sure I buy the unbridled optimism, as much as I want to. Just to be sure, I’ve started to invest in AI and robotics as a hedge to protect my own career. Funny thing, though, my AI-enhanced robot wants to star in videos, indulge in expensive art and explore new career assignments that I don’t even understand.
That said, I don’t want to be a Luddite and stand in the way of progress, especially since my robot may be developing better tastes and skills than me.
Am I wrong to worry? The portrait of Edmond Belamy may not have been my first choice, but it does pair nicely with some chairs that were recommended to me on one website.
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