Artificial intelligence is already here – and the expectations are high

Why is artificial intelligence (AI) popping up in every direction nowadays? The expectations for the almost miraculous power of AI are high. In the following, Antti Vasara, VTTs President & CEO, reveals whether there is any reality behind these expectations.

Antti Vasara VTT

Artificial intelligence (AI) and the opportunities provided by it can generate a totally unprecedented, almost exponential productivity leap, and raise the human race to totally new spheres of prosperity. The ground is fertile for any positive news about AI, even though ever since the 1950s every decade has witnessed an enormous hype about something that has ended in disappointment. However, now we have justified reasons to expect more. At least technologies have taken major leaps forward, thus making the application of AI much more realistic today than in the years before.

Modelled after humans

What exactly is AI? A few years back, American researchers Russell and Norvig defined it in the following manner: “Artificial intelligence is… when a machine mimics ‘cognitive’ functions that humans intuitively associate with human minds, such as ‘learning’ and ‘problem solving’.” Another definition starts with the same idea, but expresses it a little bit differently: “Artificial intelligence is what computers cannot be programmed to do yet.” Here, the idea is also that the computer learns to perform desired, clearly limited tasks without being given precise instructions on how it should complete them.

Technically speaking, AI requires three important matters:

  1. Algorithms
    • Algorithms have been mainly developed over the past decades, but they have been collected into serviceable platforms only recently: deep neural networks in particular (deep learning). The platforms are generally controlled by technology giants.
  2. Data for teaching algorithms
    • The digital data available for teaching purposes and analysis is increasing exponentially.
  3. Computation capacity
    • Computation capacity available at low rates is increasing.

We have begun to see how practical, real solutions can be achieved both in consumer and industrial applications. Consumer applications are visibly displayed: examples Google Now, Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana and many computer games.

Work tasks may change, but work does not disappear

The industry also applies AI, with industrial and process automation, autonomic transport on land, sea and in the air, and health care leading the way. Even though these industrial applications are aimed at producing better outcomes with the help of AI, probably the biggest impact will be seen in the automation of routine tasks: productivity will grow, work tasks will disappear – and new ones will emerge.

Academic researchers and consultancy firms are almost unanimous about the productivity growth. Precise figures vary, but according to McKinsey&Company’s estimate existing technologies would allow automation of up to 50% of work tasks. However, in many cases this is not economically viable. On the other hand, very few professions can be fully automated. The most susceptible duties to the impacts of AI are tasks involving routine processing and management of data.

Transition is an opportunity

In history, many similar transitions have taken place. Almost without an exception, this has lead to improvements in the standard of living and quality of life. So, let us be optimistic this time as well and make efforts to ensure that AI becomes yet another positive phase in societal development.

VTT is a pioneer in the application of AI. Our precise role is to produce the kind of AI applications that produce well-being for society and growth for companies.

Read more on the subject in our policy brief publication (in Finnish): “Tuottoa ja tehokkuutta Suomeen tekoälyllä” (Enhancing Finland’s productivity and efficiency with the help of artificial intelligence).

Antti Vasara
President & CEO
Twitter: @ahavasara

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