by Gemma Milne, Technology and Science Writer, World Summit AI

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The future of AI: built by the many, not the few

It’s 2019 and AI is all around us. It’s in our phones, our laptops, our streets, our homes, our offices, our shops, our schools. AI isn’t coming, it’s already here.


Which means it can no longer be kept behind the closed doors of the academy or technology teams. AI requires the world’s data to function, and so the world must be involved in how AI is built, used and advanced upon.


But despite this generally accepted idea – that AI is universal and so must be universally discussed and decided upon – AI is still seen as a topic for technologists alone, only to be discussed at developer or “AI for business” conferences, or within university lab meetings, without the input of historians, philosophers, sociologists, educationalists or the citizens such technology is now impacting.


We’ve seen what happens when development of and discourse in technology stays within the confines of the technology industry: we end up with products not fit for use in the real world. There was the technically impressive Segway, for example, which many people wouldn’t be seen dead riding, and which was too heavy to carry upstairs or into storage areas, thus rendering it useless as an inner-city transport option (although it seems the company has learned its lesson with its now booming trade in electric scooters). This was a corporate faux pas which didn’t really result in anything more than a loss of profit, but what happens when poorly thought out technology enters public health systems, or schools, or the courts?


If AI is to change the world for the betterment of humankind, those at the forefront would do well to ensure they are engaging with as diverse a group of thinkers, doers, and consumers as possible. AI conferences in particular have a responsibility to ensure they are using their platforms as an opportunity to bring together technologists and computer scientists with corporates, public servants, and the broader public. Taking a multidisciplinary viewpoint of AI is the only way to see past hype, critically think around the multiple issues which arise with the technology and spot challenges in unforeseen areas as early as possible.


Taking this multidisciplinary viewpoint and including a broader range of people in the conversation is also about fairness. The pace of technological change means that demand for AI-powered businesses, and those who can lead the charge to build the industries of the future, is skyrocketing. If we keep the conversation among only the few, only the few will benefit from the opportunity technology brings. The issue of bias in data has been covered extensively, and if we are to build AI systems which make sense for the many, far more diverse inputs are required both in terms of information feeding the machines, as well as people behind their genesis and development.


The dream of AI changing the world only works when the world is included behind the scenes and throughout the process of ideation to execution – not just as “consumers” at the end of the project. Fairness is important, yes, but it’s also about realising the potential of the technology by broadening the scope of thinking and the types of challenges being targeted. No one silo can account for, problem-solve within and build for every single opportunity that AI presents, and no one silo can truly understand the impact of AI globally, but only within its own realms.


The future of AI lies in more advanced semiconductors and more intelligent algorithms, but it’s also in the translation of the opportunity across borders, across disciplines and across generations. We can only get to that future if we take a multidisciplinary approach, and to do that, there’s no time like the present.

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