With the summer blockbuster movie season in full swing, it is tempting to give in to the fantasies that Hollywood produces – whether it be ghosts running wild in New York City, taking the Enterprise to the neutral zone at warp speed or the rise of malevolent machines.
The reality of artificial intelligence (AI) is much more mundane, but holds out great hope for providing technologies and applications that can save lives, improve productivity and make our nation more energy efficient.
Businesses across the nation, in fact, are in the midst of an innovation revolution when it comes to artificial intelligence — with applications emerging or already in use in the health care, energy, environmental, auto and educational sectors, to name a few. AI is, in reality, a practical software engineering tool already being utilized to help millions of people. AI involves machine learning — computers and systems able to solve problems without having those solutions hardcoded into the program; it allows digital devices to recognize and reply to objects, sounds or patterns in order to make decisions and learn from the information it’s given. Some of the most promising innovations today use AI and are being directed at improving our everyday lives and bringing greater efficiency and precision to industry.
In the health care sector, for instance, doctors are using artificial intelligence to diagnose, predict future illnesses and greatly reduce medical errors, which in the U.S. account for more than 250,000 deaths a year. Hospitals in Britain have recently begun to use an artificial intelligence triage tool that can diagnose and prescribe medicines or recommend a doctor’s visit. In testing, the triage tool was shown to be more accurate than nurses with decades of experience. Artificial intelligence advancements are also being developed to provide early detection of all manner of medical issues, including blindness, cancer and diabetes.
Similarly, Google recently announced it is using artificial intelligence technology to cut energy usage at its data centers by 15 percent. Having a machine predict when data use will spike and therefore when to turn on the HVAC could have implications for artificial intelligence use in much larger systems – such as electricity generation and distribution – to improve energy efficiency on a massive scale.
For policymakers, there surely will be questions that emerge – particularly around privacy and security, as well as ensuring that interactions between humans and machines have adequate safeguards.
However, it is early days, and it is critical that our leaders don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to these technologies, and instead do the hard work necessary of learning about how the technologies work. Likewise, industry has a responsibility to ensure that its technology works in the ways they intended. With this in mind, some companies have established artificial intelligence ethics boards, which go beyond legal compliance to examine the deeper implications and potential complications of emerging technologies.
Advancements in artificial intelligence will no doubt provide more teachable moments as technologists continue to experiment and innovate, and that experimentation and innovation is crucial for this industry to continue to develop. This means there must be an open environment to allow for continuing research. Industry should continue to invest in smart, focused AI projects, and the federal government can contribute to enhancing this technology by supporting basic research into safety and bias questions, as well as examining the potential impact on the American economy and workforce. Already, the National Science and Technology Council is using AI technology to make government more efficient and provide improved services to the public. These are the types of initiatives that support new discoveries in this field.
Artificial intelligence is already changing our lives, but it is important to remember that this technology is still in its earliest days. Innovation must be nurtured by consensus-driven best practices and protections that don’t stifle growth.
Otherwise, it’s “hasta la vista, baby” for artificial intelligence.
Tim Day is senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation.