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Artificial intelligence – friend or foe?

What comes to mind when you think of the term Artificial Intelligence (AI)? Self-driving cars? Improved productivity in the business world? Top notch cyber security? Or, is it an army of robots; wanting to replace traditional human jobs?

Don’t worry – it’s not as scary as that in reality. AI is essentially machines (or computers) that imitate behaviours of the human brain – like learning and problem solving.

It’s time to delve into the facts and figures. Let’s look at the key AI trends, including viewpoints, risks and benefits that come hand in hand with this technology. And how it can help your business to be faster, safer and smarter.

The five key AI trends:

1. Filter bubbles

Job searching is now easier than ever. And that’s down to professional social networks and clever search engines. These AI-based recommendation engines use machine learning to rank and prioritise stories and jobs based on individual people’s past choices.

By using a more advanced form of machine learning, known as deep learning, they can process large amounts of data relating to people’s online behaviour. Which can be great for marketers to harness and tailor advertisements to their key demographics.

But we need to be wary. ‘Filter bubbles’ are starting to emerge. This phenomenon is when people are fed stories that only reflect their viewpoint – meaning they gain an ever more biased perspective on the world. But this isn’t just down to AI. It’s also due to people unknowingly creating their own ‘echo chambers’ – by who they follow on social media, which stories they engage with and the way social media then prioritises their content.

2. Augmented intelligence  

We’ve all had some contact with a chatbot in our lives. Usually when we’re stuck trying to buy/return/need more information on a product or service. The bots use natural language processing and machine learning to understand text or voice data. They can also carry out small tasks, like arranging meetings or answering simple customer questions. But it’ll be a while before they can understand and respond accurately to general conversation.

As these technologies evolve, the possibility of job cuts come to mind. People are worried that the job market will be segregated even more into ‘low-skill/low pay’ and ‘high skill/high pay’ segments -with those on the lower end of the spectrum at risk of being replaced. So, we need to keep a close eye on the ethics of AI.

If we look at the introduction of other revolutionary technologies – like the car, to the computer - while some jobs (such as blacksmiths or filing clerks) disappear, new ones emerge to take their place (like mechanics and programmers). And the same will happen over the coming years. Artificial intelligence gives us new powers to work faster, safer and smarter – what we call ‘augmented intelligence’.

3. AI in the driving seat

Advances in machine learning tech, with upper accurate sensors, cameras and position-tracking, is allowing cars to accurately ‘see’ other vehicles and obstacles. They can then drive themselves with high precision, and can help to predict and prevent accidents.

It all sounds very futuristic, doesn’t it?

But we’re still a long way off perfecting the technology. Bad weather or dirt can obscure the cameras and sensors, positioning and location systems can fail, network connections can be unreliable, and the systems can be confused by unexpected events on the road or difficult terrain.

But once we have this AI tech up and running, it’ll help improve traffic flow, pollution levels and road safety. We’re launching our first connected vehicle offering, BT Auto Mate, which’ll provide real-time driver, vehicle health and tracking data. So watch this space.

4. Explainable AI

Facial recognition is now a thing on some modern smartphones. And it could be used in businesses and governments alike. But this does raise concerns around citizen privacy and surveillance.

Companies should only introduce modern technologies like facial recognition after first assessing the risks and benefits involved – and by asking employees who’ll be directly affected.

AI resumé-screening technology too, is being called into question. Using advanced machine learning algorithms, the tech can now read and understand candidates’ applications and CVs – mining them for evidence of skills and traits. But making such important decisions which affect people’s lives raises several ethical questions. Is it right for AI technology to root through old social media posts which could have a negative impact in the hiring process?

And the issue of historical bias too. Data reflecting a large amount of males being hired in a company for example, means that women are less likely to be picked up by the AI technology.

At BT, we’re building mechanisms into AI systems to combat this. We want to know how the tech arrived at their decisions – and how we can combat any bias or unethical trends. This is what we call ‘explainable AI’.

5. AI and cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is being developed constantly. Banks have great fraud detection methods, having been trained to use historical transaction data. These algorithms know in minute detail what a typical customer’s spending pattern is. And as a result, can see potential criminal activity. Machine learning and deep learning algorithms detect anomalies on the network and can prevent money being stolen.

But it’s not just banks who’re profiting from AI. Our network uses AI to filter out nuisance calls before they reach our phones. And as hacking and cyberterrorism techniques become more advanced, we’re working to improve the technology’s inner workings. Meaning we can tell when our AIs are being manipulated by malicious hackers. And we can put a stop to it.