Microsoft’s fifth annual Future Decoded conference focused on highlighting the power and the opportunities of artificial intelligence (AI) when it took place in London from 31 October to 1 November.
AI is the result of an age-old aspiration to create a machine with the cognitive functions of the human brain. AI has been around for decades, and although you probably didn’t know this, you’re already using it. From companies that recommend movies for you to watch, to your Microsoft Outlook calendars syncing automatically, AI is already benefiting you in your everyday life. So, how does it work?
AI is different to coding. Unlike with coding where a programmer inputs a set of instructions for the computer to follow, AI-powered machines are taught a rule and they then train themselves using that data. It’s truly futuristic.
AI has been around since British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing OBE invented the Enigma Machine at Bletchley Park in World War Two. Even back then, AI hugely transformed humanity and Turing’s machine enabled Britain to crack intercepted code messages from the Nazis, which helped the allied powers to win the war. However, Microsoft repeatedly drummed home throughout the two-day conference, now is the time that AI is set to grow exponentially.
We’re now in the era of the software revolution and this is due to three key factors.
The first is big data. We live in an age in which the amount of data existing in the world is incomprehensible. In fact, 90% of the data in the world was generated in the past two years. And it’s not that shocking considering that 16 million text messages are sent every minute. Data is arriving in greater volumes and at greater speeds that ever. Even as you’re reading this, the latest statistics on the amount of data is outdated by a factor of hundreds. This aggressive increase in the volume of data generated is paving the way for AI development.
High computing power is another factor. Cloud hosting platforms enable computers to manage and work with larger volumes of information with greater ease than ever before.
Finally, we have more powerful algorithms. The creation of algorithms that enable machine learning has given rise to this whole new possibility for using AI in everyday life. When combined with big data and greater computing power, these algorithms will help the real-life applications of AI to increase at an exponential rate.
The opportunities for AI are endless and the technology’s power is being harnessed in every sector. For example, AI is already aiding surgeons in medical procedures, and although it is still in its infancy, it is expected to transform the world of medicine. Microsoft is currently working in partnership with Adaptive Biotechnics. Using the power of AI, the two companies are working towards using a single blood test to track the millions of antigens present in the human body and then to map these against various diseases. Thanks to AI, work that would previously have taken decades can now be done in a matter of days. If successful, this project could go on to produce a cure for cancer. Incredible things are possible with AI.
But AI is not just beneficial to medicine. Businesses are using AI to enhance security, increase employee efficiency and hone their online advertising effectiveness. Regardless of the sector, AI has the potential to transform every industry.
Throughout Future Decoded, Microsoft continually enforced the notion that we should not just be thinking about what we can do with AI, but what we should do with AI. The point being that you could hypothetically achieve anything with AI, but that doesn’t always mean it would be ethical. Microsoft explained the possibility of job displacement, highlighting that companies need to consider the negative impacts AI could have within their organisation. While the opportunities for AI are incredible, there could be unintended negative impacts and companies need to take responsibility for this if they intend to use this new technology.
On the first day of the conference, Microsoft released The AI Opportunity Report, which outlines how companies who have embraced AI have benefited and how readers can start to adopt AI in their company. According to the report, 41% of business models for organisations will cease to exist in five years, thanks to the power of AI. Thus, it is important for companies to get on board with this game-changing technology immediately to ensure they don’t get left behind.
Speaking at the conference, KPMG’s head of Digital Disruption Seamus Rae discussed the importance of companies getting behind AI. He stressed that we need to change the conversation surrounding AI from one of dystopian ideology to one of utopian ideology. As he explained, the New York Times published an article in 1957 claiming that AI was going to destroy the world in a couple of decades. Although this hasn’t happened, there’s still a significant negative feeling surrounding the dangers of AI and that’s something that we must change if we are going to harness the power of future technologies.
The power of AI is incredible and the technology is progressing quickly. Microsoft claims that it could be the most game-changing piece of technology ever developed, and that the real-world impacts of it are unlike anything we have ever seen. However, we must all bear in mind that it isn’t what we can do with AI, but what we should do to ensure it is used for the benefit of humanity.
Megan Burberry is an account manager at ClerksWell
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