Leaders in Change is an established event programme, a forum for leaders in the digital industry to talk about key areas of change they are driving. We are nearly halfway through the series (look out for our next events in May, July, September and November). So far we have led conversations on communication for leadership, setting expectations and delivering success.

The most recent was Ai and machine learning, which was led by Pete Trainor, Author, Co-Founder & Strategic Design Director at Us Ai

He took us on a whistle-stop tour of the history of Ai, and shared some examples of data-driven service that are amplifying the best of humanity, and where we could go as an industry to ‘do better things, rather than keep doing things better’.

Defining Ai

Pete kicked off his talk by asking the room how they would define Ai, and received a collection of responses, from “robots” to “use of algorithms to reach goal-based outcomes”.

There doesn’t seem to be much consensus on what Ai is, and what it isn’t, even amongst those in the digital industry.

Ai suffers from a perception problem and manages to be simultaneously over-hyped, and overly maligned all at once. Promises of the magic of ‘Ai-powered’ products and images of Terminator Two sit side by side in popular culture. This conflicting portrayal has been around for many years, but as the impact of Ai increases, so too does the divide between what people think it does, and what it actually does.

Pete walked us through a great timeline, from the coining of the term ‘Artificial Intelligence’ back in the 1950s, the victory of AlphaGo, and Mercedes’ work on driverless cars in the 1980s, through to today. Ai has been around a lot longer than many people realise.

What has changed is the interface with the user. It’s no longer in a supercomputer in MIT, it’s in our lounge. For example, Alexa, while only released four years ago, is already beginning to become a representation of Ai for many people. Then you have chatbots, which have proliferated across the online landscape, initially as a customer service triage, but increasingly for marketing and user engagement purposes.

These changing interfaces have brought Ai technology to more users in a short space of time – and VUIs do have a touch of the science fiction about them, which doesn’t hurt. But the real spark behind the acceleration is data.

There’s more data than ever before – a lot more. In fact, 90% of world’s data was created in the last two years. But there’s a change in the air.

Data has dismantled trust in Ai

Pete shared some insights he’d gleaned about the audience by using an algorithm, and it was incredible to see how much insight could be reached by just a name. As well as some sobering insights into the ratio of white men in the audience, he identified that three people are currently looking for a job. Even more impressively(or scarily), based on social media interactions, there were two people in the room apparently displaying the behaviour of someone having an affair.

It was amusing, but more than a little unnerving to see just how much information we’ve been giving away.

In the wake of the revelations this week about the harvesting of Facebook user data to influence elections by the now infamous Cambridge Analytica, the murky reality of how tech companies are using our data is being exposed to the world. This latest ‘breach’ may have been the final straw, but tightening regulations around data such as GDPR, and the convening of ethics boards at Google et al have been building over the last few months.

So how can we rebuild this trust?

Ai can add huge value – and data input is an important part of ‘training’ algorithms to be more helpful for the users they serve. But this data needs to be given freely, in a way that adds mutual value. Pete shared the inspiring story of his friend James, who wanted to share his story while battling a terminal illness. By repurposing a robot called Bo designed for the service industry, the robot was able to record James’ thoughts, and add value by helping him with certain tasks, serving as both a companion and a data ‘hoover’ to capture his personality.

Bo has been able to collect a depth and breadth of insight – blending the best of Ai and human knowledge to add real value to James’ life, and to all of those who will benefit from interacting with Bo in the future to learn about James and hear his story.

Ai is amazing – if it’s for everyone

Pete then went on to share some other amazing uses of Ai, including an application for blind people that allows them to hear a description of their surroundings, and even read facial cues – I can only imagine how amazing this technology would be to interpret the world.

This is just one of so many great examples – from detecting precancerous tumours in medical imaging, through to analysing cognitive biometrics to learn how people are feeling, and using this to spot signs of mental health issues. Ai is already doing great work.

But for Ai to do real good for everyone, it needs to be democratised. This requires that businesses approach it with the interests of everyone at heart, and work together as an industry to share best practices, and not lose sight of the idea that while Ai is great, but it is only a tool to serve humans. Pete ended with a great quote by the author Adrian Tchaikovsky: “progress is made by the improvement of people, not the improvement of machines”.

It’s going to be a challenging few years ahead as businesses and individuals grapple with the complexity of implementing and engaging with Ai responsibly. But it’s definitely going to be fun to be along for the ride.

If you’d like to talk about the impact of Ai, or find out more about future events we’re running, please get in touch at be@wearefutureheads.co.uk, I’d love to hear from you.

About Pete Trainor

Pete Trainor is a #1 bestselling author, designer, technologist, mental health campaigner and co-founder of Us Ai in London. He talks all over the world on creative & social technologies, data, artificial intelligence and the physiological & psychological effects on their audiences. Over the last three years, Pete has helped to pioneer an entirely new approach to Ai focused services, one that looks at ‘self-evolving systems’ and ‘minimum viable personality’ to help solve societal and human issues.

His recently published, bestselling, book, “Hippo – Human Focused Digital” takes a philosophical look at technology and design, challenging us to look inwardly at the self when designing future technologies.

Pete regularly appears in UK national and international press as an analyst on emergent technologies, and tech markets.

Pete chairs the Ai Think Tank for The British Interactive Media Association.

He was recently voted, by the industry, as one of the five most influential people in the British digital industry in Econsultancy’s 2017 industry report.

He has a very simple philosophy: Don’t do things better, do better things.

Pete recently sat down with us to talk about his career so far, and his predictions for the future, which you can read here. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Be Kaler Pilgrim


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