Technology & Innovation

All aboard the tr(AI)n to Westworld

By Bill McGloin, Chief Technologist – Information, Computacenter
Technology & Innovation
Published: 12 October 2017

Artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere now. Or rather, it’s everywhere in the media but we’re just at the cusp of it coming into, and impacting, our private lives. No longer do we need to worry about cloud or big data as our hype trends, now we have AI and its close friend IoT.

However, we are several years away from seeing the true impact of AI in business. With 8.4 billion connected devices expected to be in use in 2017, the growing quantity and varieties of these data sources allow business to transform. As the number of connected devices grows, our data scientists can interpret and turn this deluge of data into business information.

At present, this is simply machine learning, not true artificial intelligence. Current decision-making technologies and outcomes are programmed by humans, and these is no interpretation that leads to outcomes driven purely by complex algorithms without human intervention. We now have infrastructure solutions more capable than ever of processing information in real time. Take Sudoku as an example; a typical person would take over two hours to complete a 4×4 puzzle. Google Image Recognition Software can complete the same puzzle in 9 seconds. Therefore, we know advantages can be gained by systems completing tasks faster than humans can possibly consider.

The human touch
We have high precision robots, we can translate signs simply by pointing our phones at them using image recognition, and we almost have driverless cars; however, the car doesn’t quite understand yet why I want to go via Dominos to collect a pizza on the way home. The gap to true AI is logic and reasoning; whilst robots can do a significant number of human tasks they will not know why, as they are following a set of instructions. Whilst we can possibly program logic into a robotic operation, can we get the same robot to comprehend moral issues? What if a self-driving car is out of control? Does it drive into a wall risking its passengers, or hit a bus stop of people? The moral issue has relevance in these situations, and has to be involved in the decision-making process.

So, whilst we are still somewhat far away from holidaying at Westworld, the current rate of technological advancement will see it arrive in the next few years. It will have a material impact on all our lives and we will see autonomous vehicles, enhanced customer services and a myriad of options we simply have not considered yet. The data we are generating today is already impacting development of future products and services, from healthcare to transport, and everything in between.

The obvious concern is the terminator scenario where computers think for themselves and take over. As per the well-publicised exchange between Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk recently, there are differing opinions on this. Whilst unlikely, the potential for computers to adopt human traits of emotion, aggression and protection do exist, and it’s important that humans retain the ultimate off switch.

I’m not planning to develop my own Skynet just yet, and I fully intend that any robot will work for me, and not the other way about.