Smart CEOs think about artificial intelligence, its impact: Google Cloud’s Fei-Fei Li
Artificial intelligence, or AI, is “one of the biggest technologies of the 21st century”, and has evolved from academic research to becoming “one of the biggest drivers of business today”, said Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist of Google Cloud and an associate professor in the computer science department at Stanford University while speaking to mediapersons on a live webcast.
Li should know.
She is one of the top AI experts in the world, especially in the AI sub-domain of computer vision.
“But we are very, very far from all that is possible,” said Li when asked about the problems that still need to be cracked in computer vision. While machines have used the brute computing power and large datasets to solve the issue of “naming objects”, she believes AI would be no match to someone getting up early in the morning and trying to find their car keys, for instance.
Li and her associates understand datasets very well, having worked on ImageNet—a huge dataset that now contains over 13 million images of animals, people, products and other ‘objects’ all over the world. The collective effort of AI researchers in developing and improving deep learning algorithms over the years has recently made it possible for an AI-powered system to correctly identify and label images with an accuracies of 97% and above—better than the human eye. Deep learning is a machine learning technique, which is loosely modelled on how neural networks in the brain work. Machine learning, itself, is a subset of AI and does not require specific programming to analyze huge data sets. (Also see)
Describing the properties of objects and figuring out their relationships with each other are still “very difficult” for AI to handle, according to Li. She explained that while AI systems have to be trained thousands of times on the same data to “learn something”, children can learn to do that same task easily with just one or two demonstrations. For instance, looking at a tool, children would know where to hold it and can grab it properly whereas AI-based robots would struggle for long.
Nevertheless, Li believes that AI is putting pressure on a lot of repetitive tasks and impacting “the landscape of labour”—something that is only going to accelerate in the next few years as AI capabilities and access to AI tools improve. “Smart CEOs should be thinking about AI and its impact on their respective business,” she said. They should also be looking at how AI can be adopted or adapted for their industries, she added.
Li likened the current and future job losses feared from wider applications of AI across industries to similar technological advancements in the past. For instance, she said that while a tool such as spreadsheets made a lot of book keepers redundant (while making them available for other analytical and accounting work), it was “curious” that the human tellers in banks continued to grow in number despite automated teller machines (ATMs). Li added that there has always been interplay between technology and the labour market and it needs the “whole society” to ponder over the question of job shifts in an AI-powered world. “As for me, I’m an optimist,” she said.
Google—like its peers such as International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) and Microsoft Corp.—has of late been opening up application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow coders to use the AI capabilities of the company for developing commercial applications in healthcare, travel, entertainment and media, and several other industry segments.
Li shared a few examples of how such AI interfaces are being used in the real world. For instance, Shazam, a UK-based music service with over 40 million songs in its database uses AI for “audio fingerprinting” which enables it to update its index of popular songs every hour instead of once a day earlier. Some Indian examples include publisher DB Corp, which uses Google Cloud for real-time publishing and uses the speech APIs to capture and document interviews; real estate portal NoBroker.in, which uses Google Vision API to identify rooms and figure out the condition of properties listed on the site; and software solution provider Searce, which has developed an intelligent software called HappierHR for converting paper-based processes into paperless ones.
While the AI technology is improving, Li believes that more and more companies and people need to have access to the AI tools and datasets to be able to get their own projects off the ground—something that Google is evangelizing through what is often termed “the democratization of AI”.