Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

Don’t lose sight: data is the key

Artificial intelligence is uppermost on the minds of firms that are on the path to digital transformation. It is both a disruptor and transformer

It’s that time of the year when our quarterly ‘Digital Dossier’ takes stock of technologies that are still maturing, and those that are likely to fall along the wayside under the weight of their own hype.

As our lead story underscores, artificial intelligence is uppermost on the minds of firms that are on the path to digital transformation. It is both a disruptor and transformer.

Sophisticated machine learning—considered a subset of artificial intelligence—and deep learning (a machine learning technique) algorithms are being trained on humongous amounts of data to draw inferences and patterns that can help firms make better business decisions. The increase in computing power is only helping artificial intelligence do this task, faster and almost in real-time. Artificial intelligence is already in your smartphones in the form of voice assistants, smarter cameras that can auto correct the focus and sharpen pictures, intelligent email inbox, etc.

Artificial intelligence is also doing image recognition, speech recognition, besides powering self-driving cars and powering smart home automation devices. Yet, there are concerns since unsupervised deep learning neural networks (loosely modelled on the human brain) are still largely unexplained black boxes. This has given rise to the concept of ‘Explainable AI’, pressuring the neural networks to explain how they arrived at a decision just as we humans do.

Blockchain, the technology that powers cryptocurrencies, is another tool that holds a lot of promise in terms of reducing costs, building efficiencies and establishing trust. But there are challenges like slower speeds (4,000 or so) of processing transactions (compared to say a master card or visa card that does almost 40,000).

Besides, most pilots across the world are being done with private (permissioned) blockchains that can perform thousands of transactions per second but cannot be termed as ‘true blockchains’ since they are ‘distributed digital databases’ being run on a private network. Nevertheless, in whatever form it runs, blockchain (or whatever we eventually may call it) remains a promising technology.

The Internet of Things (IoT), especially in industries, is expected to reach the tipping point with the speedier 5G networks. There is a lot of work being done using IoT with artificial intelligence since meaningful inferences have to be drawn from the mountains of data thrown up by the thousands of sensors.

Further, IoT can also be used with blockchain for smart contracts and keeping a trail of smart devices and their interactions.

In this edition, we also have many CEOs sharing their thoughts on these disruptive technologies will impact us, while stressing on the critical need for cybersecurity and data privacy, and addressing issues like whether robotics, automation and AI will impact our jobs or not.

Meanwhile, if you’re still wondering if artificial intelligence will ever become sentient, the short answer is: ‘No one really knows’. You may, though, take comfort from this quote by the late Marvin Minsky, co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Artificial Intelligence Project (now known as Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, or CSAIL):

“When intelligent machines are constructed, we should not be surprised to find them as confused and as stubborn as men (or women) in their convictions about mind-matter, consciousness, free will, and the like."

Leslie D’Monte is Mint’s national technology editor

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