AI: Man vs machine, or man AND machine?
By Lum Ka Kay March 14, 2016
- Cognitive computing merely a tool that supports decision-making
- Watson helps to personalise recommendations in different industries
WITH the recent triumph of the Google AlphaGo program over Go master Lee Se-dol in Seoul, the doomsayers are in full chorus again over the spectre of Hollywood-style artificial intelligence (AI) taking over humanity.
It was the same fear in the late 1990s when IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer beat then reigning chess world champion Garry Kasparov.
There are a few differences however: Go is considered a much more intricate game than chess, and AI technology has improved quite a bit since then, and we’re seeing breakthroughs such as Google’s self-driving cars, virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, and even IBM Watson’s win in popular trivia quiz Jeopardy!.
Enough that even sober scientists are taking note. In a December 2014 interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), renowned physicist Stephen Hawking expressed his concerns, saying that AI poses a threat to humanity’s existence, despite its usefulness.
“It would take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate,” he said, echoing futurist Ray Kurzweil’s warning of the technological ‘singularity,’ the hypothetical point at which an AI can develop and build even smarter machines beyond human understanding.
“Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded,” Hawking told the BBC.
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But technology companies keep working on the technology. For instance, IBM’s own research and development over the decades have led to breakthroughs like expert systems and neural networks, and now, IBM Watson, its cognitive computing technology.
When asked if there was a chance that Watson would ever supersede humans, IBM Malaysia chief technology officer Freddy Lee emphasised that the cognitive computing technology is merely “a tool to support decision-making.”
“Most AI applications consist of purpose-built, narrowly-focused applications, specific to a particular service. They use a few of the core capabilities of cognitive computing, while some use text mining. Others use image recognition with machine learning.
“Most are limited to the application for which they were conceived,” he told Digital News Asia (DNA) on the sidelines of a media briefing in Kuala Lumpur recently.
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Lee said that cognitive computing is designed to work hand-in-hand with human expertise and other uniquely human attributes – for example, judgement and emotional context.
Cognitive computing refers to a broader field of technology that defines systems that learn at scale, reason with purpose, and interact with humans naturally, he added.
“Cognitive systems are probabilistic – this is a core point of difference as it means they are not programmed; instead, they have been trained,” said Lee.
“They can generate not just answers to questions but can also hypothesise, reassure responses, and make recommendations around more complex and meaningful data.
“Programmed systems, on the other hand, can only respond to what they have been programmed to know. As a result of being probabilistic, cognitive systems can understand, reason and learn,” he added.
The cognitive era
At the IBM media briefing, Lee (pic) declared that Watson could enhance peoples’ lives by crunching large amounts of data.
“We’re living in a world awash with data, where 80% of them are invisible to computers. It means that these computers are not making sense of most of the data they collect.
“But Watson, unlike regular computers, is able to pick up these data and learn about them,” he claimed.
Watson can also be customised for the specific needs of various industries. For example, Watson Health can help doctors increase the accuracy of a diagnosis based on all the data it has gathered.
According to Lee, this “personalisation” feature can be used in online shopping as well.
Outdoor apparels and equipment expert The North Face adopted IBM Watson last December to enhance the shopping experience.
Its customers can interact with Watson based on a series of Q&As to let the AI help them fulfil their shopping needs more accurately.
In banking, Singapore’s DBS Bank and Malaysia’s Hong Leong Bank have adopted Watson to boost customer experience.
Currently, IBM Watson has application programming interfaces (APIs) for 18 services, and Lee said IBM aims to increase that figure to 50 by year-end, with more to be added every year.
Users can access these services here.
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