Web Summit round up: Five AI trends for the year ahead

Megan Wright bw
Posted: 11/11/2017

From ethical robotics to integrated roads, here’s a round up of the biggest trends in artificial intelligence from this year’s Web Summit conference

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What happens when you bring together almost 60,000 of the brightest minds in tech from across the globe? There is no shortage of inspiration, that’s for certain.

This month saw just that, as the annual Web Summit conference took place in Lisbon, Portugal, bringing together a stellar line up to discuss just about anything and everything related to innovation and technology. 

No topic was off limits—from the potential of computer-generated voice to empower human-machine interactions, to the need for an ethical framework for the robotics industry to the role of women and diversity in the tech industry. Headline speakers included Professor Stephen Hawking, former US Vice President Al Gore, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, Caitlyn Jenner and Cambridge Analytica's Alexander Nix.

In case you missed it, we’ve rounded up some of the leading conversations from across the three day-long event to give you a snapshot of the ideas, trends and discussions paving the way for AI in 2018:

Artificial intelligence: “Every aspect of our lives will be transformed”

“I am an optimist and I believe that we can create AI for the good of the world.” This was Professor Stephen Hawking’s message as he delivered the keynote address on opening night of the summit.

“We need to take learning beyond a theoretical discussion of how AI should be, and take action to make sure we plan for how it can be,” he said. “We stand on the threshold of a brave new world. It is an exciting, if precarious, place to be and you are the pioneers.”

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Professor Hawking also outlined the potential risks of AI, urging the audience to be aware of the dangers and employ best practice and management to prepare for consequences in advance. “We cannot predict what we might achieve, when our own minds are amplified by AI,” he said.

“Perhaps with the tools of this new technological revolution, we will be able to undo some of the damage done to the natural world by the last one, industrialisation. We will aim to finally eradicate disease and poverty. Every aspect of our lives will be transformed.”

Autonomous vehicles: “It’s all about integration”

What many people don’t know is that cars and horses co-existed on roads for more than 30 years in the early 1900s, said Nauto’s Karen Francis. “It’s all about integration,” said Francis as part of a panel discussion on how to handle the handover to autonomous vehicles (AVs).

Read more: Five challenges facing the autonomous vehicle sector

With more than two decades of experience working in automotive, Francis reflected on the nostalgic joy people derive from the industry and the opportunity this presents in the face of innovation.

“What we’re dealing with today is an industry that all of us are really passionate about together with IoT (Internet of Things) technology,” she said. “Things are being connected in a way we couldn’t even have imagined years ago. It’s awesome!”

Voice recognition: “It’s early days”

Did you know Amazon waited a year longer than planned before launching Alexa? It came down to making sure that it took Alexa less than one second—rather than two—to respond to a user, explained Amazon CTO, Werner Vogels.

“It’s about operating at speeds allowing us to have normal human interactions,” he said. “We wanted to make a human interface, not a computer”.

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Despite Alexa’s capability to recognize over 200 languages already, it’s still early days, said Vogels. “Think about the difference between English and Chinese, for example. And that’s not taking into account all the dialects and accents in the world,” he said.

Responsible robotics: “A robot is a sophisticated toaster”

The thing people fail to recognize about robots, said robot ethicist Aimee van Wynsberghe, is that this is a type of technology and we have to maintain the connection between the humans making that technology.

“A robot is a sophisticated toaster or fridge—so why would you have your toaster making decisions about your healthcare plan?”

Founder of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, van Wynsberghe believes that raising public awareness and getting global public policymakers involved in the sector is critical for the creation of rules and regulations.

“What Fairtrade did for coffee, we aim to do for robots,” she said, urging the equal importance for transparency practices when it comes to the creation of robots.

Consider for instance, if the parent company of an autonomous vacuum cleaner was to sell data including floor plans of customers’ houses to a global tech company, van Wynsberghe said. “What are the implications of this? What are the data privacy laws surrounding this? And what kind of ethical issues does this raise?

“It’s not about making a robot that’s ethically responsible—even we, as humans, are still trying to figure that one out.” Rather, it’s about humans taking more responsibility for robotics at every phase—from R&D to education to production and beyond, she explained.

Cybersecurity: “Cyberspace is the new battlefield”

“When the world looks back on 2017, they will remember May 12th,” said Microsoft president Brad Smith. For the first time in human history, this date marked an attack that simultaneously affected 200,000 computers in 150 countries across the world.

Read more: Imagining a global security framework for artificial intelligence 

You’re only as strong as the weakest link, Smith warned. “Cyberspace is the new battlefield.”

“We are entering a digital world where every thermostat, hospital, health device, airport, railway will be connected. And they could all fall like dominoes.”

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Megan Wright bw
Posted: 11/11/2017

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