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Businesses adapting to the uses of artificial intelligence

Questions arise about its dangers vs. benefits to society

Computers are becoming more like humans every day.

Local experts believe we have passed the infancy stage of artificial intelligence but have not quite gotten to the adolescent stage yet.

Bryan Reinicke, associate professor of information systems at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business. (Photo by Kate Melton)

Bryan Reinicke, associate professor of information systems at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business. (Photo by Kate Melton)

“Artificial intelligence really covers anything you’re trying to get the computer to mimic (in) human behavior,” said Bryan Reinicke, associate professor of information systems at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business. “These are all the things that we’ve learned since birth, but computers don’t know any of that. A lot of computers are incredibly fast at mathematics, but they’re profoundly stupid.”

The power of computing to remove human error in tasks across industries is particularly compelling.

“It’s basically using machines to carry out tasks in a way that we would consider to be smart or more intelligent than a group of humans would do them,” said Joe Vigorito, director of mobility and security for Annese & Associates. “If you could perfect a task-driven process in the form of a human and say, ‘OK, do it that way every single time’ that is what artificial intelligence brings to the equation.”

The fear surrounding artificial intelligence—known as AI—is technology taking over jobs from humans. That is not unwarranted, Reinicke says.

“The job losses are real,” he said. “Artificial intelligence ranges from autonomous vehicles to the systems that determine your credit level. There’s no way around the fact that artificial intelligence can be used to replace human workers and will in certain areas.”

Adds Vigorito: “We’ve got a lot of manufacturing companies in the Rochester area; that’s a very important sector. A lot of people say, ‘Isn’t that going to eventually replace our jobs?’ If misused that could be a long-term trend, but the goal is not to replace people with machines. It’s to make the people much more effective.”

While AI has been developing for decades, it is currently being put to use in autonomous cars, to support research in a variety of fields, with the Internet of Things applications like Amazon Alexa, and in machine learning.

“If you think about it, we as a society have been talking about AI for decades. You can go back to the original Star Wars movie, which is the late 1970s, and you’ve got walking droids that have their own thoughts, feelings, etc.,” Reinicke said. “We’re now getting to the point where the computing power is there to actually do the stuff that’s been science fiction for forever.”

Computing power continues to surge according to Moore’s Law, which envisions transistors per square inch on integrated circuits doubling annually. This drives AI forward—fast.

“Computing power doubles every two years, and that puts you on an exponential curve. We’re now to the point on that curve where it’s vertical,” Reinicke said. “That’s why you’re starting to see these advancements, because it’s suddenly possible to do it. For businesses, the question is not will AI play a role, the question is how is it going to play a role.”

At D4 LLC, a firm that focuses on the legal industry, chief operating officer John Rubens says that while AI is changing the profession, the concept of “robot lawyers taking over the legal profession” might not be the end game.

“What we do see a huge impetus in is how we use technology to enhance how they do their job better,” he says. “Lawyers have to review a lot of information. They have to read a lot of documents; they have to look at a lot of data. It’s helping use technology to find the information that is most useful to you so you can take action on that information.”

Once AI helps sift through the data, humans then have to decide what to do with it. Companies will need leaders who can view the data with decision-making in mind.

“Amazon has been great about using the data they collect from transactions to then make decisions about their business, but it’s not the computer who’s making all those decisions—it’s Jeff Bezos,” Rubens said.

All business leaders should be aware of AI as something that could be revolutionary in the coming years.

“I think that businesses can’t approach this from a fear-based perspective. You have to approach it from an opportunity perspective,” RIT’s Reinicke said. “There is no resisting this. AI really could represent the largest revolution since the Industrial Revolution as far as the way we do things.”

With AI coming into play in multiple areas such as smart homes, humans may be wary of the constant monitoring. These computers are just doing what they are told to do, Vigorito says.

“And some people would even call it a bit creepy: ‘Wait a minute, my refrigerator knows more about me then maybe my family knows,’” he said. “The machine just looks at behaviors and attributes and it makes predictive decisions. It doesn’t really know you; it just knows what you do.”

In the medical field, AI could help doctors see things their brains cannot process.

“You make an inference that is not actually there,” Vigorito said.  “Maybe the human being looked at (the diagnosis) and it was one in 100, but they couldn’t extrapolate to say it’s one in 10,000 because they don’t have the mental bandwidth to look at 10,000.”

IBM Corp. has made AI one of its business divisions. The company has consulting, hardware, software and Watson—a cognitive system. Watson is performing a variety of tasks across industries.

“IBM is leading the charge with their AI-type technology ,which is analyzing historical data around legal decisions,” D4’s Rubens says. “And by plugging in the information about the types of cases and the verdicts, they are using that information to try and predict the outcome of cases.”

IBM’s Watson will also be used in the 2020 census, Vigorito said.

“They are going to use Watson to have a smoother, more accurate experience,” he says. “They are going to predict when people are home, so it will have cognitive intelligence. It will have advanced analytics, so it will be able to go through unstructured data. It will have 80 percent more accuracy than the prior census did.”

The next decade could bring about major changes in how things are done. There will be more information for consumers to use to make decisions than ever before, Vigorito said.

“What if I could tell ahead of time that there was a 98 percent chance that the plane that I was about to get on was going to crash?” he says. “What I really think we’re going to see in the future is these systems are actually going to direct human behavior in some way.

“We will live in a world of probabilities and ratios. Imagine you’re a startup and you plug a whole group of information about your startup and it tells you what your odds are of making it beyond two years,” he adds.

The legal field is one that needs some help distilling data down to practical use. There will always be more information than lawyers can refer to on their own.

“In litigation there could be millions and millions of documents, and it’s just overwhelming for people to grasp that because the fact is there are probably a dozen key documents,” Rubens says. “You still have to do something with those millions to find the needle in the haystack. I think we are getting into more complex questions that are being asked.”

There are downsides to using AI, which are complex and still being explored.

In the case of autonomous cars, for instance, death is a possibility if the computer is hacked or if unforeseen circumstances arise. There are also regulatory concerns, plus the large expense for research and development in this field and issues of privacy to be worked through.

“I think part of the problem is it extends the chasm between the haves and the have-nots,” Vigorito says. “So for the small or midsized business that can’t necessarily leverage all of the benefits of these tools, you may get further left behind in the marketplace. I think that’s one dilemma—can everybody afford to keep up with the pace of change?”

Hacking is a major concern, RIT’s Reinicke said.

“AI is not a purely beneficial technology. If you take the example of the smart home, there are concerns about hacking,” he says. “The simple fact is you’re only as secure as your most vulnerable link.

“It’s one thing for me to say to Siri, ‘Hey, schedule a meeting for this time’—that’s not going to kill me! But when you start talking about autonomous vehicles, you do start to talk about the risk of death and that’s where people get squirrely, understandably.”

The issue of regulation is another concern. Since computers simply do what they are told, they could be programmed to operate outside of the legal realm.

“AIs are effectively black boxes; they don’t actually think,” Reinicke says. “AI can’t think. It mimics thought, and it will do exactly what it’s told. If you tell it to do something illegal or unethical, the AI is not going to have any qualms about that.”

Adds Rubens: “I think there are some valid concerns around letting computers make all the decisions. If I needed a lawyer and I was going to court, I don’t think I’d want to put my life in the hands of a computer, but I also want that attorney to have the best information available.”

The fact is, AI is the future, area experts say.

“I think for the Rochester business community it’s the same lesson for the wider business community: The technology is there and it’s advancing every day,” Reinicke says. “The question becomes how can I use that in my business. If you’re thinking it’s not going to impact your industry, you might want to think again. You can’t just ignore it.”

kfeltner@bridgetowermedia.com / 585-653-4020

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