This article is the first of our new series of discussions based on real conversations and questions asked by our audiences in events where #TeamNebuli presents and discusses various aspects of artificial intelligence (AI) and, of course, our philosophy of building augmented intelligence ecosystems that go above and beyond the “legacy” AI models. Moreover, we discuss why companies and teams of all sizes need to apply augmented intelligence principles within their projects now.
The aim of this series is for us to share with you the key points we gathered from audience members who have never or are considering applying AI that might be relevant to your current AI plans (if any). Above all, we will also share key concerns made by audience members in relation to AI’s security, privacy, ethics and social impact. Make sure you follow us to stay notified about our future events and Q&A posts. Also, you are very welcome to contact us with your questions and concerns as well. We are here to help.
In June 2019, I was invited to a great gathering of businesses and academics at the University of Leicester Innovation Hub, discussing why it is vital for businesses of all sizes, and in all markets, to start investing in AI right now or face serious challenges ahead. It was more of an interactive speech and I led it by asking the audience a very simple question: “When I say AI, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?”
This was one of my favourite fun parts of the session and really insightful as the responses varied quite significantly. The most common response was Robotics, followed by Automation and, then, by such fun responses as Star Trek, Terminator, Skynet, and the like. But on a serious note, none of the audience members realised that none of these answers represents AI. Yes, you have read this correctly, Automation and Robotics are NOT AI!
I know you may be as shocked as the audience was, probably thinking that I’ve lost the plot. But please bear with me as I explain why I made this statement.
Firstly, let us get a few basics out of the way:
The Meaning of Robotics and Automation
Essentially, the fields of robotics and automation are very closely related, some may even suggest that they are the same. Whichever way you look at it, both concepts involve high-level mechanical engineering and mathematical models that aim specifically at taking over jobs that we, the humans, cannot do very well or with adequate efficiency. Not to mention, jobs that might be too dangerous or even humanly impossible to achieve, like travelling and living on Mars without the need for food, air or water. The concept of automating human-led processes is one of the oldest concepts of mechanical engineering, spanning thousands of years. In other words, automation and robotic systems existed way before the concept of A.I. was ever conceived.
Hence, the concept of robotics and automation do not represent machine intelligence. Rather, their intelligence lies within their design and the maths that are human-led. To put it simply, autonomous machines are not intelligent, but they can operate efficiently with minimal human intervention. These machines do not make decisions, they just perform the tasks to which they’ve been assigned. For example, windmills (an invention that can be traced back to the Romans), are not intelligent and, thus, are not capable of making decisions. However, their intelligent designs allow them to adapt to windy conditions when necessary.
For this reason, defining or even connecting AI with robotics and automation is simply incorrect. This reminds me of how people were trying to define the Internet back in the 1990s and early 2000s: Is it the “e-mail thing” or the ” dot com network” amongst many other descriptions.
Right! So What’s AI Then?
Great question and here is the answer: It depends! Yes, I know you’ve probably just thrown your mug at your screen with rage, I know the feeling. But this is the reality of AI. Asking the meaning of AI is almost as ambitious as asking what’s the meaning of life. Seriously, the AI “universe” is so vast and rich with capabilities and opportunities that trying to define it with a single word, or even with a single statement, undermines its true capabilities and, more importantly, its dangers.
But to put you out of your misery, AI generally involves making machines, software systems and, of course, robots “think” and make decisions with minimal or no human intervention. For example, let’s take our own systems within Nebuli, we are building capabilities within the system where Nebuli automatically detects data inconsistencies that may lead to data breaches or database failure, then decide on the best way of mitigating these risks by correcting and eliminating the cause of this problem. No human involvement whatsoever. This process usually involves data administrators and data analysts making such decisions. This is artificial intelligence. We are not building any mechanical apparatuses or robots, not even windmills (boohoo). Instead, we applied human-level intelligence to machines so that they can start working smarter.
Modern automation and robotics are built with AI in mind. In other words, their design has been optimised for AI, and not the other way around and this is where my discussion with the audience led to this important question: If modern automation and workflows are built with AI in mind, what about the systems that have already been used without AI? How, or is it possible, to make them smarter as well without major investments?
Unfortunately, and I’m very sorry to repeat the answer that fills your heart with despair… it depends. But, seriously, it is theoretically possible and this is where our concept at Nebuli of Augmented Intelligence comes into play. I referred the audience to our first blog post which explains the difference between Augmented Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence, which you can read here.
Why Now or Never?
From this point onwards, my AI reference is based on our model of Augmented Intelligence as described in our AI vs AI post, since it is related to our current work with customers, partners and our R&D.
The reality of where we are today in the tech world is that AI is here to stay. Regardless of the scaremongering media reporting about AI’s dangers, mass job losses and social issues – where some of the arguments are indeed accurate, but far too simplistic (I’ll leave this debatable point for another day) – the world needs technological augmentation and major transformation in almost everything that we do. We must recognise that AI needs to be at the heart of our quest of dealing with the toughest challenges we are facing around the world today.
Going back to my 1990’s Internet nostalgia, negative arguments were made at the time about the dangers of the Internet…etc. Yet, we cannot live without it anymore, despite the serious issues we are facing today from data privacy to disinformation, from illegal political interferences to extremist ideologies spreading on social media, and the list goes on. Nonetheless, the positive economic outcome of the Internet cannot be ignored, nor it can be, and must not be, denied.
The upcoming industrial revolution powered by augmented intelligence takes this economic success to a whole new level. From our point of view at Nebuli, augmented intelligence powers, facilitates and accelerates the innovation and creation of opportunities uniquely associated with digital transformation markets and the ever-closer post-digital era and Web3.0. This is achieved by bridging markets and technology sectors that are traditionally seen as “unrelated” — including, but not limited to, distributed ledgers (such as Blockchain), artificial intelligence, extended reality (XR), Quantum Computing, IoT, transformative and many other emerging technologies (we call this the “technology collective”).
By combining AI with these key emerging technologies, we can start investing our attention toward augmenting human decision making and creativity, rather than replacing it and focusing only on productivity and automation. We believe that this opens up so many unexplored opportunities that can transform industries all over the world, creating millions of new job roles and setting up the foundation for new generations of startups.
According to Accenture’s latest technology review (published in February 2019), it is now critical for organisations to master the rising set of the new DARQ technologies (i.e. Distributed Ledgers, AI, XR and Quantum Computing) over 89% of businesses are already experimenting with one or more DARQ technologies, expecting them to be the key differentiators in digital transformation. In fact, from my own experience, there has been a particular spike in interest in these individual DARQ technologies by businesses since 2014/15.
Hence, we always advise companies and partners that Now is the time to adopt augmented intelligence, where we look at the whole technology collective as the critical foundation for future growth. From what we are seeing in numerous markets today, if businesses ignore the rise of this trend, their customers will migrate in droves to competitors who have applied one or a set of the technology collective offerings. Yes, I’ll go back to my Internet comparison, but it is important. Amazon embraced the Internet in full and invested most of their cash in building their online presence way before the vast majority of retailers who did not even contemplate jumping online, and we all know what happened to the retail industry ever since.
According to McKinsey & Company, AI alone has the potential to deliver additional global economic activity of around $13 trillion by 2030, which is about 16 per cent higher cumulative GDP compared with 2018. So it is an exciting opportunity for companies of all sizes and in all markets to engage with this new technological movement for a lucrative future.
And this ended our discussion with the audience members during and post the event at the Innovation Hub. There is a plethora of industry reports and market data available online that I would strongly recommend you to explore and conduct your own thorough research for your specific needs. Of course, you can also e-mail us your questions here and we will be very happy to help you. Make sure you stay notified about our future events and Q&A posts by subscribing to our spam-free newsletters (that’s a promise!).