Exclusive Q&A. AI is to data analysis what a forklift is to heavy lifting, says Capacilon MD Jai Tamhane, and with the spotlight well and truly shining on the potential of AI to transform industry and enterprise as we know it, Internet of Business pulls up a chair for an in-depth conversation with the MD to talk realistic deadlines and expectations.
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Internet of Business’ Dominie Roberts seeks out the signal in the noise in another exclusive Q&A to try and uncover the true AI opportunity …
Internet of Business: In the past, you have addressed the changing definition of AI, before we start, can you share how you define AI and what AI means to you?
AI is a computer programme that does tasks which require some form of human intelligence. The intelligence itself is still on the side of the human beings writing these programmes. The perceived definition of AI is changing as some of the tasks, such as converting handwriting to digital text, are no longer considered to be cutting-edge anymore. This results in a paradox. The generally perceived AI remains cutting-edge and gives people the impression that AI is some futuristic reality. If we include all applications of AI, including the ones that have been in use for quite some time, into the discussions, we will start thinking of AI as just another computer programme.
Where do you see AI creating the most impact and how far away are we from being able to truly benefit from AI?
AI is to data analysis what a forklift is to heavy lifting. These programmes have already been making an impact. When you send a letter via snail-mail, AI is being used to convert the handwritten address into an electronic form. There is an irony in using a computer program for paper-based physical mail. But let’s leave it at that. Regarding your question of truly benefitting from AI, I would say that we need to focus more on the important problems faced by society as a whole rather than just coming up with a fancy new application that is a hammer in search of a nail. The challenging and valuable uses of AI are in disease detection, extreme weather predictions, and personalised education. These areas are already seeing a lot of activity, especially in the start-up space.
Many could argue that Human Intelligence is underrated whereas Artificial Intelligence is overrated, could you share your view on this?
I will refer to my earlier point that AI is just a computer programme. It is the programmers that are intelligent. The interpretation that AI is actually intelligent does a lot of injustice to the programmers, the mathematicians and the statisticians who have come up with a way to simulate the human thinking process, although in a very limited and narrow area of focus.
Jai Tamhane speaks at the Internet of Manufacturing event earlier this year.
With AI having the potential to truly transform the way we work, live and travel, what are the key challenges you believe will stand in the way of the AI reaching its full potential?
I would like to caution against assuming that AI will only transform the interactions in society for good. Let’s take the example of travel. Let’s say, we have self-driving cars that can be ordered via an App and will take you from point to point. These cars can travel extremely close to each other as they are capable of communicating and deciding how best to avoid accidents. Now, this will result in more total kilometres being driven on the roads. People no longer have a disincentive to avoid peak hour traffic. If you are not driving the car, you are experiencing the same effect as being on a train or on a bus. Except, you no longer have the inconvenience of adapting to a train or bus schedule. And it would be point-to-point. This would encourage people to go on longer trips and travel more frequently. This would overflow into the way we live and work. More business trips and more holiday travel with more time spent on the road are not unimaginable. Whether this is a good thing or not has arguments on both sides.
Who are the winners and losers of AI?
The biggest winners are the companies that have invested time and money into building up their AI expertise over many years. These are the companies that understand both, the opportunities and the limitations of AI. Due to the sheer breadth of what AI represents, I expect the giants of the corporate world to make the most of it. Think about some of the leading companies in Internet search, supply chain, online shopping and healthcare. The losers will, inevitably, be the smaller companies with exceptional ideas but lacking the volume of funding and the depth of expertise needed to push to the front. These are not just the smaller technology companies but also normal SMEs that are already struggling to keep up.
What’s the biggest stumbling block on the road to true AI?
I guess you are referring to AI that can think for itself like a human being, right? Society will be the biggest stumbling block. The fears are quite valid regarding having a computer programme, which cannot be controlled by humans, performing any critical task. We do not need to wait for a full human look-alike cyborg. If AI is being used uncontrolled in job application processing, criminal investigations, and election campaigns, there are serious consequences to society as a whole. The most worrisome part is that AI is already becoming unexplainable. It is difficult enough if a stranger asks you to trust them. It is practically impossible to trust an AI which is a programme written by a group of behind-the-scenes strangers.
What can companies do to overcome the organisational and internal barriers to implement AI?
Companies should most definitely not try to overcome the barriers. These barriers exist for a reason. They are a natural check and balance against over-dependence on technology. Companies should, instead, interpret these barriers to be concerns of the employees that have been converted into bureaucratic defense mechanisms. If the companies focus on addressing these concerns instead, there will be a far bigger advantage than trying to use AI as a workaround.
What would you like to see happen to speed this process along?
We need a change of mindset. We need to start appreciating the role of human beings in civilisation. If we respect our employees, our colleagues, and the human beings that are our customers and our suppliers, we will collaborate more often. AI can only detect patterns. It does not feel anger, love, hope, sorrow, jealousy, satisfaction, loneliness or peace of mind. AI needs to help society and not replace it.
Finally Jai, please share with us and the IoB readers your predictions for the next 5 years?
I fear that companies will over-invest in AI and related technologies. They will be locked into a roadmap that has very little chance of escaping from. We will reach a point where companies will spend more time regretting the technology decisions of the past rather than being able to be optimistic about the opportunities presented by their human resources.
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Internet of Business says
Industry 4.0 will only truly come to fruition when combining the Internet of Things with Artificial Intelligence, and with AI referenced as “the Brains behind Industry 4.0”, industry is already switching on to this major opportunity for true digital and technological transformation.
The impact that AI could and is already having will be discussed in the upcoming Internet of Manufacturing UK event at the Farnborough International Conference Centre this coming May (14 – 15) so don’t miss your chance to attend.