Will the Robots Take Over? The Myths and Realities of A.I.

With big films like AI, Blade Runner and IRobot, we could be forgiven for believing that robots might take over the world pretty soon. But, in reality, artificial intelligence in its current form is radically different to the construct peddled by Hollywood - entertaining as it might be.

EventLAB tackled the subject of AI with two sessions that addressed the myths that surround the technology, as well as its use in society with particular focus on the events industry.

We welcomed Dr Maya Dillon, UK AI Lead at Microsoft and technology journalist Charles Arthur to the Conference Stage for an illuminating discussion on the misconceptions surrounding AI, followed by Will Swannell, co-founder of Hire Space presenting how he thinks the events industry will benefit from the technology.

We’ve broken down some of the most interesting points below but you can watch both sessions in full too.

Charles Arthur’s Pop Quiz: True or False?*

  1. There’s an A.I. system you can email to set up calendar invites?

  2. Self-driving cars can drive themselves without human intervention?

  3. All the topics chosen for this conference were chosen by A.I.?

  4. A.I. is coming to take all your jobs?

All our speakers suggested there’s still a lack of understanding around AI and the fundamentals. So, what is it?

Well, firstly there are three things we need to understand, Dr Maya Dillon explained:

Artificial Intelligence - This is the embodiment of human intellect, reasoning etc. It is essentially the study of human intelligence as applied to machines using algorithms.

Machine learning - This is a method of training computers and AIs - training a machine to take data and find patterns and from that experience, make predictions on data it hasn’t seen before. This is how humans learn - through experience.

Deep learning - This is a technique of applying machine learning - using neural networks to process larger and more complicated sets of data.

To create an AI you also need three things:

  1. Data to examine

  2. A computational element - i.e. hardware

  3. Algorithms

What is the reality then?

Never out of the top 10 tech trend articles for any given year, AI seems to have been the hot topic for years now, but actually it’s been around a lot longer than you might think. In fact, it has been around for decades. The reason we have seen an increasing amount of developments in recent years is that we have the computing capability to process the sheer amount of data needed to make it work.

“There’s been an escalation in technology in recent years. For AI to manifest itself it needs masses of data. It’s only now that we’ve reached that level of data and the computing power to process it.” - Dr Maya Dillon

So, why is the Hollywood storyline unrealistic? Well, AI is trained using data that humans provide, so it is not self-sufficient. It is also limited by that data and by its own mechanisms. So AI may work perfectly in one environment but not another. A good example is self-driving cars that struggle in different conditions such as changes in weather. They also can’t account for human error from other drivers or make judgements to avoid incidents that would be obvious to humans.

AI is a technology that we’re creating, the data is where we need to begin. It’s our responsibility to look at the data set and make sure it is representative of the people who’ll be using the end product, algorithms aren’t biased, data is. AI will be whatever we train it to be, we need to think about what our ethics are and be responsible in the way we use it and what we use it for.

What’s the future?

“It’s not about WHEN A.I. will arrive, it’s already here.” - Dr Maya Dillon

It’s in your mobile phone, your heating systems, everything we do. It’s more of a slow proliferation of technology into our everyday lives. The speed of disruption, unless there’s a huge advance in technology, will be a slow, manageable process that we can control.

And what about the events industry?

The events industry is in the early stages of adopting AI. Will suggests that the industry will follow the trends of consumer technology as it has in the past while Maya thinks it will be up to the industry to decide what works and what they want to use once the technology is available.

There are myriad ways that AI technology could help to push the industry forward, from everyday tools to make project management more streamlined and automated venue finding to personalised experiences and face-recognition for registration. Skype even has real-time translation technology that could assist with working with other markets. The most common manifestation of AI that people experience in everyday life is likely to be the ‘chatbot’, a relatively innocuous part of the customer service journey.

There’s a huge opportunity for anyone brave enough to make moves in this space, Will believes that rather than technology ‘taking over’ it will allow - sales people in particular - to focus on the ‘human’ side of their role. The time saved by automation can be used for relationship building and communication, the elements of the sales process that AI can’t yet emulate.

So, it’s a good thing?

AI makes our lives easier, from Netflix showing us what it thinks we’d like to watch, to Google predicting the ends of our sentences in emails, it has already slowly infiltrated, quite comfortably, into our homes and our workplaces and it doesn’t look likely to stop. Keeping ethics at the forefront when developing the technology in the future is a huge consideration, one that is a bigger concern than Terminator turning up. For now, anyway.

*1. True 2. False 3. False 4. False