One of the biggest stories of 2016 is that artificial intelligence (AI) worked its way into the mainstream.
The typical end of year stories suggested that the use of AI will grow during 2017. Computerworld, looking at the year just ended, says that heavy hitters such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, IBM, Intel and Nvidia all made significant artificial intelligence commitments. Another sign of the interest is CB Insights’ assessment that “at least 20” AI companies were acquired during the year.
Tech Times’ artificial intelligence highlights from 2016 include Google’s WaveNet platform, which the site says resembles human speech extremely closely. A team from Microsoft, the Delft University and ING used a robot to faithfully copy a Rembrandt, Google’s AlphaGo beat the world champion in the ancient and complex game Go, and Airspace System created a drone that can identify and intercept threatening drones. Finally, Google’s Neural Machine Translator developed an “interligua,” which “created and used its own language to bridge two languages it has not previously learned.”
A key is that AI is as good for small and mundane tasks as it is for the large and dramatic ones. Says Computerworld:
That's because big players in, and out, of the tech industry see the writing on the wall. A.I. is going to be a big player, whether it's being used to help customers pick out the perfect jacket online, or give them directions around an accident on their commute home, find fraudulent action on client accounts, or interact with clients and customers using voice commands, text, and chat apps.
Clearly, 2016 was a transition year in which AI became immediate and real. Indeed, it became too real for some folks in Japan. A story at Quartz yesterday very neatly illustrated one of the two great fears the technology inspires (alongside the machines taking over): The mass reduction of the workforce.
Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance is deploying an IBM Watson Explorer-based system to replace 34 insurance claim workers. The system will scan documents to determine and help expedite payments. The system will cost 200 million yen ($1.7 million) and require annual maintenance of $128,000. Savings will be $1.1 million annually and the return on investment (ROI) will be less than two years.
Asia is very active in AI. Tak Lo, the founder of Zeroth, an accelerator program for Asia-focused AI and machine learning startups, focused on the benefits of AI, while taking a shot at those who disparage the technology:
Human fallibility and variability are great for art, where it is a necessary requirement to produce even greater art. It’s great for startups, when we are looking for the next big innovation and we don’t know where to look. But it’s absolutely terrible for things like cancer detection, driving, aviation and a whole host of things that don’t need human intervention or decision-making.
When the history of AI is written decades from now, it is likely that 2016 will be seen as a pivotal year in which AI moved squarely to center stage, and that 2017 will be one in which it dug itself ever deeper into everyday experience.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.