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Guest Blogger

Nikolas Kairinos, CEO and Founder, Fountech.ai

Over the next few decades, artificial intelligence (AI) is set to thoroughly reshape the way society functions. Nothing is more indicative of the technology’s potential than the fact that the world’s biggest tech companies are already placing AI tools at the heart of their products and services.

As someone who has worked for over three decades at the cutting-edge of the AI industry, I am excited to say that this technology is on course to transform the way we are able to perform even the simplest of tasks. That’s why we should be embracing AI’s disruptive potential.

How far advanced is AI today?
AI recently grabbed headlines as a result of a short technical failure at Facebook. The social media giant experienced a problem across its social media platforms (including Instagram and Whatsapp) whereby images uploaded by its users would not load. In their place were brief text descriptions offering information like: “image may contain: table, plant, flower, and outdoor” and “image may contain: one person, beard.”

While this was mainly seen as another technical failure from the embattled tech giant, what the media largely missed was that this incident provided a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the company’s use of AI to analyse users’ photos.

Today, machine learning (ML) plays a significant role in the smooth operation of social media platforms. Facebook has an estimated daily user base of 2.1 billion people and it goes without saying that its users upload far too much content (particularly in the form of images and video) for it all to be manually reviewed and catalogued by a human. Therefore, Facebook is trying to develop AI capable of performing this and other vital tasks like automatically removing content that is explicit or breaches community guidelines.

And that’s before you even get on to how third-party apps are using AI to supplement social media platforms. One company hit the headlines in 2016 for developing a program which could detect if a user had depression based on the photos they uploaded to Instagram.

Despite the potential for AI to make social media platforms more accessible and trustworthy, new developments like this can be controversial and attract negative attention. This is important, not least because AI’s critics often point to the biased outcomes that can result from poorly designed tools. For example, a recent study by the University of Essex into the use of AI enabled facial recognition software by the London Metropolitan Police found that only a fifth of the matches produced by the software were accurate.

Where might AI go next?
AI is an evolving technology, which means it is neither perfect nor beyond criticism. Yet in order for it to improve, and ultimately realise its potential, the world’s largest companies should be lauded for their boundary-pushing forays in the AI space. In the end, AI is too disruptive a force to be exclusively assessed in terms of its short-term impact on your timeline; it needs to be seen as a tool that can – and will – drive social progress.

Key to this are the many AI innovators who are bent on developing AI and ML tools capable of delivering impactful improvements to the fields of healthcare and education.

Already, AI is beginning to improve how patients are diagnosed by offering more precise scans than doctors can administer in a fraction of the time. Cardiologists in particular are enthusiastic about AI due to its capacity to improve the accuracy of echocardiogram (ECG) tests. This could lead to the earlier detection of heart disease, thus saving thousands of lives each year.

Still, AI’s contribution to healthcare is not limited to inventing a ‘robo GP’. I expect to see AI play a central role in the discovery and testing of new pharmaceuticals. AI tools can search every public database in order to generate hypotheses about which compounds might hold the key to the development of a new drug and then model thousands for their utility in a matter of hours. Researchers at US biotech company Berg have developed a model to identify potential cures for cancer by using AI to analyse immense amounts of biological data about both diseased and healthy cells.

Without doubt, AI is set to reshape the way we diagnose and treat disease but due to legitimate concerns around medical liability and patient confidentiality, AI will have to be gradually and sensitively integrated into medical use. Consequently, we at Fountech are focusing our efforts on the disruption of education through AI because we believe this is where it is set to have the most significant impact over the next decade.

At Fountech, one of our flagship projects is focused around developing Soffos – an AI based education platform that will utilise online learning materials to deliver personalised teaching to anyone, anytime, anywhere. We believe Soffos is the future of education worldwide; by enabling individuals to tailor the learning experience to their own preferences and objectives, AI could radically increase the extent of humanity’s knowledge within a generation.

A brave new world of AI innovation?
As AI tools become more sophisticated, they will continue to become further integrated into the most important areas of the economy and society. Of course, there will be hiccups, glitches and outages when new tools are released, not least because public understanding of AI continues to lag behind advances in the technology. But this is inherent to any new technology.

According to PwC’s global AI study, the potential contribution of AI to the global economy could be as much as $15.7 trillion by 2030. Ultimately, the world’s largest companies are right to be investing wholeheartedly in AI because, more than any other technology, it is set to have a profound and positive impact on society as a whole. That’s why I fundamentally believe AI disruption should be embraced, not feared.

Nikolas Kairinos is the CEO and founder of Fountech.ai – a company specialising in the development and delivery of leading AI solutions for businesses and organisations.