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AI is here to stay and here's what you need to know

Arridhana Ciptadi
Arridhana Ciptadi

Machine learning scientist at Amazon USA

Jakarta | Thu, October 26, 2017 | 08:34 am
AI is here to stay and here's what you need to know

We are at the beginning of the next wave of an industrial revolution. This time, the wave is being driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI). (Shutterstock/File)

We are at the beginning of the next wave of an industrial revolution. This time, the wave is being driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Look around, AI is already present in many parts of our lives. Do you have any pressing questions? Google can answer them better than anybody you know. Want to know the latest stories? Facebook and Instagram give you personalized streams of information that are more relevant for you compared to what is on television. In large part, the rise of these big technology companies is due to the successful application of AI, and what we have seen is just the beginning of this new age.

So, what is AI? In short, AI is a capability that allows a computer or machine to reason and perform tasks that typically require human intelligence.

While currently, we are still very far from a sci-fi-like AI that can emulate every single aspect of human intelligence, there are some domains where AI has clearly made immense progress. For example, areas like semantic search, natural language understanding, visual perception, and personal recommendation have been greatly affected by AI, and all of the big technology companies are racing against each other to deploy more AI capabilities to various aspects of their operations.

To put it simply, proper use of AI allows these tech companies to create new experiences and operate more efficiently. Consider this: the top five tech companies in the United States (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon) generate US$ $550 billion in annual revenue with only 660,000 employees. This means, each employee generates approximately $833,000 in revenue per year, which is 15 times higher than the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of the US.

This big gap in productivity will only increase as these companies apply more and more AI in their operations. Just as the previous industrial revolution brought great benefits to those who master the technology, the increasing application of AI will have a tremendous impact on the economy, society and social order.

Some of us might be skeptical about the potential impact of AI. After all, AI has a history of overpromising and under delivering. So, what caused this seemingly rapid progress and why should we expect it to continue? The big advances in AI today come from machine learning, a field that studies how we can train a computer to perform certain tasks by using a large amount of data.

Three things — that are different today compared to the past —drive the success of machine learning.

The first is better algorithms. Researchers have come up with better machine learning models and better ways to train these models from data.

Next, is the big increase in computing power. We have a lot more powerful machines today that allow us to train more complex machine learning models.

The last aspect is the availability of a vast amount of data. Every day there is more and more data being collected, and data is the key to training a useful machine learning model. Some companies are even willing to provide their services free of charge to users as a means to collect valuable data.

AI can be used to create better products, gain meaningful insight from data and automate existing operations. As the technology develops, AI will disrupt more and more industries.

Certainly, there are limitations on the kinds of jobs that can be automated with today’s AI, but here is a good rule of thumb: tasks that can be solved with two to three seconds of thought can most likely be automated either now or within the next two years.

It is just a question of investing the time and resources to build specialized AI for those tasks. We will soon start seeing more and more automation in labor-intensive jobs, especially those that require the application of repetitive skills.

Menial jobs are not going to be the only ones affected by AI. For one, the medical field is an area that is also ripe for disruption. A number of research projects demonstrate that we can train a computer to detect certain diseases in medical images as well as the best doctors. This is certainly something that can have tremendous value to society, as this technology can be a step toward bringing quality medical services to the masses.

AI will also greatly affect numerous other industries, such as manufacturing, logistics, automotive and even agriculture. It is safe to say that AI will become an increasingly larger part of our lives.

As a developing country, Indonesia should start thinking about how to position itself in this era of technological revolution. Recall the three components that drive the success of AI today: algorithms, computing power and data. It is fair to say that Indonesia is still lagging behind in all those areas.

We lack experts in this domain and also the computing infrastructure. Data can be one area that we can build upon, provided that we start thinking carefully about collecting the right kinds of data.

Overall, we need to think strategically about how we can invest more resources in these three areas, so that our country will not be just a consumer, but also a master and contributor in AI.

Expertise in AI will create a comparative advantage for those countries that have it, but it can also serve as a great equalizer among countries that master it. Let’s make sure that we will be able to stand equally among the experts.


The writer is a machine learning scientist at Amazon USA and holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He has published multiple papers in top conferences on machine learning and computer vision. The views expressed are his own.

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