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Fear Not the Future: Humanity Needs Artificial Intelligence, and That’s a Good Thing

For years, there has been a certain fear around artificial intelligence.

By definition, AI is a machine capable of learning by itself and there’s something about this thought that leads many to picture a dark, dystopian future. In recent years, even some tech visionaries have joined the chorus on the threats posed by artificial intelligence.

Running counter to these doom and gloom AI scenarios is the current scene in my hometown of Montreal. With famous university professors pioneering new research, hundreds of millions of dollars of provincial and federal research and development funding pouring into the city, and the world’s largest tech giants recently joining the party; there is a growing excitement in the Silicon Valley of AI.

As a futurist, I too am more optimistic than alarmist. I prefer the term ‘Intelligence Augmentation’ to artificial intelligence, as the word artificial often has a negative connotation.

When looking forward, I also like to focus on all of the ways that AI will soon change our lives for the better. And this starts with a simple explanation into why we need it in the first place: the amount of data in the world is rapidly expanding and is no longer sustainable for humans. Each year, the volume of data we produce doubles and over the next decade there will be 150 billion networked sensors (more than 20 times the people on earth).

As the amount of data in the world multiplies, AI will only improve in helping us increase efficiency, save lives, reduce errors, solve complex problems and make better decisions in real time.

Here are just a few examples of why we should embrace a future with artificial intelligence.

Efficiency

Picture a farmer in the digital age. His virtual assistant wakes him up each day with weather updates and production numbers. He learns that cow #802 is running a fever and that his robotic milking technology has already decided to call the vet and isolate the cow after analyzing the morning output.

Robotics and automation on Canadian dairy farms are already bringing this scenario to life. On the other end of the food distribution chain, Amazon Go’s prototype grocery store is using deep-learning technology (a form of AI) to automatically identify when we add items to our carts, so we never again have to wait in long checkout lines.

Saving Lives

In the rail transport industry, companies are already experimenting with cameras, sensors and drones (flying and on wheels) that inspect the railway track ahead in order to prevent derailed trains and other devastating accidents.

When it comes to saving lives, the healthcare sector will obviously be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the AI revolution. Thanks to Stanford University’s large Cloud data bank of 130,000 skin cancer images, people will soon be able to use their smartphone to take a photo of their strange mole or lesion and have it instantly and accurately analyzed without ever having to go to the doctor and wait for results.

Reducing Errors

In the digital hospital of the future, doctors will have more time to spend with patients as robots are used to prepare and distribute pills without errors, and blood test results are delivered with impressive precision in minutes versus hours.

Perhaps best known for defeating a chess master and winning the game show Jeopardy, IBM’s Watson computer has also proven incredibly adept at connecting disparate pieces of information from medical journals, helping doctors save time and better treat their patients. Similarly, in the financial world, JPMorgan Chase is using machine-learning technology to read and interpret commercial loan agreements, reducing errors while saving their legal team over 360,000 hours of mind-numbing paperwork each year.

Real Time Decisions

Analysts estimate that, by 2030, self-driving vehicles will account for as much as 60% of U.S. auto sales. This is good news considering more than 35,000 Americans die of fatal car crashes annually and that 90% of all traffic accidents can be blamed on human error.

While humans only have a limited amount of information available to them while driving (not knowing perhaps that there’s a bicyclist in their blind spot or a woman with a baby carriage is about to round the sidewalk), the smart cars of the future will use hundreds of cameras and sensors to assess a 360-degree view of the situation before making a split-second decision.

Better Decision Making

Artificial Intelligence will of course not only help us make faster decisions, but better decisions.

I recently met with a CEO of a large corporation who is experimenting with AI to improve employee hiring. By using the technology to predict which potential employees will stick around, the company hopes to save millions in on boarding and training.

Perhaps an even better example is the use of biometrics in the customer service world. Businesses are starting to use “voice prints” to quickly identify their customers over the phone, helping service reps save time and remove the customer frustration that comes with answering a myriad of security questions. Easily integrated into solutions such as Avaya Oceana Contact Center, AI and biometrics are assisting agents to respond quickly and accurately to their customer on any channel they chooses to interact with—web, text, email, social media, voice, video, chat-bots, etc.

Solving Complex Challenges

When I say the universe’s greatest challenges will be solved by AI, I’m not being hyperbolic. NASA recently announced it was exploring ways to use AI in autonomous space probes, and here on earth, quantum computing (the next big thing) is already helping researchers accelerate the drug discovery R&D process and support new therapies for patients with complex neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

No matter how big or small the application, artificial intelligence is the future. It will be omnipresent—everywhere and in everything. But rather than fearing this technology, we should embrace it.

AI will not lead to the downfall of the human race. Instead, by helping us better analyze data and make quicker, smarter decisions, it will help us realize our true potential and achieve previously unimaginable new heights.

Rejean Bourgault is President of Avaya Canada.

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