AI faces its biggest challenge: how to build trust

At Dell Technologies World conference, techies were warned of ‘awesome responsibility’

Dell’s CEO painted a picture of a future where blindness, deafness and paralysis could all be eradicated with the use of robotics, implants and artificial intelligence. Photograph: Getty Images

Dell’s CEO painted a picture of a future where blindness, deafness and paralysis could all be eradicated with the use of robotics, implants and artificial intelligence. Photograph: Getty Images

 

If there is one thing that Michael Dell is sure of, it’s that the future is exciting. When he took to the stage to extol the virtues of technology, though, it came with a warning: technologists needed to take responsibility for their actions.

And that doesn’t just mean in mopping up after yet another tech misstep; Dell thinks we should be actively working together and using technology to make people’s lives better.

“Humankind has made astonishing progress during the last 3½ decades,” he said in his opening keynote at Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas, describing it as “the pre-game to what’s ahead”.

The Dell founder painted a picture of a future where blindness, deafness and paralysis could all be eradicated with the use of robotics, implants and artificial intelligence.

But although he was convinced that the pace of progress would increase, we still have a way to go before we get to that utopian future. And, in the meantime, we will have to somehow address the “awesome responsibility” that will land on the shoulders of both the tech industry and society as a whole.

Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Technologies: “While tech can amplify human genius, it can also amplify human frailty.” Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Technologies: “While tech can amplify human genius, it can also amplify human frailty.” Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The march of artificial intelligence in our lives has caused more than a few raised eyebrows. There are plenty of useful applications for algorithms and machine learning. Our lives are being organised by digital assistants who learn from us as we use them. Our homes are controlled by heating systems that learn from our daily movements; our phones offer us travel recommendations based on our regular commuting schedule without being prompted.

Detect accidents

In the UK, AI is being used by some councils to monitor CCTV footage to detect accidents and their impact on traffic in real time as part of a pilot project with FlowX. The technology company uses computer vision to analyse footage from the existing CCTV network and extract transport data.

So far so benign. But AI is also the subject of a fierce debate. There are concerns about how the technology will affect everything from our employment prospects to our humanity. Questions have been raised about how much we can trust this new wave of artificial intelligence.

However, Rana el Kaliouby, co-founder and chief executive of MIT Media Lab spin-out Affectiva, posed a curious question to attendees: can AI trust in humans?

The company, which is on a mission to humanise technology by building “emotion artificial intelligence”, is 10 years old. In that decade, it has developed software that can recognise human emotions and applied it to everything from helping brands with improving marketing and advertising messages to political polling.

“I’ve spent the last 20 years of my career on this mission to build machines that can understand all things human,” said El Kaliouby. “Emotion AI or artificial emotional intelligence isn’t just going to change the way we connect and communicate with our devices – I believe it’s going to fundamentally change how we’ll communicate and connect as people.”

The idea is that the technology will allow machines to identify emotions in the same way as humans can – able to tell the difference between a smile and a smirk, for example, or allowing online learning apps to detect how engaged a student is and adapting the system accordingly.

Utilise emotions

The one advantage that humans have had over technology is the ability to read and utilise emotions. But with this new ability trained into AI, the balance may be shifted slightly.

“We need to rethink our relationship with technology. I believe we need a human social contract between humans and machines,” said El Kaliouby.

She cited a number of cases where that trust relationship had already gone wrong: Microsoft’s attempt at Twitter chatbot Tay, which turned racist in a remarkably short period of time interacting with people; some self-driving cars being involved in fatal accidents; the use of facial recognition. That poses a problem for the relationship between AI and society.

“We know we can’t work or live alongside people we don’t trust. I’d argue that’s the same for our AI assistants as well,” she said. “I don’t think of it as humans versus AI. We are all communicating in a digital world. AI might become better at helping humans solve problems, but humans pick the problems.”

Facing into a new digital age, Michael Dell urged organisations – from private sector to government bodies – to reimagine themselves for the new digital age. Data is one of the greatest assets and most important resources for companies in this new age: renewable and inexhaustible.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is contributing to that explosion in data, gathering data from a rising number of sensors and weaving an ever more intricate web.

We’re right on the cusp of takeoff for 5G. I think we’re going to see massive capabilities, and new opportunities

“The IoT space is ramping massively. When we started in 2016, it was customers coming to me asking what was IoT, how can it help me,” said Jeff McCann, Dell’s global head of strategy for IoT.

“We’re seeing a massive increase in end-user customers coming into us saying, ‘I have a manufacturing facility, I have a business need, I have a business problem. How can Dell Technologies architect that and solve that?’

‘Business side’

“On the IoT side of things we would always talk to the business side and find out what are the challenges and needs, rather than starting on the IT side. We find if a business team can articulate what they want, we can work with the IT team to deliver that requirement. If you try to do it the other way, it’s – to use a phrase one of our American colleagues uses – trying to push a noodle uphill.”

The new generation of mobile networks is only going to increase interest in that area. Although 5G is only getting off the ground in Ireland, with networks such as Vodafone runnings tests, companies are getting ready for it.

“We’re right on the cusp of takeoff for 5G. I think we’re going to see massive capabilities, and new opportunities,” said McCann.

One project Dell’s Cork customer solutions centre has been working on could bring high-tech diagnostics to ambulances. The solution is designed to monitor a potential stroke patient, using artificial intelligence to monitor their facial expressions and be able to tell if they are having or about to have a stroke.

“The compute power for that is massive, having it on board an ambulance isn’t really feasible,” McCann said. “What 5G is allowing us to do is using multiple access edge compute devices is be able to push that dataset out and have it analysed very close to where you are. With the 5G networks and the capabilities brought by 5G, they’re going to increase that bandwidth dramatically.”

The advent of 5G is also expected to bring benefits to cities as they become increasingly digitised.

‘Smarter city’

“At the highest level, the outcome we’re going to deliver is better quality of life,” said Howard Elias, president of services, digital and IT at Dell Technologies. “That’s the ultimate objective of getting to a smarter city. It touches on everything: transportation, healthcare, education, crime.”

Smarter cities rather than smart – that distinction is important. “It’ll be a long time before cities are completely digitised,” said Elias. “There’s not that many greenfield cities in this world.”

Technology overwhelmingly improves our lives, but it also comes with challenges

The applications for the technology are exciting, but there will be challenges coming down the line: how to balance technology with humanity, how to keep bias out of AI, how much automation we can implement in our lives, and that all-important social contract with artificial intelligence.

But the cautiously optimistic note sounded by Michael Dell at the beginning of the event in Las Vegas still stands.

“While tech can amplify human genius, it can also amplify human frailty,” he said. “Fire can burn down a village but it can also warm a home.

“Technology overwhelmingly improves our lives, but it also comes with challenges, and we assume those challenges for better lives on the global scale.”

Technology companies will have to work hard towards overcoming those challenges and gaining the trust of society.