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AI - good, nae good, bad or nae bad?

AI - good, nae good, bad or nae bad?

Posted on 27th July 2021

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I don’t know if you have seen those ancient clips of film of people trying to fly in ‘machines’ they have invented for that purpose?Some, as shown in the link above, resulted in tragedy, but most in farce.But without these brave pioneers, we wouldn’t have today’s aviation industry (even if it’s on its uppers at the moment thanks to Covid).What has this to do with AI though?Well, read on and find out…

On the 11th of July this year, an article in the business pages of a major national newspaper proclaimed “Artificial Avenue will change our world more profoundly than fire” - underpinned by a warning that we risk becoming slaves to AI’s algorithms.

Some two weeks later, another article, in the same paper, told us, “Artificial Intelligence is pretty dumb and there is no sign the long-awaited robot revolution is nigh.”

The main purpose of the latter piece was seemingly to pour vitriol on some of the people and the advisory body that is supposed to be guiding the government’s attempts to maximise the advantages of AI. In criticising Tabitha Goldstaub, the head of the Artificial Intelligence Council (a group which has an official Whitehall Secretariat), largely on the grounds that she does not have a tech qualification (she’s a graduate in Advertising), the author, Andrew Orlowski, may seem to have a point, but it is also fair to say that she has been working in AI for many years, first as the co-founder of CognitionX, ‘Expert Advice Platform.’

This somewhat personal attack on Ms Goldstaub seems to be to be simply a vehicle to introduce us to Orlowski’s main arguments, namely that, 
a) AI and robotics are not doing what many people would like to believe they should be, citing, for example the very recent announcement that Elon Musk’s AI Lab will disband its robotics team, and 
b) that the government, seduced by “grabby press releases,” is in thrall to advisers who are more interested in flavour of the month issues (notably diversity and sustainability) than whether the AI they charged with promoting and helping to develop actually does what it says on the tin.

So which is it? Given some of the many “issues” around the government’s handling of the Covid crisis, it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility that ministers don’t know what they are doing (how many of them are scientists and engineers?). That wouldn’t surprise me.It’s also true that AI, as Orlowski demonstrates, currently is not as advanced as some would have us believe.But, in the same way that those early aviation pioneers were part of the process that took us to the supersonic jets we have today, AI will, whether we like it or not, have a profound impact on our lives in the years ahead.Some of that, unfortunately, will not be to our advantage and how we deal with this (and here Mr Orlowski is right in saying that its important government knows what its doing) will be extremely important for our children’s futures, but be in no doubt that it’s not going away.Winning the argument about using it only to do good will be much more important than whether a government adviser has a certain type of degree or not…

Michael Phair, Operations Director, Be-IT

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