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Q&A with Anna Dingley

Technology Focus: Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is all around us. It is in our homes, our offices, our cars and even in our pockets. But what exactly is considered AI? We ask Anna Dingley, technology advisor for Gideon Franklin Ltd and International Business Development Director at AI company SparkCognition, to provide more detail on the subject.

What exactly is AI and how is it unique?  Is it just a new word for technology?

Just like “technology” is a very broad term, so is “artificial intelligence” and if you ask five different people you will probably get five different answers and perspectives about what it means to them.

AI is all about getting machines – computers – to think like humans do. In other words, to replicate our natural networks to plan, reason, learn and even interpret language. One of the most interesting and exciting sub-segments of AI is machine learning. That’s when computers don’t need to be programmed to do specific tasks; they learn by themselves, given sufficient input data. They begin to predict, with increasing accuracy, certain future outcomes or probabilities, based on historical and real time data. Machines can process far more data, far more quickly and accurately, than human brains can.

Given the huge amounts of data building up all around us, and the ability to capture, store and use it, AI is becoming more relevant in many areas. It can bring huge efficiencies and benefits across sectors, which is why everyone is talking about it and exploring its relevance to them.

AI is here to stay; the only question is how far and fast it penetrates various sectors. Banking, finance and retail sectors are far ahead; healthcare and manufacturing are catching up fast.

Some may take solace from the quote by Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Is it right to think of AI as the fourth industrial revolution?

In the way that it will impact the lives and working practice of a large majority of the population then yes, it is the next industrial revolution.

It’s certainly a revolution. Just like the original industrial revolution used machines to scale up what was previously done by muscle power, this revolution is taking our cognitive capabilities to another level. People were intimidated by machines taking their jobs and changing their ways of working. In the end, it freed them up to do so much more, and have a lot more fun with their lives. AI is having a similar impact, changing the way we work and play.

What do Gideon Franklin Ltd clients need to know about AI and how is AI really changing things?

There are many important things Gideon Franklin Ltd clients need to know about AI. Chances are, it is already changing their future.

It’s a challenge to be an informed buyer of AI as it is evolving so fast and it’s hard to differentiate when many companies use exactly the same words to describe what they do. Adopting an AI system may seem a bit like eating an elephant. It appears overwhelming, and won’t happen overnight, but you have to start with small bites.

Our clients need to know it’s all about data. There’s very little point in buying a sophisticated AI algorithm if you don’t have good quality data to feed it with. Data is where it all starts, and the more data the better.  Many companies seem to have aspirational top-down targets in place for incorporating AI, but they don’t have the data acquisition in place yet.  SparkCognition’s Darwin product can automatically clean up data and find the relevant features to run AI models. But it can’t do it without any data at all.

We see that AI’s value is most apparent in helping predict where and when things might go wrong in complex processes or systems where the costs of failure or disruption are high.

The AI world is changing so fast that there are new applications coming every day. Some large companies are setting up ventures for investment into AI firms as a way to keep up to date with the rapid changes in the technology. In reality though, I think these divisions still seem very separate from day-to-day operations, so I recommend trying out a real-life project too. For example, choose a machine or division (that you collect data from) that would cost you a lot if it broke down or stopped working.  AI can help not only flag up potential problems in advance, allowing remedial action before costs escalate, but also can provide a deeper understanding of the underlying causes of failure.

When considering partnerships with AI companies, your clients should ask for examples of where these firms have successfully implemented AI systems with other customers (even in different sectors). They should also expect AI solution providers to be transparent about their systems and approach. Even the most complex AI algorithm should be explainable at some level.

In short, yes AI is changing industries. It is making the pace of change ever faster.

Are there any negative sides to AI and if so, how should these be managed?  Do the positives outweigh the negatives?

I’m an optimist so I certainly believe the benefits of AI outweigh the negative. It can make people and industries so much more efficient and eliminate so much waste and frustration.  As always, the impact of any technology always depends on the will of the people who are using it. As SparkCognition’s CEO Amir Husain said recently at a National Academies of Sciences event in the United States, “Do I worry more about the motivations of a machine that does not exist, or the unseen maliciousness of man? I worry more about the latter.”

There are certainly concerns about the mis-use of AI, but I think it’s too early to worry about machines taking over the world. Any new technology attracts naysayers.  It’s easy to be negative but no one ever builds memorials to critics. The trailblazers have to set a positive example and make their voice heard.

What sector do you see AI impacting the most?

 AI is touching every sector from agriculture and food to manufacturing and machinery, healthcare to fitness, finance and government to retail and consumer goods as well as anything with an industrial process.  Just like the internet has impacted most or all sectors, I think AI will as well.  Finance, as is often the case, is an early mover, but that is also because users already have the data to hand. Click here to read about SparkCognition’s work with Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems and how we used AI to enhance their digital power plant solution’s operational benefits.

…anything else you would like to tell us about or focus on?

 You’ve got to be in it to win it. AI is not something you learn by standing on the sidelines!

Thank you, Anna!

With over 20 years of experience in Japan, Anna Dingley’s recent roles include head of investor relations at JPMorgan and Business Development Director for the Tokyo AIM (Alternative Investment Market) joint venture between the London and Tokyo stock exchanges. She has worked at Bloomberg, NTT DoCoMo, the World Exposition in Aichi as UK Pavilion Manager, the UK Department of Trade and Industry and for the recruitment firm Robert Walters.

She is International Business Development Director for SparkCognition, a pioneering artificial intelligence firm headquartered in Austin, Texas.

Video interview: Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems looks to AI for creation of an autonomous power plant

Anna Dingley at Goldman Sachs Disruptive Technology Symposium 2018, London