The future is both smart and kind: Google moves forward with AI to promote social change

The digital revolution is more than just the digitalisation of businesses and services: it is about shaping the economy to be more inclusive, fair and human-centric. The multi-billion tech industry seems to be waking up to the fact that, in this field, success means extending consideration to people and the planet.

After years of heavy investment in and research into innovative tools to create and improve user experience online, Google has now pledged to deploying its expertise to develop technologies for social good.

A main focus for Google is artificial intelligence applications for positive societal impact. Since the launch of Google AI last year, the tech giant has been engaged in various enterprises within the AI space as it seeks projects that deploy this technology to positively impact society.

Whilst technology has proven to be the key for social change in the digital era, innovation is a fluid process and requires corporate responsibility from tech companies in addressing some of the most important questions underlying society. Fundamentally, technology is only truly powerful if it is accessible by and inclusive to all, rather than remaining a tool for the few, developed and used by the intellectual elites of the world.

Despite being a couple years on from the big AI boom, machine learning is still a very dynamic and evolving technology. Its influences are already palpable and visible in our everyday life, such as intelligent personal assistants on our smartphones and algorithms on social media and streaming services.

A true AI system is one that can learn on its own, improving on past iterations, getting ever smarter and more aware and enhancing its capabilities and knowledge. For example, algorithms that recognise patterns are applied in trading and financing. The fact that we are able to use such complex technology in such simple terms is a testimony to what computers are capable of, when utilised efficiently.

On top of that, the AI market is doubtless attractive: Bank of America Merrill reckon the market will blossom to $153bn over the next five years — $83bn for robots, and $70bn for artificial intelligence-based systems. That compares to roughly $58bn in 2014.

The integration of AI into different sectors surely has the potential to boost Google’s already developed services to the next level. In fact, AI is set to become of the main drivers behind the tech improving customer experience in financial services, manufacturing and entertainment, among other fields.

Nevertheless, AI is not a complete redemption technology, and the technological developments made without human input are not enough to ensure that AI is completely fair and transparent. The responses provided by machine learning replicate the patterns on which they are constructed, so inevitably reflect the views and perspectives of its developers.

So, how can an AI systems empathise with socially excluded groups if the creators themselves are not able to understand the problems of demographics other than their own? After all, AI can only solve the problems it is programmed to identify. In this sense, automated systems call for human sensitivity and mechanisms of trust.

Challenging the biases found within artificially intelligent mechanisms is one of the greatest concerns around the diffusion of AI systems into different sectors. The answer could be in the coupling of AI with decentralised technologies such as blockchain, to ensure the opening of so-called ‘black box’, which prevents users from accessing the built-in algorithm that works like an engine to AI systems.

Google signals more moves to promote AI as a force for social good

A number of entities have engaged in promoting socially-conscious machine learning. Google has shown proactivity in taking AI operations into various sectors where automated systems can bring greater benefits The company is also entering promising partnerships with universities and the public sector to contribute its expertise to improve social services.

In a recent partnership with Harvard University, Google’s new AI system has been deployed to assess food safety records in restaurants in cities in the US via a machine learning model that scans online searches indicative of food poisoning, then looking up restaurants visited by the users who performed those searches. Lastly, for each applicable restaurant, it calculates the proportion of people who ate there and later showed evidence of foodborne illnesses in their searches.

In the UK, DeepMind, the tech lab powered by Google, and world leader hub in artificial intelligence research and its application for positive impact, is partnering with the NHS to improve service tools and analyse test results more quickly to ensure faster treatment.

After receiving strong public backlash due over a controversial military contract using AI, Google is now showing commitment to deploying its AI operations into positive impact projects.

“Careful ethical analysis can help us understand which potential uses of vision technology are inappropriate, harmful, or intrusive. And ethical decision-making practices can help us reason better about challenging dilemmas and complex value tradeoffs — such as whether to prioritise transparency or privacy in an AI application where providing more of one may mean less of the other,” wrote Rajen Sheth, director of product management for Cloud AI for Google.

In an initiative called ‘AI Impact Challenge’ Google is also providing $25million in funding via its non-profit arm, Google.org, to humanitarian projects that use Google’s machine learning technology, placing a particular interest in projects that further social and environmental good. The team is looking for practical, feasible and scalable solutions that address societal challenges, going beyond simple use-case scenarios to becoming an indispensable tool for social and environmental revolution.

In times of fast-paced tech advancements, innovation is key for the companies to keep themselves up-to-speed in this constantly regenerating market and offer cutting edge tools addressing use cases. Yet, as society grows more conscious and the consumer market demands ethically-committed companies, corporate responsibility becomes a priority and a mission.

“There is no doubt that Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain are the two most-discussed disruptive technologies in the last years, which are set to disrupt the tech and business paradigm in a big way over the next decade. In many ways, the two are conceptual opposites: AI, which reached its peak in 2016–2017, is very much centralised and closed; whereas blockchain, which boomed a year later, powers open-source decentralised systems, says Stefania Barbaglio director at Cassiopeia Services, leading PR agency in the blockchain space.

“However, the future is the intersection and integration of both. Their combined power is huge: maximising scalability security, transparency and decentralisation, and efficiency via fully decentralised AI marketplace networks, and decentralised autonomous organisations (DAO). A new paradigm is taking shape.“

This is a post on Cassiopeia’s AI series. Stay tuned for more insights into AI and Blockchain integration and positive social impact by disruptive technologies.

‘Crypto is not real money’? Google shows itself to be clueless about crypto

Google recently released an ad for its new product ‘Call Screen’, where it pokes fun at crypto mining, stating that the activity costs more in energy than the profit made. The Google Call Screen ad describes cryptocurrencies as ‘money that isn’t real’, implying that mining coins to get revenue would be foolish.

Ad for Google's Call Screen

A year after the big Bitcoin boom, cryptocurrency has become a more widespread concept and the crypto market more mature, with altcoins also sparking interest.

It is surprising that a company of Google’s standing would publicly express this level of scepticism towards crypto and blockchain, says Stefania Barbaglio, crypto PR expert and founder of Cassiopeia Services: ‘It demonstrates only superficial knowledge of the crypto space, showing that Google is clueless about the potential behind crypto.’

Stefania Barbaglio’s interview on Bloxlive.tv

Google pokes fun at crypto

It is well known that Bitcoin mining consumes a lot of energy, so it is not a profitable activity for the average individual. However, the crypto market is filled with altcoins designed differently from Bitcoin in this respect. At this point, viewing Bitcoin as the flagship cryptocurrency shows little knowledge of, and disregard for, today’s fast-growing, diverse crypto market.

Fundamentally, Bitcoin was developed in proof-of-work (PoW), a process that requires considerable energy. However, the newer generation coins employ proof-of-stake (PoS), which is less energy consuming, increasing the advantage for individual miners. To mention only a few such altcoins: Cardano works on proof-of-stake (PoS) and now Ethereum is about to move to its Casper proof-of-stake model, which will substantially reduce mining competition and the like; NEO and Hyperledger are the next-generation coins with even lower electricity costs and related carbon footprints. Cryptocurrencies are evolving and making their system more efficient in the process.

Looking at the big picture, even the expensive Bitcoin cryptocurrency mining is overall much cheaper than the traditional banking system as a whole. Aside from that, crypto is much more than digital money. The blockchain technology that underpins cryptocurrencies has proved to be a game-changer, challenging the established ways of doing business and transacting, taking away the central power from big institutions while empowering individuals with greater access to and control over their own transactions.

‘Google is a centralised system: it wants to protect itself and show that its centralised worldwide data system is still the leader. Unfortunately, we have reached a tipping point with blockchain shifting the power paradigm of centralisation to decentralisation. What smart tech companies should do is to adopt forward-thinking, inclusive strategies to integrate these new technologies into their systems’ she says.

The role of some cryptocurrencies is to facilitate transactions without traditional money and the associated banking system, allowing wider access, fighting inflation and reducing third-party fees. The irony for Google is that some cryptocurrencies are indeed used just as money would be to pay for goods and services.

Among its many applications, blockchain can after all be a challenger to Google’s solid dominance online, as it allows for different types of search engines to emerge, such as a human search engine, where users participate in the process of filtering information and help clarify the search request.

Stefania also highlights that Google’s stance on blockchain and crypto does not affect the crypto community: if anything, it clearly shows Google’s limited knowledge of the crypto space and its opportunities.

The released ad represents a controversial move by Google, just days after it reverted its ban on crypto ads in a few countries, when the company signalled a more welcoming attitude towards crypto. Earlier this year, Google had banned Chrome browser mining plug-ins, and then all cryptocurrency ads from its platform, with the aim of protecting its customers from potential scams and misleading services that could be found in the crypto space — only to ease out the ban a few months later once it realised that the move had been a mistake.

’Google realised how big the crypto market is, and the opportunity they would be missing out on if they weren’t flexible — that’s why they had to revert their ban on crypto ads,’ says Stefania. ‘The crypto advertising market is huge, so putting a ban on Google ads would prevent them (Google) from making money and reaping the benefits of this significant crypto community and industry. It seems that Google contracted a case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Google wants a cut of the crypto trading profit and markets, so has turned on the green light for these institutions.’

Other tech giants have also started to embrace the technology. Facebook had partially lifted its own crypto advertising ban in mid-June and it is said that Zuckerberg has employed a blockchain research group, even if its purpose is not yet clear.