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.