AI: The mysterious and exciting new era of development for all.
Innovation can be one of the most exciting and confusing facets of society. When new, transformative technology arrives, social trends show – things can get complicated. Misunderstandings and apprehension of the unfamiliar tend to create bias and scepticism. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no exception to this.
A bit of history; AI has been around since the 1960s, but the hype about it has just started in the last decade. This is mainly because of the computers we have today, as they can process more data much faster. Additionally, another critical element for the growth of AI recently is for the “Internet of Things (IoT)” which means that the internet is not an invisible network of information. It interacts with us by things such as wearables, TVs, smartphones, dishwashers, cars, GPS, and so many more. All these devices create data. And there is a lot of data – which is why it is known as Big Data.
Data scientists use big data to create predictions and suggestions based on what the data is telling them. This type of engineer uses different tools and systems to extract, transform and load data, allowing them to understand trends from a population.
In the past, a team of sophisticated developers would create rule engines, predesigned to tell the system exactly what to do. This type of machine needs constant maintenance, and nowadays, they are becoming obsolete because of the amount of data lost and these systems cannot keep up with the current development in technology.
An alternative to this obsolescent tool is AI. By applying algorithms to computers, they can learn from examples and evidence and continuously test and create their own rules. These new rules and patterns influence the decision making of the systems. This process is called “Machine Learning”.
A crucial part of machine learning is deep learning, or artificial neural network – which actually mimics human brain functions by breaking down data into layers and evolving its algorithms along the way. Thus, AI does not need constant human interaction to keep learning, and it learns by itself and from the new inputs provided.
This capability of AI (and the superhuman levels of performance demonstrated in narrow fields such as chess) has led to the appearance of many myths over the last decade. Not least of which is the concern of AI turning evil or developing consciousness or general intelligence (as evidenced by the use of a picture of the Terminator in many mainstream articles about AI).
Myths around AI illicit excessive scrutiny, even fear, which cause delays to the implementation and full grasp of the benefits. However, there are some genuine concerns about advanced AI that we should be aware of. A core point in this conversation is ensuring our goals align closely with that of the AIs being developed.
AI alignment and safety are complex topics that demand serious thought and discussion. And while we don’t have enough space here to explore them, we will continue to be a part of robust conversations around this topic going forward (indeed, a member of our team has been heavily involved in conversations around AI governance).
So, while current AIs are more like tools that you can program, leverage efforts, and move faster to achieve your desired outcome, we won’t take our eye off the long-term ball.
A clearly positive part of AI is that it frees us up from traditional 9 to 5 work as this can be executed by algorithms and move us towards a better, more creative lifestyle.
Competing with or against algorithms
As described by computer scientist and Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng, AI can aptly be described as the “new electricity”. Ng explains, “Just as electricity transformed almost everything 100 years ago, today I actually have a hard time thinking of an industry that I don’t think AI will transform in the next several years.”
The transformative opportunity of AI for social impact organizations has incredible potential. And just as electricity needs to be handled with care, so does AI – that’s why we’ve put a lot of time into considering the safety and security of our systems.
Algorithms can generate enormous benefits to any organization from local grassroots associations to international NGOs and global institutions like the UN. AI can eliminate traditional constraints and transform the rules of competition and collaboration by reducing costs, making processes much faster and smarter, and allowing us to identify opportunities and partnerships that were previously hidden to us.
Know what is good
Our AI does just this sort of thing, by following complex patterns of cause and effect; tracking the direct and indirect impact of your programs, so you know precisely which programs and activities do the most good.
Time, resources and imagination are agents not to be wasted. We provide the tools and models that will make sense of the problem you’re trying to fix, without squandering these agents of change. Our tools help you focus on what matters.