Intelligence at par: Man & machine

Amrita Prasad
Monday, 7 May 2018

With artificial intelligence (AI) becoming bigger and better every day, technology experts tell us how it is changing our lives

In the late ‘80s we used to watch Small Wonder, the American comedy science fiction sitcom, which featured a robot named V.I.C.I./Vicki, who looked like a human girl, who carried out every activity quite like a human being. We never imagined that someday artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will become such a big part of our lifestyle.

Today, AI has become a dinner table discussion and from Apple’s Siri to Amazon’s Alexa, AI has been seamlessly incorporated into our lives and the technology that we use. In fact, the recent robotics event organised by Boston Dynamics gave an insight how robotics and artificial intelligence would revolutionise our world. With Sophia, the social humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics, getting featured on the cover of ‘Cosmopolitan’ magazine proclaiming ‘I’m not looking at word domination,’ we know that they are here to stay.

The short film Anukul, featuring Saurabh Shukla and Parambrata Chatterjee, does make us roll our eyes on how efficient and intelligent a humanoid can be. While we can’t wait for the release of Robot 2.0  featuring Rajinikanth, the reality is also a bit scary as AI is posing a threat to jobs.

A part of our lives
Abhishek Moharana and Gaurav Gambhir are co-founders of Trilyo, an AI chatbot company for the hospitality sector solutions with Alexa AI. Talking about AI becoming a part of our day-to-day life, they said that AI might sound just like the realm of fantasy. However, you may be stunned to find out that you’re already using it. AI or personal assistant will keep getting smarter. It is like you have a system, which knows everything about you such as what you like, what you have in your pantry, which days of the week you like to cook at home, or when are you planning to go on a trip. A virtual personal assistant like iOS Siri, Ok Google etc that we are using on a daily basis and getting addicted to it, is easy to use and make our lives easier than before, said Moharana and Gambhir.

“AI is all around us. When you speak into your phone and ask for directions, or see your Facebook timeline, AI is deciding what you are speaking and the results to show,” said Vipul Sharma and Rajat Kumar, founders of Chqbook.com. They said AI also checks, which posts you like, which friends you interact with more and accordingly shows you the right information. “Within the next five years, our cars will start driving themselves, reducing traffic accidents, removing traffic jams and making travel cheaper. AI will also help you select the best banking products suited to your needs like at Chqbook.com, where AI decides the best bank based on your income, location and gives the best options — making your life easier and helping you decide faster,” they pointed out.

If you think AI is only helping make our lifestyle better, then think again. The technology is also going to change the way community work is done. Even Milaap, a crowdfunding portal, is using AI to source funds and channelise.

Mayukh Choudhury, co-founder and CEO, Milaap, said now it has become possible to use AI in a constructive manner. “AI is instrumental, especially for community-driven initiative — creating a more empathetic way to involve the community of users with a two-way communication module. More than anything else, it brings technology into everyday life with great convenience, in a more consumable way. This is similar to the chatbot feature on Milaap that replaces forms while setting up a fundraiser page. Collecting crucial and sensitive information becomes much easier with a more empathetic, conversational approach,” he said.  
Benefits and threats
“AI can be beneficial and non-beneficial. It depends upon how safely one is using it. Some AI-based apps can keep a track record of one’s entire daily routine, which can be harmful, at times,” cautioned Moharana and Gambhir.

Experts said it is a myth that AI cannot take control of human beings because it can and it already has done it. “A super-intelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals. If those goals aren’t aligned with ours, we have a problem. You’re probably not an evil ant-hater, who steps on ants out of malice, but if you’re in charge of a hydroelectric green energy project and there is an anthill in the region to be flooded, too bad for the ants. A key goal of AI safety research is to never place humanity in the position of those ants,” they quipped.

AI can also be used for targeting people. Sharma and Kumar said, “Privacy of data and how computer programmes, which run AI are using it, are important factors which governments and organisations must check and ensure regulation is in place to control unauthorised access. Finally, AI is controlled and used by people and how people who build these systems are going to use them will determine if we have an AI system, which helps us or harms us.”

Choudhury said the pros of AI have outdone its cons today by reducing the odds of ‘human errors’ and easing decision-making. It can also go a long way in empowering the differently abled. “Intelligent robots are also now being used to reduce risks for humans, while exploring lesser-known places, whether at mines, under oceans or in outer space. It is also being integrated in healthcare to achieve greater precision, especially in intricate surgeries. In short, it has made life easier, and tech-based products more consumable. It has eased us into the virtual world, helping us save time, energy and resources while going about our daily life,” he said.  

Choudhury said that we still have to go a long way in order to embrace AI fully. Talking about the drawbacks, he said, “AI is still incomparable to actual humans in its inability to be creative, or explore domains beyond what they have been programmed to do. People have, for long contemplated, the idea of a life where programmed bots equate or supercede humans. Yet, as of now, human beings are still an irreplaceable resource to companies due to their cognitive abilities and emotions.”

Joblessness?
With AI becoming such a big thing, it is certainly affecting the way companies and industries function. There are predictions that it affects jobs and employment, further adding to the unemployment woes. Moharana and Gambhir said AI is so much in the trend that everyone is thinking about building an app, which can be one’s virtual assistance.
“We have a very interesting product Trilyo ChatBot, which provides next-generation customer experience with AI-driven voice chat-based solutions. Their services not only satisfy customer demands but delight them. They are smart, unique and personalised creating powerful experiences for millennial travellers. The wave we saw in the last 10 years or so was that of mobile apps. Now, it is an AI-based virtual assistant that will act as a travel companion. Trilyo has the right mix - a big problem, a smart solution, scalable product and a fanatically driven team.  We are expecting a better job demand in science, agriculture, health, hospitality because AI will cover each and every industry of the world,” the duo added.  

The ‘man versus machine’ debate and tug-war is often discussed. We can’t imagine a world, where robots will be doing every work and occupying our workstations in companies. “AI is a very large jump in the way machines will be used at companies and at work. We expect more jobs to be created out of AI of higher technical skills. People will be required to understand huge data, ensure AI systems work as expected and build further systems. Companies can focus on research, getting to know and meet the right customers and focus on adding value rather than bombarding customers with options, which is what happens today. Jobs in telecalling / BPOs, banking, manufacturing are expected to be affected the most. However, we also expect more jobs in data science, agriculture (as more information is available, crop yields and efficiencies will improve), engineering and medicine,” added Sharma and Kumar.

Gearing up for AI
We need to keep ourselves abreast with changes in technology and understand how AI functions to be able to yield maximum output from it. So, how are companies/industries/design institutes gearing up to work in harmony with AI? Replied Moharana and Gambhir, “AI is an easy way to communicate. Hence, it is important. AI can be used to augment your existing resources not replace. Manual tasks can be automated so that people’s interaction can increase. For example, in a hotel you want your staff to welcome guests. There, AI can help guests with their quick check-in, arrange airport transfer, day planning and many more.”
Sharma and Kumar urged that an important element of AI is how it interacts with customers. “It is important to think through user design, make sure customers understand the benefit and a lot of time will be devoted to making sure AI helps people and people accept it as a way of life,” they explain.  

Career prospects
While robotics and AI are helping industries function better, it is also resulting in new job creation and career prospects. Robotic process automation (RPA) delivers direct profitability while improving accuracy across organisations and industries. Hence, most of the multinational companies showcasing their approach towards implementation of RPA.
Ganesh Atkale, robotics automation engineer, who works at Fulcrum Softwares in Pune, is of the opinion that RPA has great potential. “Once you standardise any process, a robot can be designed to perform on a vast range of repetitive tasks. Software robots interpret trigger responses and communicate with other systems just like humans do. Processes like face recognition, voice recognition, image recognition, etc come under AI. ‘Machine learning’ is also one of the branches of RPA, which deals with semantic-based information retrieval systems like search engines. Information can be in a form of images, video, text etc. These kinds of robots work on a rule-based repository. Cognitive robotics is also a field of technology involving robots that can learn from experience, from human teachers, and even on their own, thereby developing the ability to effectively deal with their environment. Cognitive robotics is the extension of AI,” said Atkale.

Most of the multinational companies are putting more focus on process automation like data entry, content conversion, data manipulation, KPO and BPO process, etc. Robots are easy to train. They integrate seamlessly into any kind of system. Multiply them, and instantly deploy more as you go.

“If we think about career perspective, we can have a great future in RPA. We have seen that most of the technologies got outdated because of some new technology came up in the market. But in the coming Fourth Industrial Revolution, software robots will automate digital work the same way industrial robots automated manufacturing and assembly work. Hence, career prospects look rosy, if you choose this field. Also, keeping in view of the future scope in this field, one can easily expect that a major share of employment opportunities in the world is going to be generated in this field. Also, the pay packages for the experts who are well skilled regarding all the working aspects of this field is relatively much higher in comparison with other fields. Actually, schools can/have to add small robotics programs on process automation to their after-school curriculum. Robotics competitions also include aspects of growing business. Government, schools, colleges should increase the number of programmes for children to learn and get excited about robotics at a young age. I can tell you that RPA will have a vital role in making Digital India,” concluded Atkale.

 

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