“Artificial Intelligence is likely to be far more important than robotics, the cloud or the internet-of-things as a force reshaping society”, Professor Steve Roberts, Director of the Oxford-Man Institute of Quantitative Finance and Professor of Engineering Science at Somerville, told a meeting of Somerville’s City Group this month.

With 90% of the world’s data having been produced in the last two years, current advances are “beyond society’s ability to adapt and legislate”, he argued.

His co-speaker for the event, Ernst & Young’s Adrian Joseph, noted how AI has already become a part of society. Computers that pass the Turing Test might be closer than you think: Google Assistant is now not only capable of making calls to book services such as haircuts, but even announces that it is not human.

AI can bring benefits, continued Joseph, such as helping with the medical diagnosis of patients but it also has major flaws – including concerns that AI is prone to bias such as misinterpreting images of black women.

“AI is not always being scientifically tested for the corner cases, the failures, the cultural mistakes” confirmed Prof. Roberts.

“Algorithms don’t innately know ethics, they have no inbuilt concept of fairness; you have to define these mathematically.

Also of concern is that AI has benefited those at the top of society more than others.

“AI is not democratic – it can even significantly reinforce inequality”, said Professor Roberts.

“The ability of individuals, companies and nations to afford data and high-performance computing and put it to use is unequal.”

The discussion around the shortcomings of AI is rapidly becoming present-tense. By 2020, half of jobs will be at risk due to AI in many sectors where the simple challenge is data handling – but Prof. Roberts thinks that not enough is being done to avoid ethical problems.

“You cannot just release algorithms into the wild. They reinforce stereotypes and biases.

“They need controlling, testing, and checking for systemic failures – just like the humans who programme them.”

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Steve Roberts

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