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“200 scientists average that singularity is only 20 years away,” stated Liesl Yearsley, CEO of Akin.com, at the 2018 CeBIT Conference in Sydney.

Singularity is a term used by many scientists to refer to a point in the near future where machines will have a technologically-created cognitive capacity far beyond that of humankind. In comparison to today where Artificial Intelligence (AI) is only reciprocating to human commands, singularity will bring along a new generation where AI will be able to replicate human’s intuitive problem-solving capabilities and be autonomous enough to respond to complex challenges present in the environment – without human intervention. 

However, for singularity to happen, Yearsley stated that two conditions need to be met:      

  • AI should be able to self-optimise and get better by itself; and
  • Humans should not stop the progress of AI. 

Yearsley further shared that humans should understand the implications of “creating a new life form” and teach AI what to optimise against because “one day AI will out-evolve us”.

AI remains a complex and ambitious project which requires expertise, a lot of data and needs service reliability. According to Yearsley, there is a current shortage of AI researchers. However this shortage will soon be resolved as students are increasingly enrolled into AI courses to tap into the AI market within the next few years.

AI is not a replacement of true human intelligence

Xiafeng Ren, Chief Scientist and Associate Dean of Machine Intelligence and Technology at Alibaba reinforced Yearsley’s views and reaffirmed that AI is not a replacement of true human intelligence. AI instead plays an instrumental role in making the lives of humans more efficient. Ren stated that “AI should support human beings - Technology should always do something that enables people, not disable people”.

According to Yearsley, the world is moving towards personal AI as we start to take advantage of AI in our home – to make our daily lives simpler; an example are the smart speakers such as Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa. By delegating the cognitive load of running a home to AI, we would be handing over 32.5% of our decision-making to AI in the process – therefore giving us more time to focus on other matters we deem more important.

The third rise of AI

Ren views AI as more than just a trendy buzzword. AI has been present throughout past decades and is a “continuation of technological advances that trace back to the start of the industrial revolution”, encompassing the calculation of computers and speech recognition such as Siri today.

“We are currently in the third rise of AI" said Xiafeng Ren, Chief Scientist and Associate Dean, Machine Intelligence and Technology at Alibaba. Advances in AI have progressed over the years due to the increase in computing power. To exemplify this point, Ren referred to the implementation of visual recognition, protein decoding, chatbots in customer service as well as family robots. Another contributor of the progress in AI is the larger pool of data available today.

Where in the world is AI the most prominent?

The country that has invested the most in AI – China. According to the Dentsu Aegis Digital Society Index, 65% of the Chinese population believe that AI will lead to job creation, followed by 35% in France and 33% in Russia. In comparison, Australians are more risk averse where only 22% of them have the view that AI will create more job opportunities – below the global average of 29%. China has openly embraced AI and is home to the three most valuable AI startups in the world; currently valued at AUD $6.6 billion, $5.9 billion and $3.1 billion respectively. China is also ranked first globally as the country with the highest AI patent applications and released the most number of AI related news articles, as shown below:

AI has become pervasive in China and below are the 10 most searched events in China in 2017:

1. Alpha Go vs Ke Jie

2. Autonomous-rail Rapid Transit (ART)

3. Pneumatic tubes

4. 3D printed artificial heart

5. Photon Quantum Computer

6. “God particle”

7. Accelerator-driven nuclear energy

8. Gravitational wave detected

9. Smart speaker

10. Self-driving car on 5th Ring road, Beijing

China therefore presents many opportunities for growth, especially for Australian businesses through its “Belt and Road Initiative”. This initiative encourages economic cooperation amongst Asia, Europe and Africa. An example is how Malaysia has adopted Alibaba Cloud’s City Brain service - a project that uses AI, big data and cloud technologies, to support smart city applications such as smart traffic management.

Is AI only relevant to the tech industry?

Ren emphasises that the potential rewards from investments in AI is astronomical and predicts the value of AI to increase from AUD $1.58 trillion to $5.14 trillion by 2022. The rise of AI has been deployed in sectors beyond technology and includes the following industries:

• Retail – Based on deep learning technologies, image searching is now possible on Australian website ‘The Iconic’ to transform the online shopping experience. ‘Taobao’, a similar online retailer, has 14 million daily users posting 3 billion images of over 100 million products;

• Agriculture – AI can be used to detect malnourished animals;

• Logistics – Self-driving vehicles can deliver billions of parcels from the company’s warehouse to the customer.

Yearsley stated that “AI will become ambient” as more industries seek help from AI-enabled devices. She left us with poignant questions to reflect on before concluding her presentation:

  • What will happen to humanity if AI is no longer in a subservient position?
  • Do we have protocols in place for singularity?
  • What is AI optimised for?
  • Can AI and humanity co-create together?
  • What will happen when AI become sentient beings with the same emotional intelligence as humans?

If you would like to find out more about AI and how the career or job opportunities are like for the sector, please get in contact with me or follow us on our LinkedIn page for other relevant industry updates.

About CeBIT Australia

Ren and Yearsley were both keynote speakers at the 2018 CeBIT Australia Conference in Sydney. The above illustrations are credited to Ren's keynote panel titled "Developing AI applications that will power the future of business". The CeBIT conference welcomed over 300 companies  to showcase their latest technology over a three-day period. The conference was a joint effort with the NSW Government and primary sponsors including Vodafone, Norton by Symantec, Amadeus, nbn™, City of Sydney, Servers Australia, Advantech and Alibaba Cloud.