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Will our human bias eventually defeat AI?

February 26, 2019 Leave a comment

Each year, I make an effort to attend the IET / BCS Turing Talk in London, and over the past few years I’ve witnessed talks by leading minds in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning and even Computer Vision. It is no coincidence that AI takes center stage at this particular point in time, (i.e. the dawn of what the World Economic Forum call the 4th industrial revolution), because AI will likely have the most profound impact of all technologies powering said revolution.

This years edition of the Talk focused on the topic of AI bias, and how it mirrors & magnifies the biases of society and of the people that develop and deploy AI systems. Speaker, Krishna P. Gummadi, painted a clear picture of the resulting bias in data, algorithms and usage of AI, as well as the negative impact on under represented groups in society. He concluded with a 3 point call to action that will help address these issues, as follows:

  • Implement fair learning objectives – develop algorithms that take into account the needs and presence of sub groups within a general population. Error rates are key, especially regarding false: positives, negatives, omission and discovery.
  • Provide unbiased learning data – Address under represented minorities in sample data. Biased labelling can lead to self-fulfilling vicious cycle
  • Ensure unbiased representational data – Address the huge gender bias in AI representation

Don’t be fooled into thinking this will be an easy task. In adopting ethical or fair learning objectives, for example, one must understand and carefully navigate the dilemma inherent in minimizing error rates for one group versus another, versus the needs of an entire population. Furthermore, one may be forgiven for thinking, as the talk posited, that perhaps AI can “be engineered to help humans control (mitigate) bias or unfairness in their own decisions”, but this may be dangerous, or simply lazy & wishful, thinking.

In my opinion, AI does not have the level of maturity required at this time. It’s like raising a child, (with yourself as role model), and scolding her/him for mirroring your worst behaviors, but also expect him/her to figure out where, when and how you got things wrong, then proceed to fix it and you into the bargain! The point is that AI algorithms and the data which drive them are products of our society and cannot be expected to self-correct on the basis of the same flawed input. We need to do the heavy lifting in attempting to correct ourselves then let AI mirror and improve on the effort.

Finally, I think the Turing Talk organizers did well to feature Dr. Gummadi’s research topic, and I, along with the rest of the audience, sat in sometimes uncomfortable silence as he described some glaringly racist, sexist and other undesirable ills that plague society today – made all too concrete via AI enabled outcomes. I say ‘AI enabled outcomes’ because AI programs, algorithms etc. are not necessarily malicious in of themselves but can effectively become so for under-represented groups, with both intended and unintended consequences. Unbiased AI will remain a tall order, unless those that develop and deploy it take the above recommended measures as a crucial first step in that journey.

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AI Lessons from TEDxWomen

December 21, 2018 Leave a comment

2018 has been dominated by relentless news coverage on the topic of Artificial Intelligence or AI, (perhaps even moreso than Blockchain – another hot topic du jour), which in turn proclaim doom or nirvana depending with whom you speak, and when. Why, I attended a recent TEDxWomen event at Salesforce Tower in London where I helped facilitate discussions about Robotics and AI, and I must say that given the level of interest and diversity of the group in attendance, it quickly became clear to me that ordinary people’s expectations, perceptions and conversations about the progress of AI needs feeding back to the people and processes that develop it. 

The topics under discussion originate from a couple of TEDWomen talks about: Robotics and developing empathetic AI co-pilot. The first talk featured Ayana Howard’s view that robots can be good yet also biased, sexist and racist, which could make them doubly dangerous given the level of trust and emotional attachment we humans sometimes place in robots. The second talk by Nivruti Rai, focused on tapping into our collective intelligence via a personal agent or ‘co-pilot’ which can provide constant guidance to its human subject, based on ‘wisdom-of-the-crowd’ style insight and thus influencing the users every decision e.g.: choice of meal, traffic navigation, and lifestyle choices, including choice of dates or marriage partners!       

Given the degree of emergent influence and impact on individuals, business and society, it is not surprising the level of trepidation people have about the unknown / unintended consequence of AI and its myriad applications. However, this group surprised me with their pragmatic and optimistic take on these developments, which are summarized in the following top 3 messages we played back to other attendees, as follows:

1. We must Embrace AI – AI is here to stay, therefore embrace it with certain knowledge that controlling AI might not be perfect, but as humans we can adapt and course correct as necessary

2. Absolutely need to address underlying bias issues – Must ensure those that work on AI also represent the diversity of humanity, particularly among typically under-represented minorities 

3. Emerging trends can be startling – Some countries have decided to sanction dating or marriage to AI, perhaps a harbinger of a likely future with evolved AI systems

In conclusion, it is heartening to know that people wish to be actively involved in the evolution and application of AI, especially where it impacts and influences their lives – i.e. before, rather than after the fact. Also, there is reasonable optimism and excitement, laced with trust in our human ability to adapt to the level of change it will undoubtedly manifest on society and people alike. After all, what is the point in having to receive last rites each time you engage an autonomous vehicle, or take advice from your trusted co-pilot? 

Successful Innovation: Is it an Art or Science?

March 25, 2018 Leave a comment

Shock, horror; learning STEM is not the answer! Well at least not according to Dr. Andy Harter in his thought provoking 2018 BCS/IET Turing Lecture. Thankfully, he also described the key qualities critical for success in the fourth industrial revolution. Read on to find out if you’ve got what it takes.

Harter kicked off the lecture with a poignant question about whether successful tech and innovation was down to an art or a science, giving much pause for thought, but more on that later. The following are the key qualities I took away from the lecture:

  • Creativity – This is inherent quality in every individual is not always teachable. However, it is important to nurture and inspire ‘sparky’ individuals. Creativity often works best when one is able to focus on human element and harness seemingly random ideas, thoughts and visions to solve problems.
  • Motivation is key – Necessity is mother of invention, therefore tapping into an area of need with real emotional connections to the individual can often lead to inspired breakthroughs
  • Story Telling – This can capture the imagination and turn mere functionality push into consumer pull. Great storytellers have lasting impact e.g. Nicola Tesla, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Steven Spielberg
  • Timing – Being too early or too late is as good as being wrong. For example, the ‘way-ahead-of-it’s-time’ Apple Newton PDA was responsible for the ARM chip (aka Acorn RISC Machine) which is used to power so many mobile devices today. Timing is everything.
  • Observation – Learn to observe carefully everything e.g. detail, structure, patterns. This is one quality which can be taught and which only gets better with practice.
  • Time / space to think – The hare vs. tortoise approach to problem solving describes how frenetic pace can get in the way of deep-thought and meaningful insights. Prominent thinkers have used and recommend micro-naps as a boost for productivity.
  • Simplicity – make simplicity a key principle. Know what to leave out and try not to solve problems that don’t exist. Jazz great, Charlie Mingus once said: “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity”
  • Adaptation – this is key to survival in nature, business and tech innovation. There are far too many examples of failures to adapt to a changing landscape. Today’s enterprise must embrace the phoenix like business model approach
  • Generosity – Abundance is a state of mind most relevant to the digital age / fourth industrial revolution. Free software, apps and information powered economy is driven by digital abundance on an unprecedented scale.

Aside from the above, I found it interesting that Harter prefaced the above points by showcasing the works of that most forward-looking polymath, Leonardo Da Vinci, whose ground breaking works combine and span the arts and sciences, and so much more besides. In a world chock full of incredible opportunities, with amazing breakthroughs in: A.I., Autonomous vehicles, Internet of Things and Cloud computing, it is plain to see that the most profound impacts will come from combinations thereof.

In conclusion, it’s become more obvious that the polymath mantra to: “study the art of science and the science of art” in full knowledge that “everything connects to everything else”, stands true more-so now than ever, especially for those seeking to succeed in the 4th industrial revolution. In my opinion, any education or training that features and applies both the arts and sciences will beat the rest going forward. Just sayin’.

 

Copyright, Blockchain, Technology and the State of Digital Piracy

January 15, 2017 Leave a comment
The next installment of one of my favourite conferences on copyright and technology is right around the corner, on January 24th in NYC, and as usual it promises some interesting: debate, controversy and hot-off-the-press insights into the murky world of copyright business, technology, and legislation. Plus, this year, it also features a panel on the game changing technology of blockchain and its myriad disruptive applications across entire industries, including copyright and the creative industries.

Thankfully, the inclusion of this panel session recognises the never-ending role of new and innovative technologies in shaping the evolution of Copyright. Ever since that first mass copy technology (i.e. the printing press) raised questions of rights ownership, and due recompense for works of the mind, new technologies for replicating and sharing creative content have driven the wheel of evolution in this area. Attendees will doubtless benefit from the insight and expertise of this panel of speakers as well as moderator and Program Chair, Bill Rosenblatt, who questioned (in a recent blog post), the practicality, relevance and usefulness of blockchain in a B2C context for copyright. You are in for a treat.

This is a very exciting period of wholesale digital transformation, and as I mentioned once or twice in previous articles and blog-posts, the game is only just beginning for potential applications of: blockchain, crypto currencies, smart licences and sundry trust mechanisms in the digital domain. In an age of ubiquitous content and digital access, the focus of copyright is rightfully shifting away from copying and moving towards the actual usage of digital content, which brings added complexity to an already complex and subjective topic. It is far too early to tell if blockchain can provide a comprehensive answer to this challenge.

The Copyright and Technology conference series have never failed to provide some thought-provoking insights and debates driven by expert speakers across multiple industries. In fact, I reconnected recently with a couple of previous speakers: Dominic Young and Chris Elkins, who are both still pretty active, informed and involved in the copyright and technology agenda. Dominic, ex-CEO of the UK’s Digital Catapault, is currently working on a hush hush project that will potentially transform the B2C transaction space. Chris is co-founder Muso, a digital anti-piracy organisation which has successfully secured additional funding to expand its global footprint with innovative approaches to anti-piracy. For example, if you ever wondered which countries are most active in media piracy, then look no further than Muso’s big data based state of digital piracy reports. Don’t say I never tell you anything.

In any case, I look forward to hearing attendees impressions on the Copyright and Technology 2017 conference, which I’m unable to attend / participate this timme unfortunately. In the meantime, I’ll continue to spend my spare time, or whatever brain capacity I have left, with pro-bono activities that allow me to: meet, mentor / coach and advise some amazing startups on the dynamic intersection of IP, business and technology. More on that in another post.

Intellectual Property for Start-Ups

October 28, 2016 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate, as chair & speaker, at a BCS Entrepreneurs event discussing the role and value of Intellectual Property for start-ups and entrepreneurs. As you might imagine this was a well attended event with so many different questions foremost on the minds of various attendees.

Given the focus on my favourite topics of IP and entrepreneurship, it didn’t take much persuasion for me to sign-up and chair the event. Furthermore, I was in the company of two legal experts on: EU IP law (Jonathan Exell, from William Powells) and employment law (Bob Fahy, from Veale Wasbrough Vizards) respectively. Also the attendees were certainly not shy to engage and they took some delight in systematically dissecting the trickier aspects of entrepreneurship and the start-up vs. IP challenge in a changing landscape. 

As introduction and kickoff, I provided a quick overview of some of those key challenges facing startups with respect to IP. This was mainly based on a previous post and article I’d written and published about this same topic. 

The first speaker followed through with a thorough recap of the legal position on IP particularly with regard to the EU and Brexit. Key message: it’ll likely be business as usual for IP in post Brexit UK, at least in the near term. Also, it is highly unlikely that the UK will deviate too radically from the increasingly aligned position on IP  which most of the world enjoy today.

The second legal perspective provided some insights on key challenges and opportunities facing anyone trying to manage the IP risks and issues associated with employees, disgruntled or otherwise. Here the lines become somewhat blurred between contract vs. employment vs. IP laws. It was interesting to observe the number of questions relating to how founders should approach the challenge of establishing who has what IP (and / or portions thereof) when their start-up fails, flounders, or even flourishes!

To say this event was informative and enlightening would be an understatement because the second part of the seminar consisted of 1-to-1 mentorship sessions, with experienced BCS mentors exploring attendees individual circumstances in order to provide specific guidance based on the topic at hand. Pure value delivered, if you ask me. As an exercise in giving back, I can think of no better way to spend an evening than by learning, interacting and exploring various start-up IP challenges with enthusiastic entrepreneurs, mentors and experts from within and outside of the BCS.

One thing I love about my work is how it affords me unfettered opportunity to give back, by providing dedicated time (and a measurable objective) to undertake pro bono activities, such as this one, which is aimed at helping others in need of expertise or guidance for projects, worthy causes or personal development. Pure Ohana!

Block Bits and Chain Coins: The Trust Machine Jigsaw

April 1, 2016 3 comments

The topic of Bitcoin, and other cyber currencies, as well as the underlying Blockchain technology is still top of mind for various industries, with frequent: events, blog posts, articles and sundry news items firmly focused on them.  I have also contributed to the deluge with a recently published article in the BCS ITNow magazine, as well as a forthcoming event on the “darker side of Internet technology”, but more on that later.

Last week I attended a BCS London Central event about Bitcoin technology “that could change the world”, featuring Simon Taylor, VP Entrepreneurial Partnerships at Barclays bank. As you might imagine, banks and other financial institutions are at the cross-hairs of any impending / potential disruption by Bitcoin and its Blockchain technology. Given the history of other similar disruptions in other industries, many financial institutions have been quick jump into the ring in order to figure out the best way to take advantage of the new challenge / opportunity rather than just sit back or ignore it.

To this end, Simon did a great job shedding some light on key initiatives by members of the financial services, (including banks and Barclays in particular), on the topic of Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. My top take-aways from the event include:

  1. Building Blocks – Bitcoin is great, but platforms like Ethereum have really made Blockchain relevant for organisations to build their own applications – i.e. by providing the Lego building blocks for creating useful applications for the banks of tomorrow.
  2. FUD still rules – Opinions differ and people argue as to just what is Blockchain. Is it just the underlying technology used for Bitcoin, or does it include other incarnations and applications of similar mechanisms? A lot of confusion is being caused by misconceptions around Blockchain – e.g. “people keep coming up with Blockchain ‘solutions’ for just about anything”. However, if you do use Bitcoin based solutions, you must beware of implications for data protection, Safe Harbour and industry regulations.
  3. Using a hammer to crack a nut – Simon questioned whether it was really necessary to put up with the immense overhead required for permission-less ‘proof of work’ systems such as Bitcoin, when the faster permissioned versions could be just as effective, albeit with a certain degree less end-to-end security, integrity and non-repudiation capability in comparison to Bitcoin.
  4. Bitcoin keys can also be lost or stolen – Blockchain does not provide a solution for key management, so How can this be mitigated. This could be a potential role for trusted intermediaries, such as banks.
  5. Q&A: How can other organisations (e.g. NHS) successfully leverage such tech? – Simon’s advice to the NHS Director in the audience was to get educated on the topic and then experiment like mad. Barclays does this by first creating an experiment script or hypothesis then outsourcing the work to local / friendly start-ups for rapid turnaround. The resulting outcome is then studied and pulled apart by multi-disciplinary experts from Barclays (e.g. compliance / risk / security teams) before a recommendation is made. Most other industries can follow this model.

Overall, I thought this was a good event which was well attended by a very engaged 100 strong audience. The chosen topic and focus also made a perfect setup for the aforementioned BCS “Darkside” event which is scheduled to take place on 26th April, and features some excellent speakers and their perspectives on the seamier sides and uses of Bitcoin and Blockchain technology. Don’t miss it!

 

Becoming Salesforce: Beyond Cloud Services

March 9, 2016 Leave a comment

I’ve always maintained (here and here) that a tradition for innovation trumps mere culture of innovation hands down. This was clearly demonstrated at a recent boot camp for new joiners to Salesforce, in San Francisco. Judging by the frenetic pace of a week long immersion in all things Salesforce, the work involved in introducing and maintaining the  Salesforce ‘Ohana’ culture of innovation is a relentless and never-ending pursuit that is worthy of any tradition.

SF Boot Camp

By all accounts this was a ‘mega’ boot camp event, comprising over 250 new hires from many different countries and regions. Below are my top three takeaways from the event:

1: Ohana and Value Alignment
Salesforce believes passionately in giving back to the local community and included a day one agenda item for attendees to undertake pro bono work for some of the local charities. After a couple of hours physical labour, one starts to realise just how serious Salesforce takes the 1-1-1 pledge (i.e. to contribute one percent of employee time / resources / products to help local communities via charity, education and other worthy causes). As if that wasn’t enough, Chief Adoption Officer, Polly Sumner later bought  the point home with a passionate talk about how each employee must make it a mission to define their purpose and actively pursue it by aligning with company values and recording as individual annual objectives. The result: a committed workforce that is empowered to make meaningful and positive contributions, as part of their day job and career aspirations. Given such a culture, it is not surprising why and how customer success is the ultimate raison d’etre for Salesforce

2 – Change is rapid and constant
Several speakers, over the course of the event, took pains to emphasize the need to adapt and adopt a fast paced mentality in order to survive and thrive in Salesforce. With three major (as in all the bells and whistles) releases each year, the Salesforce platform and clouds are constantly evolving to become ever faster, smarter and more personalised with each new release. The latest offerings in Analytics (Wave), user experience (Lightning) and Internet of Things (IoT Cloud) is merely a foretaste of what is likely to manifest on such a dynamic platform. If you are inclined to wonder how or why I can say this things, then look no further than the amazing level of talent gathered at the event. Every background was represented, from ex-marines to rocket scientists, or ex McKinsey, Deloitte, IBM and Capgemini consultants, plus key talent from competitors such as Oracle, Microsoft and SAP. The Force is strong in the Ohana.

3 – Awesome is more than just a word
I must have counted over one hundred separate utterances of the word ‘awesome’ (including two completely unforced instances by yours truly), but suffice it to say I have yet to come across any organisation where employees seem to be in such awe of their own, er  ‘awesomeness’, for lack of a better word. As part of the boot camp, we were also introduced to all the Salesforce clouds i.e.: Sales, Service, Marketing, Apps, Community, Analytics and  IoT Clouds. What is truly impressive is how they all integrate and work together or separately as per customer requirements. A typical customer pitch kicks of with the inevitable Safe Harbour statement and a thank you to the customer, followed by a description of the new technology, new business and new philanthropic models espoused by Salesforce and how that could be made to work better for the customer. It is indeed a brave new world for cloud services.

Overall, the boot camp delivered an unabashed experience of the Salesforce Ohana culture and, given the number of attendees at this event, there definitely is a strong demand for more talented people with the right experience and mindset to join such a fast growing organisation. Finally, and by all indications, Salesforce is certainly showing the hall marks of a company with a clear tradition for innovation that is deeply rooted in its values. Long may it continue, and I can’t wait to see what’s next on the ever changing horizon. Mahalo!