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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.

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’.

 

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!

 

Accelerating successful innovation in the connected digital economy

December 8, 2014 Leave a comment

The above titled event, which I attended in November, was just one in a month-long series of high profile launch events for the UK’s Connected Digital Economy Catapult (aka Digital Catapult Centre). As you might imagine this event was designed to bring together the right mix of entrepreneurs, digital start-ups, academics and financiers for a day of insightful presentations, conversations and networking about the UK digital economy.

Digital Catapult

The event was organised by BCS Entrepreneurs, in collaboration with the Digital Catapult Centre, and it featured 3 themed sessions on: Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), and Finance for entrepreneurs. These hot topics provided the framework for many interesting viewpoints and discussions on how best to accelerate digital innovation and keep the UK at the forefront of the unfolding digital revolution (click here to see videos). Some highlights and key takeaways include:

  • Innovation opportunities abound– The speakers described or demonstrated a plethora of novel concepts, products, services and emerging uses for such things as: big data / analytics, wearable technologies, smart city technology and ubiquitous connected devices / sensors / actuators (aka “Internet of Things). The abundance of new digital products, services, capabilities, and behaviours are self-propelling and accelerating their own evolution;
  • The demographic skew– Digitally enabled independent living and age related health care solutions are set to grow dramatically over the next few years – A few presentations touched on the challenges and opportunities presented by an aging “baby boom” generation to their “digital native” inheritors, and conclude that the demographic time-bomb is well and truly ticking down the minutes to a seemingly inevitable conclusion – from baby boom to ka-boom!
  • Universities lead the way– For example, University College London’s UCL Decide program provides a ready test bed, (with a potential captive test population of 35,000 staff and students), that can be deployed to put any digital offering through its paces before launch. Such Institutions of higher learning are increasingly leading the digital gold rush by providing fertile breeding grounds for more digitally savvy entrepreneurs (i.e. those people formerly known as graduates);
  • Pervasive Smart City tech – One speaker described the ability to leverage open street data, transport network information, air traffic control and meteorological data to provide real time city simulations which, in conjunction with virtual / augmented reality and gesture based controllers, can present any city as a living, breathing digital organism. Smart City visualization and logistics solutions on display point the way towards a pervasive cloud of data and technologies with which city dwellers in the not-too-distant future can carry out their day-to-day activities including: planning / transport / communication / collaboration;
  • Funding models abound– The panel on “Raising Finance” featured speakers from: venture capital, angel investment, banking, grants and crowd funding organisations. They represented different styles, types and stages of financing available for high-growth companies or start-ups. One audience member questioned why grant funding was so complex that it required 3rd party organisations to help would be entrepreneurs, to which the panel responded that government was “institutionally incapable of providing anything simple” – Enough said.

Anything that simplifies and facilitates entrepreneurship, such as government backed Digital Catapult Centres, can only be a good thing in my book.

Overall, I thought this event was a great introduction to the Connected Digital Economy Catapult Centre, staff and attendees, but the real star of the show for me was the venue: a purpose built facility for open, collaborative innovation and entrepreneurship which is aptly located in the heart of London’s emerging Knowledge Quarter, surrounded by world class institutions such as: the British Library, Wellcome Trust, Turing Institute (for Big data), the Crick Institute (for Genetic Research) and University of London.

The organisers (i.e. BCS Entrepreneurs and the Digital Catapult Centre) are very keen to work with entrepreneurs, service providers, financiers and academic institutions to create innovative digital solutions that make the most of opportunities in the digital age. This is also reflected in a growing corporate appetite for collaborative innovation, as evidenced in the likes of Capgemini’s Co-innovation Labs and other such corporate innovation ventures / hot houses and incubators. For any would be entrepreneur, these are exciting times indeed!

Innovation through Collaboration

April 18, 2014 Leave a comment
Someone once said that true innovation is collaborative, and I’ve stated previously that innovation is often best observed in hindsight, so when the opportunity arose to help coordinate a BCS seminar about collaborative innovation (i.e. between business and academia) I was only too eager to oblige. 
 
As the title suggests, the focus of this event was to “showcase various initiatives designed to foster new collaborations between university students, researchers and industrial partners in order to unleash the full innovation potential of effective partnership working”. The speakers covered the gamut of that partnership by bringing perspectives from the world of academia and research, as well as from business and consulting, to give the audience a 360 degree peek at collaborative innovation in action.
Dave, Dean and Simon

Dave Chapman, Dean Mohammedally and Simon Elliot

Speakers, Dave Chapman and Dean Mohammedally, from the University College London (UCL) provided an inside view of the workings of IDEA London (including a tour of the facilities afterwards), as well as their innovative Computer Science & Software Engineering programmes which feature students undertaking real world projects with various sponsoring or client organisations. Simon Elliott, Head of Innovation at Worldline (an ATOS company) described how traditional enterprises are like walled gardens which benefit greatly by collaborating with universities which are like a small sprawling village or kibbutz (with flowing porous boundaries), to mutual benefit in tackling major challenges such as aging population,  mobile working etc. He also described the innovation process within his organisation and how they work in collaboration with universities such as UCL and IDEALondon.

 
The beauty of the UCL CS programme is that it provides a way for students to work with potential employers and entrepreneurs to develop real products and Proof-of-Concepts, as well as various Student Interest Group initiatives, e.g. the largest Hadoop cluster for education has been created, maintained and used by UCL students to provide services for real world business clients. The primary intention of the programme is to ensure graduates can acquire directly applicable skills and experiences for jobs in the highly competitive & selective digital business environment of today. 
 
To say I found this all very mind blowing would be an understatement. Although I’m pretty sure other universities, (e.g. Cambridge / Southampton / MIT / Stanford etc.), have similar collaborative partnerships, it was a real treat to see such an initiative closely intertwined to the unfolding evolution of London’s Tech City. I’ll definitely be back shortly to see what else they have going on at the UCL.
One cool collaboration Pod at IDEALondon

One cool collaboration Pod at IDEALondon

This event took place at the amazing venue of  IDEA London , an innovation ‘hot-house’ which was  launched in 2012 by David Cameron  and is located right at the heart of London’s Tech City . IDEA London was established by UCL, in partnership with  Cisco  and  DC Thomson, in order to offer a “unique opportunity for digital and new media companies to develop and expand with the expert help and support of 3 top world class organisations which are leaders in academic research, digital technology and media.  
 
In summary, this was another excellent event in the innovation series delivered by BCSNLB, in partnership with BCS Entrepreneurs and UCL. I can’t wait for the next event on 23rd April 2014, and I recommend anyone interested should make the effort to attend, if you are in London on that date.
 
Disclosure: In addition to coordinating the event for the BCS, the UCL (Dept. of Computer Science) is my alma mater, so you could say I have already drunk the Kool Aid, but please don’t hold that against me.