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artificial intelligence

IT Roundup: Big Data and AI approach a tipping point

March 1, 2015

By Lisa Dare



At the tail-end end of long week, I was wrestling with a 44-page document from the World Economic Forum when a fabulous little nugget jolted me awake. It was nestled inconspicuously in a pro-con list about AI’s tipping point:

  • Positive impacts: Rational, data-driven decisions; less bias
  • Negative impacts: Existential threat to humanity

It’s a reminder that even among the seismic shifts technology is already causing, artificial intelligence is different. It will shape our world in ways we can’t fathom and aren’t sure we want.

Tipping point: The moment when the future becomes reality

More than 800 IT and tech executives were polled by the World Economic Forum about technological tipping points as tech evolves exponentially faster.

Artificial intelligence (AI)—which we see early signs of in our smartphone assistants and Google’s smart search algorithms, for example—doesn’t yet surpass that of humans. AI platforms can process and calculate with astonishing speed, but they lack the rich context of human experience.

Similarly, Big Data shows huge promise if we can ever harness its potential. And that’s a really big “if.” Right now, business intelligence and other Big Data projects are both slow and expensive to implement, and very limited in scope. They rely on careful handling by people to marry data to processing power, to ask the right queries, and to structure the data within very limited confines of what is acceptable for a computer.

Marrying Big Data to AI’s possibilities can multiply the potential of both. AI can extend Big Data’s limitations. AI is essentially growing intelligence, or machines having enough foundation to begin writing their own code and develop their own algorithms, which in essence would be like humans having the ability to remap their own DNA. (If that doesn’t scare you, it should). This evolutionary power will make it possible to make sense of all the data we’re collecting, allowing for powerful decision-making.

One result that will signal a clear tipping point, according to the executives polled, will be AI replacing a corporate board member, i.e, replacing a human with a computer.

Some imminent uses of AI and Big Data:

Genomics. The huge amount of data embedded within a person’s individual genes can provide rich insight about health risk factors, as well as highly personalized care that doesn’t need trial and error to succeed. But not right now, because individual DNA represents a massive data pool, requiring too many resources to parse. AI will make it possible to identify patterns and make sense of them, providing an incredibly sophisticated tool that will transform healthcare, particularly cancer treatment. 

This AI / Big Data combination will facilitate:

  • Preemptive health measures to stop disease before symptoms appear
  • Identifying the best treatment regimen for an individual
  • Use molecular biomarkers to improve diagnoses
Financial markets. AI, paired with Big Data, will make it possible to predict or even manipulate stock prices—or thwart securities fraud. AI and Big Data will combine to produce extraordinary pattern recognition, which will allow them to see the kind of manipulation people would overlook or not have the ability to see.

Companies investing in AI and Big Data now

IBM has opened up its famous Watson ecosystem to developers, encouraging Watson innovation with an open API and a startup VC fund. It has also signaled ts intention of entering the healthcare space with some major acquisitions, including a $2.6 billion bid for Truven Health Analytics. 

Google’s AI team just announced DeepMind Health, which it says will create apps for healthcare providers to identify patients at risk for medical complications. 

Love to learn about the future of technology? Watch our new Internet of Things video: 

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