Braced for the accelerated revolution of 2019

opinion December 31, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

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Business and universities are showing admirable readiness to adopt the paradigm shift of the Internet of Things and AI

Artificial intelligence (do we still need “AI” spelled out?) might remain a vague concept to millions of Thais, but this year count on lots more people who don’t yet have voice-command on their home or mobile gadgets buying such devices. We have arrived at last in a post-science-fiction era in which uttering requests to machines and being rewarded with their prompt obedience is becoming more routine and more efficient by the day.

Forget mere smartphones that are alert to your vocalised needs – voice-command appliances and other decor for the home are expected to be among of the hottest-selling commercial items of 2019. And this is just the beginning.

The tech experts most closely involved in the field foresee an exponential rise in adoption of AI, from governments and multinational corporations to the humble family domicile. IoT is constantly improving, as is online connectivity speed. The promise of convenience is so alluring that it overwhelms our ingrained reluctance to share private information with a forbidding “Big Brother”. Opinion surveys indicate rising acceptance of AI and a gradual easing of concerns about “machines getting too smart”. In terms of quality of life and secure societies, the mining and widespread use of Big Data increasingly seems to make sense.

More private businesses will be employing more AI. With changes arriving faster all the time and a major attribute of AI being that it’s remarkably accurate and trustworthy, there is little need now for debate over which professions are safe and which are doomed. AI relieves firms of the burden of sorting through mountains of data. No matter how big the corporation, AI can handle all the information fed to it.

A survey of business executives found that almost half of them already had at least one AI capability embedded in their firms’ processes. A fifth said their reliance on AI was steadily increasing. Householders, meanwhile, are buying smart speaker systems that hear and heed far more than just “on” and “off” commands.

Not even the experts can say with confidence how far this will go or how soon we’ll get there, just as the creators of the Internet had no inkling of what was to come. The dizzyingly unpredictable speed of AI evolution results from technology and consumer demand feeding off each other and from how so many ordinary users can easily stumble upon previously unforeseen innovations. Much of the credit for Facebook Live, the groundbreaking self-broadcasting feature, goes to regular users of the social network who channelled ideas and expectations. What comes next could have the same genesis.

Google this month announced the launch of an AI program in Thailand that can screen people for risk of a diabetic eye disease that could blind them if not treated. It’s already in use in India and already underlining how technology can benefit society enormously when skilfully utilised.

AI is undeniably draining away human jobs, but its potential to help is equally indisputable. Gauging the pros and cons will intensify in 2019 as AI continues playing an increasingly influential role in our lives, but reservations about the technology can certainly be assuaged as we come to grips with harnessing its power for good.