Panel explores the potential behind artificial intelligence
Discussion at Windsor-Essex Tech Show focuses on easing fears of AI’s impact
It’s easy to forget the potential of technology is really all about humans when your daily focus is trying to develop the next great app for the latest model of SUV.
Daphne Zargar, General Motors’ global manager of partner relations, application ecosystems and development, got a reminder recently of that potential value through the experiences of her software development team.
“A developer on my team is dealing with his father-in-law who is struggling with dementia and (the father-in-law) went out to do a simple task (in his car) and ended up in the Upper Peninsula (of Michigan),” Zargar said.
“He was terrified trying to figure out how he got there. It alters your life if you can no longer drive or get around, a real sense of the loss of independence.”
With the age of autonomous cars beginning to dawn, such incidents can be avoided.
“Thinking of the social impact (of artificial intelligence), it just opens up your quality of life,” Zargar said. “That, for me, is an example of the impactful potential, at a family and individual level, that AI has.”
While expressing a healthy respect for artificial intelligence is required, Zargar and fellow tech panellists Debbie Landers (vicepresident of cognitive and industry solutions for IBM Canada) and Lillian Reaume (director of human resources for Amazon) focused on easing the fear of the unknown surrounding its impact on humans at Tuesday’s Windsor-Essex Tech Show.
Landers, who has called Tecumseh home since 1995, said IBM has begun to modify the use of the label “artificial intelligence” to “augmented intelligence” to better reflect how the company sees its use.
It’s no longer just about building better robots.
“We’re also investing around the aged and the use of artificial intelligence to allow people to stay in their homes longer,” Landers said.
“By being able to sense things like the amount of carbon dioxide in the room and the use of the telephone, artificial intelligence can tell whether the person is following their normal routine or isn’t active and can then invoke an action if needed.
“There’s a real hope that technology can be used by people to maintain lifestyles, be able to stay in their homes and drive. That also reduces health-care costs and makes health care more available to others.”
Landers said IBM is also doing a lot of work with AI in the environment. The company is engaged in projects in China and India aimed at reducing the deadly pollution in major cities.
The NBA’s Toronto Raptors use IBM’s Watson software in its draft and trade-scenario analysis. Medical researchers are using it to repurpose existing drugs in research to aid Parkinson’s patients.
Ernest and Julio Gallo Winery has embraced AI to analyze soil and weather conditions and can even control irrigation down to a single vine. The result is a 25 per cent reduction in water consumption and an improvement in production.
“There’s much less tech for tech (improvements) and much more tech for outcomes,” Landers said.
Reaume, who may work for the company that has been the biggest disruptor of the economy since Henry Ford launched mass auto production more than 100 years ago, pointed out that technology is creating jobs at a pace that outstrips talent supply.
“Yes technology is changing jobs, but there have been more technology jobs created than I can possibly count,” Reaume said. “What we need is for more young people to go into technology. The jobs are high-paying and, I think, more satisfying.”
However, to attract talent and retain it, Reaume said modern business must ditch many of the old ways.
From dress codes to eliminating office walls to creating collaborative and pet-friendly work spaces, the office environment is being radically changed as much as the shop floor.
“Creative people in technology think differently,” Reaume said. “They want different things from employers and if you can’t keep them engaged, you’ll lose your talent.”
Landers feels the challenge now facing companies and society is to figure out what to do with the amazing technological power at their disposal.
“I believe we’re at the next big thing (in technology) now,” Landers said.
“What we’ve got to do is take advantage of it and find the best-use cases that will really enable people to do more with what they’ve got. We’re at the next generation of computing.”
Amazon director of human resources Lillian Reaume, left, and IBM vice-president of cognitive and industry solutions Debbie Landers take part in a panel discussion about artificial intelligence at the Windsor-Essex Tech Show on Tuesday.