Panel ex­plores the po­ten­tial be­hind ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence

Dis­cus­sion at Wind­sor-Es­sex Tech Show fo­cuses on eas­ing fears of AI’s im­pact

Windsor Star - - CITY + REGION - DAVE WAD­DELL dwad­dell@post­media.com twit­ter.com/win­star­wad­dell

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.”

DAX MELMER

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.

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