Recent discussions on whether Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a boon or bane to society has captivated experts. There is a school of thought that deems AI and robotics to be a threat to privacy, jobs and even our safety. However, even the most vocal critics highlight the potential good that this technology could do for humanity. As we learn to judiciously harness the power of intelligent machines, it has been proven that AI is not something competing with us, but something that can amplify our own capabilities. This complementarity stems from the ability of AI to handle tedious tasks and spot patterns in data—abilities that are far more proficient than that of any human.
Research on AI has been on for decades. The past few years, however, have seen accelerated progress thanks to the increased availability of data, growth in cloud computing, and more powerful algorithms developed by AI researchers. Permutation and combination of emerging technologies—such as cloud computing, Big Data analytics, Machine Learning, AI and IoT – have made us more productive and able to communicate more effectively. Another emerging aspect of AI, is the ability to interact with a machine using speech and natural language processing. AI is transforming language processing and simplifying human-machine interactions by helping mix two or more socially stable languages in a single conversation. Researchers are working on how to make computers understand such mixed code, and progress in this area has the potential to enable conversational agents connect more naturally with multilingual populations like in India. AI is already helping people tackle pressing issues across sectors such as healthcare, agriculture and education. AI in healthcare is allowing doctors and caregivers to better engage with patients. Intelligent computing has enabled us to analyse large volumes of data, find patterns to predict diseases, improve operational efficiency and minimise instances of misdiagnosis. Researchers are working on AI based tools that will help detect transmission of pathogens in the environment and prevent disease outbreak. Analysis of drone imaging and sensor data coupled with machine learning will be deployed to control fatal epidemics in the future.
Repeated crop failures due to climate change have devastated farmers, especially in India. This has led to concerted efforts put in by governments, academicians and corporates to transform agriculture. For example, a project where insights derived from Machine Learning, satellite imagery and advanced analytics helped small-holder farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka increase their crop yield by sowing at the most optimum period. This model will be soon expanded to provide strategic interventions all through the crop life-cycle to improve yield—such as predicting weather changes, arrival and departure of monsoons, potential pest attacks, the best harvesting time, price forecasting, etc.
As with every aspect of our lives, the education system is also undergoing rapid digital transformation to make it more accessible and intuitive. Today, researchers are working on using AI to understand how humans acquire knowledge. Using this information we will be able to create models of engagement which will open up new approaches to education that will combine both teacher-led and online instruction.
In many ways, AI is still in its nascent stages of growth. However, AI used thoughtfully will be the answer to a lot of issues.
Anil Bhansali is corporate vice president, Cloud & Enterprise, managing director, Microsoft India (R&D)