Artificial Intelligence Is Here – Time to Buckle up!

Fair warning — this blog is a little long, especially with the embedded videos.  You don’t need to actually watch the videos to understand the content, but they really do help to bring the information home.   I suggest setting aside about 10-15 minutes for this blog.  It’s long because I find this topic extremely fascinating.  You’ve been warned!

Artificial intelligence 3I entered the incredible world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at a recent educational leadership event.  I heard from and interacted with a number of highly respected researchers, thinkers, and leaders in the world of AI.  It was a truly exhilarating learning experience.

As part of the presentation, the history of computers, the Web 1.0 and 2.0, AI and a number of other computer-centric advances were graphed for us as a function of their capabilities over time.

As you can see from the graph below, the capability of individual PCs and mainframe computers are well past their prime.  However, the relatively recent presence of smart machines, analytics and big data have been gaining in strength, but are now slowly starting to level off.  Look at the purple AI line.  It’s becoming vertical — more so every year.  AI is literally exploding into our world unlike any other computer-based technology — EVER!Computers AI History graph

At times, I felt uncomfortable hearing about AI and it’s influence on our world, but I was also excited at the possibilities that lie ahead.

At the conference I was surrounded by some brilliant minds who are helping lead AI advancement — people who are clearly focused on the possibilities and risks of this new technology.  But also, people who are acutely sensitive to the moral and ethical importance of appropriate implementation of AI in our world.

I met a 14 year old Canadian boy — Tanmay Bakshi — an AI expert and regular speaker for IBM.  He developed his first app at age 9 and is now working on helping prevent teen suicide with another AI project.  Here’s a recent TEDx talk that he gave in Dec 2017:

A point that particularly resonated with me at my recent educational immersion experience was the kind of skills that our children will need to have to live, work and thrive in this ever expanding world of Artificial Intelligence.

What also became abundantly clear to me is that I really didn’t know a whole lot about AI before I attended this event

AI is certainly here … and it’s everywhere!  And I mean EVERYWHERE!


SIRI –  a common AI Example

For example, one of the most pervasive AI examples is Apple’s SIRI.  When you speak into your iPhone the SIRI AI application comes to life.  It recognizes your voice, processes your unique question, analyzes what seems to be reasonable answers, compares this to questions you’ve asked before and then decides on what is probably the best answer to give you — all in real time — faster than what you could likely find by typing the key words into your internet browser.   Ten years ago this was science fiction.  Today it’s a common reality.

But what exactly is AI?

Here’s a definition I’ve pieced together that kind of works for me:

AI is about enhancing human capabilities, rather than trying to replicate the full scope of human intelligence.  It’s not Human VS Machine … It’s Human AND Machine working together .  It’s not about necessarily replacing human actions, but instead augmenting our actions to make us more efficient, accurate and timely. 

The cognitive computer systems that are the brains behind AI are being built to actually UNDERSTAND data, REASON about the data, LEARN from new data, and then INTERACT with us about the data.

I learned that AI encompasses several research areas including Machine Learning, Reinforcement Learning, Neural Networks and Deep Learning.  I’m not going to explain their differences, but if you’re interested there’s a summary article HERE that explains them quite well.

Want to see some currently pretty cool AI in action?

  • AmazonGo – the new shopping experience in Seattle where you never need to line up or pull out your credit card.  You simply scan your own unique bar-code when entering the grocery store and then go shopping.  The store’s cognitive computer scans your movements seeing what you take and when you eventually leave the store you just walk out.  No lineups.  No paying.  AmazonGo knows what’s in your bag and charges you accordingly, sending you an e-receipt of your purchases.  Check it out:
  • Mitsuku Chatbot – the world’s most popular conversational chatbot used by millions of people around the world.  You can ask Mitsuku just about anything.  You might be more familiar with the chatbot that some people have placed in their living rooms called Google Assistant.
  • Tesla driver-less trucks – The world’s first driver-less semi-trailer trucks are now a reality.  Canadian grocery store giant Loblaws has 25 of them on order.
  • The North Face – Using their company website cognitive computer, you determine the correct size and fit of your coat without ever trying it on.
  • Service Dogs – Check out this short IBM video about Jackson — the service dog puppy who’s being trained with AI to improve his service-dog skills:

I left the conference with a ton of thoughts and questions – the sign of a great learning experience.  Here are some of the more salient ideas I’m thinking about:

  1. AI is here and growing in importance — pretty much exponentially.
  2. As a public education system, we have an obligation to ensure that our students are prepared for this new world.
  3. How can we continue to encourage and support our schools to incorporate things like coding and even AI as part of their lessons?
  4. There continues to be a strong under-representation of girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).  What actions can we take to encourage greater participation of girls in computer classes, applied skills classes, extra-curricular clubs and out-of-school opportunities in the STEM areas?

This is certainly an exciting time to be part of the new age of computers and AI.  Something tells me that I’ll probably be blogging about AI again in the future.

dog drivingBuckle up ’cause it’s going to be a fun ride!

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