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Helping AI help us meet today’s biggest challenges

  • AI has the potential to help us solve many of today’s grand-scale challenges, writes Rachel Steenson FBCS, Vice-Chair of BCS Council. But, we need to ensure AI – and the data it relies on – is managed professionally. 

    When ChatGPT burst onto the scene in late 2022, AI became the talk of the town. If the headlines were to be believed, suddenly and from seemingly nowhere, had come a technology that could do anything. AI could write poetry, pen corporate reports, generate recipes and more.  

    The truth about AI is quite different. Artificial intelligence is a family of technologies, most of which have been the focus of academic and commercial research for decades. During that time, AI has had summers, like the one we’re experiencing now, but it’s also had its winters — times when it fell from favour. 

    Today’s AI summer is burning hot thanks, in part, to cloud computing and its ready abundance of processing power and storage. We’re also living in the age of big data: organisations hungrily build up terra-, peta- and exabyte portraits of their customers' tastes, preferences, locations and purchases. These datasets are so big, it’s impossible for a human to find value in them, hence the need for AI.

    We’re fortunate that AI is reaching maturity right now. With the world facing grand challenges like ageing populations, cancer, climate change and the need for decarbonisation, AI will be an invaluable tool in the hands of scientists.

    But don’t be fooled. AI isn’t fully grown up yet and is prone to stumbles and errors. If the data we feed them contains bias, then AIs will act based on those biases and the AIs themselves are so complex that it’s hard to explain how they reached their conclusions. How do we ensure what AIs are recommending is actually correct and good for individuals and society? Can we trust AI? Will AIs take our jobs?

    These concerns have led some to call for a pause in AI development: we should stop developing and deploying until we’re sure AI can be trusted.

    BCS and its members feel differently. We believe we should help AI grow responsibly. We believe registration, professional standards and responsible computing will form the basis of an approach to engaging with AI safely.

    It’s also important that AI and data professionals have places to meet, share, learn and network, including events such as Big Data Belfast.

    Finally, we also believe in diversity. For AI to fulfil its potential and help us tackle those grand-scale challenges, we need engineers and designers with different backgrounds and lived experiences. We need them to bring their unique insights to the table, the keyboard and the kanban board.

    This article appears in the Big Data edition of Sync NI magazine. To receive a free copy click here.

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