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The tech industry touts its ability to automate tasks and remove slow and expensive humans from the equation. But in the background, a lot of the legwork training machine learning systems, solving problems software can’t, and cleaning up its mistakes is still done by people.
This was highlighted recently when Expensify, which promises to automatically scan photos of receipts to extract data for expense reports, was criticized for sending customers’ personally identifiable receipts to workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) crowdsourcing platform.
The company uses text analysis software to read the receipts, but if the automated system falls down then the images are passed to a human for review. While entrusting this job to random workers on MTurk was maybe not so wise—and the company quickly stopped after the furor—the incident brought to light that this kind of human safety net behind AI-powered services is actually very common.
As Wired notes, similar services like Ibotta and Receipt Hog that collect receipt information for marketing purposes also use crowdsourced workers. In a similar vein, while most users might assume their Facebook newsfeed is governed by faceless algorithms, the company has been ramping up the number of human moderators it employs to catch objectionable content that slips through the net, as has YouTube. Twitter also has thousands of human overseers.
Humans aren’t always witting contributors either. The old text-based reCAPTCHA problems Google used to use to distinguish humans from machines was actually simultaneously helping the company digitize books by getting humans to interpret hard-to-read text.
“Every product that uses AI also uses people,” Jeffrey Bigham, a crowdsourcing expert at Carnegie Mellon University, told Wired. “I wouldn’t even say it’s a backstop so much as a core part of the process.”
Some companies are not shy about their use of crowdsourced workers. Startup Eloquent Labs wants to insert them between customer service chatbots and human agents who step in when the machines fail. Many times the AI is pretty certain what particular work means, and an MTurk worker can step in and quickly classify them faster and cheaper than a service agent.
Fashion retailer Gilt provides “pre-emptive shipping,” which uses data analytics to predict what people will buy to get products to them faster. The company uses MTurk workers to provide subjective critiques of clothing that feed into their models.
MTurk isn’t the only player. Companies like Cloudfactory and Crowdflower provide crowdsourced human manpower tailored to particular niches, and some companies prefer to maintain their own communities of workers. Unlabel uses an army of 50,000 humans to check and edit the translations its artificial intelligence system produces for customers.
Most of the time these human workers aren’t just filling in the gaps, they’re also helping to train the machine learning component of these companies’ services by providing new examples of how to solve problems. Other times humans aren’t used “in-the-loop” with AI systems, but to prepare data sets they can learn from by labeling images, text, or audio.
It’s even possible to use crowdsourced workers to carry out tasks typically tackled by machine learning, such as large-scale image analysis and forecasting.
Zooniverse gets citizen scientists to classify images of distant galaxies or videos of animals to help academics analyze large data sets too complex for computers. Almanis creates forecasts on everything from economics to politics with impressive accuracy by giving those who sign up to the website incentives for backing the correct answer to a question. Researchers have used MTurkers to power a chatbot, and there’s even a toolkit for building algorithms to control this human intelligence called TurKit.
So what does this prominent role for humans in AI services mean? Firstly, it suggests that many tools people assume are powered by AI may in fact be relying on humans. This has obvious privacy implications, as the Expensify story highlighted, but should also raise concerns about whether customers are really getting what they pay for.
One example of this is IBM’s Watson for oncology, which is marketed as a data-driven AI system for providing cancer treatment recommendations. But an investigation by STAT highlighted that it’s actually largely driven by recommendations from a handful of (admittedly highly skilled) doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
Secondly, humans intervening in AI-run processes also suggests AI is still largely helpless without us, which is somewhat comforting to know among all the doomsday predictions of AI destroying jobs. At the same time, though, much of this crowdsourced work is monotonous, poorly paid, and isolating.
As machines trained by human workers get better at all kinds of tasks, this kind of piecemeal work filling in the increasingly small gaps in their capabilities may get more common. While tech companies often talk about AI augmenting human intelligence, for many it may actually end up being the other way around.
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Artificial intelligence has received its fair share of hype recently. However, it’s hype that’s well-founded: IDC predicts worldwide spend on AI and cognitive computing will culminate to a whopping $46 billion (with a “b”) by 2020, and all the tech giants are jumping on board faster than you can say “ROI.” But what is AI, exactly?
According to Hilary Mason, AI today is being misused as a sort of catch-all term to basically describe “any system that uses data to do anything.” But it’s so much more than that. A truly artificially intelligent system is one that learns on its own, one that’s capable of crunching copious amounts of data in order to create associations and intelligently mimic actual human behavior.
It’s what powers the technology anticipating our next online purchase (Amazon), or the virtual assistant that deciphers our voice commands with incredible accuracy (Siri), or even the hipster-friendly recommendation engine that helps you discover new music before your friends do (Pandora). But AI is moving past these consumer-pleasing “nice-to-haves” and getting down to serious business: saving our butts.
Much in the same way robotics entered manufacturing, AI is making its mark in healthcare by automating mundane, repetitive tasks. This is especially true in the case of detecting cancer. By leveraging the power of deep learning, algorithms can now be trained to distinguish between sets of pixels in an image that represents cancer versus sets that don’t—not unlike how Facebook’s image recognition software tags pictures of our friends without us having to type in their names first. This software can then go ahead and scour millions of medical images (MRIs, CT scans, etc.) in a single day to detect anomalies on a scope that humans just aren’t capable of. That’s huge.
As if that wasn’t enough, these algorithms are constantly learning and evolving, getting better at making these associations with each new data set that gets fed to them. Radiology, dermatology, and pathology will experience a giant upheaval as tech giants and startups alike jump in to bring these deep learning algorithms to a hospital near you.
In fact, some already are: the FDA recently gave their seal of approval for an AI-powered medical imaging platform that helps doctors analyze and diagnose heart anomalies. This is the first time the FDA has approved a machine learning application for use in a clinical setting.
But how efficient is AI compared to humans, really? Well, aside from the obvious fact that software programs don’t get bored or distracted or have to check Facebook every twenty minutes, AI is exponentially better than us at analyzing data.
Take, for example, IBM’s Watson. Watson analyzed genomic data from both tumor cells and healthy cells and was ultimately able to glean actionable insights in a mere 10 minutes. Compare that to the 160 hours it would have taken a human to analyze that same data. Diagnoses aside, AI is also being leveraged in pharmaceuticals to aid in the very time-consuming grunt work of discovering new drugs, and all the big players are getting involved.
But AI is far from being just a behind-the-scenes player. Gartner recently predicted that by 2025, 50 percent of the population will rely on AI-powered “virtual personal health assistants” for their routine primary care needs. What this means is that consumer-facing voice and chat-operated “assistants” (think Siri or Cortana) would, in effect, serve as a central hub of interaction for all our connected health devices and the algorithms crunching all our real-time biometric data. These assistants would keep us apprised of our current state of well-being, acting as a sort of digital facilitator for our personal health objectives and an always-on health alert system that would notify us when we actually need to see a physician.
Slowly, and thanks to the tsunami of data and advancements in self-learning algorithms, healthcare is transitioning from a reactive model to more of a preventative model—and it’s completely upending the way care is delivered. Whether Elon Musk’s dystopian outlook on AI holds any weight or not is yet to be determined. But one thing’s certain: for the time being, artificial intelligence is saving our lives.
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Singapore International Robo Expo debuts as the robotics sector is poised for accelerated growth
In partnership with Experia Events, the Singapore Industrial Automation Association sets its sights on boosting the robotics solutions industry with this strategic global platform for innovation and technology
Singapore, 18 October 2016 – The first Singapore International Robo Expo (SIRE), organised by Experia Events and co-organised by the Singapore Industrial Automation Association (SIAA), will be held from 1 to 2 November 2016, at Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Marina Bay Sands.
Themed Forging the Future of Robotics Solutions, SIRE will comprise an exhibition, product demonstrations, networking sessions and conferences. SIRE aims to be the global platform for governments, the private sector and the academia to engage in dialogues, share industry best practices, network, forge partnerships, and explore funding opportunities for the adoption of robotics solutions.
“SIRE debuts at a time when robotics has been gaining traction in the world due to the need for automation and better productivity. The latest World Robotics Report by the International Federation of Robotics has also identified Singapore as a market with one of the highest robot density in manufacturing – giving us more opportunities for further development in this field, and well as its extension into the services sectors.
With the S$450 million pledged by the Singapore government to the National Robotics Programme to develop the industry over the next three years, SIRE is aligned with these goals to cultivate the adoption of robotics and support the growing industry. As an association, we are constantly looking for ways to bring together robotic adoption, collaboration among partners, and providing support with funding for our members. SIRE is precisely the strategic platform for this,” said Mr Oliver Tian, President, SIAA.
SIRE has attracted strong interest from institutes of higher learning (IHLs), research institutes, local and international enterprises, with innovation and technology applicable for a vast range of industries from manufacturing to healthcare.
ST Kinetics, the Title Sponsor for the inaugural edition of the event, is one of the key exhibitors, together with other leading industry players such as ABB, Murata, Panasonic, SICK Pte Ltd, and Tech Avenue amongst others. Emerging SMEs such as H3 Dynamics, Design Tech Technologies and SMP Robotics Singapore will also showcase their innovations at the exhibition. Participating research institute, A*STAR’s SIMTech, and other IHLs supporting the event include Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Republic Polytechnic and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).
Visitors will also be able to view “live” demonstrations at the Demo Zone and come up close with the latest innovations and technologies. Some of the key highlights at the zone includes the world’s only fully autonomous outdoor security robot developed by SMP Robotics Singapore, as well as ABB’s Yumi, IRB 14000, a collaborative robot designed to work in close collaboration and proximity with humans safely. Dynamic Stabilization Systems, SIMTech and Design Tech will also be demonstrating the capabilities of their robotic innovations at the zone.
At the Singapore International Robo Convention, key speakers representing regulators, industry leaders and academia will come together, exchange insights and engage in discourse to address the various aspects of robotic and automation technology, industry trends and case studies of robotics solutions. There will also be a session discussing the details of the Singapore National Robotics Programme led by Mr Haryanto Tan, Head, Precision Engineering Cluster Group, EDB Singapore.
SIRE will also host the France-Singapore Innovation Days in collaboration with Business France, the national agency supporting the international development of the French economy. The organisation will lead a delegation of 20 key French companies to explore business and networking opportunities with Singapore firms, and conduct specialized workshops.
To further foster a deeper appreciation and to inspire the next generation of robotics and automation experts, the event will also host students from higher institutes of learning on Education Day on 2 November. Students will be able to immerse themselves in the exciting developments of the robotics industry and get a sampling of how robotics can be applied to real-world settings by visiting the exhibits and interacting with representatives from participating companies.
Mr Leck Chet Lam, Managing Director, Experia Events, says, “SIRE will be a game changer for the industry. We are expecting the industry’s best and new-to-market players to showcase their innovations, which could potentially add value to the operations across a wide spectrum of industry sectors, from manufacturing to retail and service, and healthcare. We also hope to inspire the robotics and automation experts of tomorrow with our Education Day programme.
Experia Events prides itself as a company that organises strategic events for the global stage, featuring thought leaders and working with the industries’ best. It is an honour for us to be partnering SIAA, a recognised body and key player in the robotics industry. We are privileged to be able to help elevate Singapore’s robotics industry through SIRE and are pulling out all stops to ensure that the event will be a resounding success.”
SIRE is supported by Strategic Partner, IE Singapore as well as agencies including EDB Singapore, GovTech Singapore, InfoComm Media Development Authority, A*STAR’s SIMTech, and Spring Singapore.
For further enquiries, please contact:
Marilyn HoExperia Events Pte LtdDirector, CommunicationsTel: +65 6595 6130Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Genevieve YeoExperia Events Pte LtdAssistant Manager, CommunicationsTel: +65 6595 6131Email: email@example.com
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