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Changing AI mindset for 2019

(This article has appeared on the December 26th, 2018 edition of Xconomy – by Jeff Engel)

It was an eventful year for the artificial intelligence industry.

The sector saw more big venture capital deals and acquisitions, while researchers kept plugging away on technology advances. Meanwhile, A.I. developers continued to grapple with issues around transparency, trust, and ethics.

As part of Xconomy’s series of year-end posts, we asked a pair of CEOs of Boston-area A.I. software startups to reflect on the trends that defined the sector in 2018—and where things might be headed in 2019. Here are their comments, shared via e-mail:

Rana el Kaliouby, CEO and co-founder of Affectiva:

At the beginning of 2018, I made predictions for A.I. in the year to come. One of the things I predicted was that A.I. ethics would become the new “green”—becoming a larger part of the industry conversation, and playing more of a role in education.

I certainly think that’s been the case. In the last year, we’ve seen employees at leading tech companies pushing back on uses of A.I. and facial recognition that may not be ethical. In academia, we saw MIT open a new college for A.I., with the recognition that an A.I. education needs to be about much more than just computer science—including ethics, economics, and the implications the technology will have on society as a whole.

It’s been encouraging to see the industry and academia start these conversations, but there is more work ahead of us. I hope to see conversations around ethics continue in 2019, particularly to include issues of diversity and representation—in the teams building A.I., technologies we build, data we use, and the people we reach.

Max Versace, CEO and co-founder, Neurala:

A.I. has crossed the threshold from proof of concept to a piece of technology deployed at scale, affecting the lives and productivity of billions of people. From server-based A.I. constantly consuming data for trillions of daily queries on a search engine, to edge-based A.I. processing billions of pictures a day on smartphones, special-purpose, narrow A.I. is delivering value today. A stake in the ground has been placed, onwards from here.

With A.I. now being mainstream, I hope to see more of a global economy around A.I. in the next year. 2018 saw the continuation of contentious debates around technology development across national borders. In the case of A.I. specifically, many have advocated for the U.S. to take a competitive approach with other nations, avoiding collaborations or knowledge-sharing in light of politics, trade restrictions, and privacy concerns.

While privacy and ethics should be central to any discussion about A.I.—whether domestically or abroad—the industry needs to shift its mindset toward creating a global economy around A.I. A.I. has the potential to help solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges today and benefit society in a number of ways, but only if we open the door to conversations between the many nations leading the A.I. revolution.

Like any technology, A.I. is a tool whose applications reflect the intentions of its creator. It is up to us, as a global A.I. economy, to show the path and come together to guide A.I. use cases in the right direction. Without a global approach, A.I. will fail to serve all of the communities and people that the technology has the potential to reach.