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The impact of AI on business, society, and everyday life

Written by Quentin Hardy

In less than a decade, artificial intelligence has moved from a largely arcane academic pursuit into the mainstream of business and society. Few things as momentous have happened so quickly; even in these early days, AI’s unparalleled capabilities at finding patterns and predicting outcomes are remaking everything from medicine to the image quality on your smartphone.

It’s an impressive accomplishment, but with a cost. With all the hope and hype around AI, at times it is hard to think clearly about what AI really is doing and what that means for you, your business, and for society. There are rich tools available to any size business — it’s time to think about how to use them.

In a recent video interview, Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist of machine learning and artificial intelligence at Google Cloud, clears up several misconceptions and provides a clear view of how to think about AI as it becomes an integral part of your everyday business and personal life.

Li is a lifelong AI researcher who still keeps a lab at Stanford University. In 2017, she joined Google Cloud to better help AI move into the mainstream.

Forget about futuristic superhuman robots: Li is pragmatic about what AI can do today, including the ways we already interact with AI on our smartphones, cars, or on our voice-activated devices. She works with industries like financial services, medicine, or retail. Whatever your profession, she also believes that you should be thinking about using AI in your business.

That is because the conditions that created the AI boom — lots of data online, lots of cheap computing, and lots of available algorithms that do the big statistical analysis at the heart of AI — now exist almost everywhere. For the most part, this is advanced statistics and pattern finding — the basis of much understanding — at a scale few could have imagined.

The rich online data first came from browsers gathering data about the Web — leading to early investments by companies like Google — and then from smartphones uploading photos and other data for analysis. 

The conditions that created the AI

boom now exist almost everywhere

That data has already enabled products for image and video searches, speech recognition, and even new ways to find and hire talent based on understanding text. These are packaged as “building blocks” to enable companies to begin using machine learning in a familiar way.

Now sensors and the vast amounts of data stretching back a century and stored in corporate computers are adding to the trove for more analysis of hidden patterns. Cloud computing services like Google Cloud have made analysis of all this data cheap and available to everyone, enabling a feedback loop of benefits and innovation that will likely last many years.

This is already changing the way small companies think about their strategies, and as Li notes, is affecting the way established businesses look at their data.

Despite the fears that this boom in pattern-finding will wipe out jobs or create a soulless world driven by uncontrolled algorithms, Dr. Li is a clear-eyed optimist. The pattern she sees is that automation has historically created new kinds of work, enabling humans to do work at which humans excel. As for AI becoming a force for evil, she notes, “a technology bears the values that its creators give it.” 

In other words, the hard work of being good will not be automated. 

Quentin Hardy

Written by Quentin Hardy

Quentin Hardy is the head of editorial at Google Cloud, writing about the ways that cloud computing technology and the advent of computer intelligence at every point on the planet are reshaping business and society.