It’s mainstream and it’s coming faster than anyone thought possible.
Global developments in robotics and artificial intelligence will disrupt most industries, including the PR and creative industry.
That’s the verdict of Columbia University’s Professor of Mechanical Engineering Hod Lipson. Speaking at the Holmes Report’s PRovokes 2016 summit in Miami, Lipson shared an action packed keynote, with plenty of thought provoking examples to remind us we now live in harmony with robots, which are getting smarter by the day as a result of artificial intelligence (AI).
“The industry is moving so fast it’s surprising everyone in the field, where we’ve seen complete lines of research made obsolete,” said Lipson.
“For most of us, our view of robots was what see saw portrayed in Hollywood movies – robots were happy, emotional, cunning, smart and sophisticated. Recent studies mis-perceive AI to be these kinds of things.
“If you look at industry today, millions of robots operate in factories with super human features, able to be very precise and very fast, but without intelligence.
“AI is prevalent but restricted to the virtual world, like stock trading, predicting weather, or what song you may play next. It’s not critical if it’s wrong, but increasingly we see it moving into areas where you want to get things perfectly right, and that’s where change is happening.
“The frequency and scale of investments has changed, and now it’s big. Robots are moving out of factories into the real world. We see more and more robots in unstructured environments, which just a few years ago, was too expensive. Today, they are a dime a dozen.”
Recent examples include Boston Dynamics’ walking robots and Tesco’s clothing brand F&F, which had six-foot tall RFID robots, scanning clothing tags for inventory. But the example we all know is the driverless car, perfectly illustrated in September in Pittsburgh, when Uber introduced a pilot of self-driving cars.
“These advancements are having a huge ripple effect, enabled by recent developments in AI that is finally making these things possible,” said Lipson.
But it’s not been without its challenges.
“The Achilles heel of AI has been the rare events, or what we call the industry, corner cases.”
Lipson demonstrated this with ‘man against machine’. What happens when a robot faces off against one of the best table tennis players of all time?
“The robot cannot handle the net balls. When we drive a car, 99 per cent of the time it is mind numbing, our minds drift and we wonder how we got to the destination. But it’s the 1 per cent that is the challenge. Those unexpected moments where the brain has to react.”
The good news is AI and machine learning is closing the accuracy gap. Since 2010 the open source community has been working on the algorithm to get the error rate down to 3.5 per cent error rate, which is better than humans. A real turning point.
“Data is the fuel and the algorithm is the engine,” Lipson explains. “We used to program computers. Now it is machine learning, we just feed it with data.”
When a machine can understand what it sees, it can handle those corner cases or rare events. In driverless cars, the sensors can tell the difference between a pot hole and a shadow, and the difference between a child and a fire hydrant.
“Driverless cars are a reality of the advancements in AI and machine learning, and it’s just getting better every day. It’s just the beginning and the reality is that they are much better drivers than we are.”
A book worth grabbing is by Lipson, titled ‘Driverless: intelligent cars and the road ahead’.
Lipson shared other AI scenarios – shipping and moving things, new modes of e-commerce, and how farmers use drones to examine every single plant and treat only that one. He said, “There are a lot of companies that have never thought of AI as a source of competition.”
The advantage they have is their data, which isn’t open source.
“Data is the fuel and the asset, not the algorithm. Algorithms learn from each other. Unlike humans, cars have multiple experiences and learn from each other. For example, if one car crashes all cars can learn from that mistake.”
His warning is that ‘creativity is the next frontier’ for AI, which could have a huge impact on creative industries like PR and marketing.
“The future is curious and creative robots (machines), which can design and make things happen,” he said. “Self-awareness is the ultimate goal of AI and robotics. That’s when robots can create an image of themselves, understand what it is, and depending on what happens, adapt and create in their environment.
“There is a world of abundance ahead of us. It could be AI healthcare doctors, personal education for children, or software in the kitchen that can cook for us. The next decade will more exciting than all human industry.”
According to AI research released by Weber Shandwick, 57 per cent of CMOs consider AI to be a disruptor, much more than social media. In addition, consumers are more likely to see AI’s impact on society as positive, rather than negative.
Gail Heimann, a Weber President, said, “We’ve a baseline on what the average person and marketer thinks about AI as we start to understand how it impacts the experiences between people, brands and the world around us.”
For the PR industry it will need a different skill set, with campaigns that are no longer rule based, but something more dynamic. We may have to set AI goals, learn what people do, and be more on demand.
“We have to build a reputation of positive and for good, rather than worry about AI’s side effects. The challenge will be that we lose some control with AI, over what it does, but broader than that is the issue of what it does to people.
“The big question will be what people do with people using AI. As we all know, technology is a double edged sword.”
Here’s Professor Lipson’s short interview with Holmes Report.