The Myth of Bossy AI

Generating a variety of options for people to consider within complex problem spaces is an ideal application for AI. This is not “nanny state AI,” but “possible states” AI. And it is this form of AI -- the less “showy” of the two -- that deserves a level of attention that it hasn’t received to-date.

In writing about the impact of artificial intelligence on the business world, many journalists are focused on how AI will replace human judgement and decision making. With titles like “The Matter of AI Takeover” and “11 Industries Being Disrupted by AI,” their articles highlight sectors such as retail and travel that are already seeing computers assume responsibilities previously assigned to people with the rise of AI-powered chatbots. And they also underscore other segments, such as transportation, that are quickly headed towards radical change with the emergence of creations like self-driving cars and automated fleets of delivery trucks. But while some industries will be deeply shaken by the emergence of “bossy AI” -- tech that takes decisions out of the hands of humans -- AI is already showing a different face in many sectors. Rather than serving as a substitute for people, or telling them what to do, it is instead showing them what they could do. Generating a variety of options for people to consider within complex problem spaces is an ideal application for AI. This is not “nanny state AI,” but “possible states” AI. And it is this form of AI -- the less “showy” of the two -- that deserves a level of attention that it hasn’t received to-date.

Consider the healthcare sector, for example, and the ascent of the Canadian AI start-up BlueDot. The BlueDot platform combines AI, machine learning and big data to predict and track the emergence of infectious diseases. With intel from BlueDot, healthcare professionals and government officials can work with this AI-generated insight to determine how to quickly make policy decisions that can slow the spread of new maladies. The BlueDot engine searches every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day to gather information on more than 150 diseases and syndromes worldwide. It then evaluates the severity of the problems it encounters and raises the most serious issues for its clients to evaluate and act upon. It was BlueDot that identified and alerted its customers to the novel corona virus now known as COVID-19 -- more than nine days before the WHO alerted people to the new virus. BlueDot also was used to predict that the Zika virus would spread beyond Florida more than six months before it did so in 2016. With foreknowledge like this, decision makers can work to head off new bugs at the pass by accelerating the development and distribution of new drugs, changing travel policies or regulations that concern the operation of schools and businesses. And with the lessons learned from the global pandemic, it is likely that in the future, healthcare and government organizations will be more open than ever to changing course rapidly based on the projections of AI-driven systems like BlueDot.

"Generating a variety of options for people to consider within complex problem spaces is an ideal application for AI. This is not 'nanny state AI,' but 'possible states' AI. And it is this form of AI -- the less 'showy' of the two -- that deserves a level of attention that it hasn’t received to-date"

In the construction segment, ALICE Technologies is working with some of the world’s largest construction companies to use AI to generate scheduling options when building complex projects. At ALICE, we work with contractors developing huge projects that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build -- think highways, bridges, and large office towers. The order in which a contractor tackles the myriad tasks required to develop such projects, and the resources that contractor applies to the job, can make a big impact on the time and cost required to deliver these structures. To spin up myriad scenarios to create a set of compelling options is a task that is ideal for AI. Humans can then review the subset of the most attractive construction options and choose among them, just as BlueDot’s clients are evaluating and acting upon the subset of emerging diseases that their technology is surfacing for consideration. ALICE is the first company to have applied AI to the challenges of construction scheduling, and the potential impact is enormous. Our vision is to help reduce the cost of construction by 25% globally. With $10 trillion spent each year on construction-related goods and services, the construction industry is one of the biggest in the world, and major changes in efficiency could yield substantial global savings. 

In the case of both BlueDot and ALICE, our companies are focused not on replacing human decision makers, but on augmenting their capabilities by gathering information, crafting scenarios and calculating outcomes -- tasks that are ideal for computers. Partnerships like these between people and machines represent the articulation of AI that assuredly gets less attention than the “bossy AI” that regularly captures headlines. But this variation on the AI theme has just as great an opportunity to have an impact and the world. And it will do so by empowering human decision makers, rather than eliminating them.

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