A Dynamic Summit - Special report

World-class speakers, fascinating talks – and an unrivalled insight into the future of global AI

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A Dynamic Summit - Special report

World-class speakers, fascinating talks – and an unrivalled insight into the future of global AI

PROWLER.io’s Decision Summit in Cambridge in November was massively oversubscribed – more people than we ever imagined came along. And contrary to how AI is often perceived in some quarters – by media,  politicians, professional scaremongers - our distinguished speakers and guests were not attacked by Killer Zombie Robots, dive-bombed by rogue drones or run over en masse by a ramshackle convoy of out-of-control driverless cars.

Instead visitors heard a series of world-class speakers talking about their personal experiences at the cutting edge of decision-making – decisions augmented in many cases by Artificial Intelligence.

I felt that our Chairman, Professor Carl Rasmussen,  summed up the theme of the event in a speech that was pitched perfectly to the varied and multidisciplinary audience. His definition of the principles underpinning AI set the tone for the rest of the event. “AI and human intelligence are complementary. AI must be interpretable and fair. And AI must be scalable and practical.” For me, those three sentences pretty much sum up the overarching message of our Summit – and for that matter my own thinking.

Our Summit was moderated by David Shukman, the distinguished Science Editor of the BBC, who managed to keep all the speakers under control and to their allocated times – more or less, give a take a few nanoseconds.  He linked (and cross-questioned) each of the speakers masterfully, describing Carl’s talk as a “Tour d’horizon of the science and thinking underlying AI” before linking to a speaker whose AI experience is rooted firmly in cold commercial reality.

Paul Clarke, Chief Technology Officer of Ocado, has for many years led the implementation of AI at the world’s largest online grocery chain. His talk was a riveting exposition of how Ocado is already embracing AI at a phenomenal rate. Since the company started in 2000, revenue, wherever possible,  has been ploughed back into the technology which is so crucial to the company. “We are operating what is the broadband of grocery,” he said.

Mr Clarke explained how Ocado had set about “harnessing the basket of technologies within the AI family” such as Machine Learning and Robotics. The company has invested in state-of-the-art warehouses and service centres and at their newest sites, groceries are picked and packed at AI-driven “hives” each of which are the size of several football pitches. It is an exciting time for AI, he said, “There is no doubt that  that the technology planets – cloud-computing, AI, drones, electric vehicles, the internet of things – are all in alignment.”

Georgia Dienst, who used to work at Google and is now a futurist and advisor to technology companies, talked about the merging of man and machine through physical interfaces – and the significant role they will play in our future. In essence, her talk demonstrated the ultimate synergy of human and artificial intelligence.

She started with a with fascinating look back at early brain surgery which intriguingly dates back to 500 BC or even earlier. Her journey to the present range of technologies included a fascinating  account of the bizarre trepanning techniques used by 60s hippies to release “tension” out of the brain in search of a permanent high. The trepanners would drill a hole in their own heads, supposedly to release “tensions”. “Please don’t try this at home” pointed out Ms Dienst, helpfully.

Moving right up to date, she said that the range of technologies of this kind amount to what is known to neuroscientists as “singularity” – many of those relating to laser, sound and light are already being developed - one or two others, however, are rather more controversial and might face some stumbling blocks. Take for instance the Facebook “thinking not typing project” which involves non-invasive technology – perhaps a hat or an in-ear device transmitting your thoughts directly to a computer screen without having to resort to a keyboard. She described the prospect as “quite scary – if you think Cambridge Analytica was a problem, this is going to be much bigger.”

Other speakers we heard from on the first day of the Summit, held in the beautiful surroundings of Downing College, included Craig Saunders from Amazon Alexa Knowledge who talked about the future of voice interfaces, and Dr Julien Cornebise of Element AI who spoke about AI as a force for good.  He explained how Amnesty International has carried out sterling, life-changing work in Darfur and Sudan with the help of AI.

Dr John Piorkowski, an AI expert from Johns Hopkins University who works behind the scenes for the US Government in national security  gave one of the most intriguing speeches of the day in which he described the huge impact that AI has made on the US military and the role of intelligence. He said that had present date science models been in place in 2001, the 9-11 plotters would have been foiled long before they got on the planes. Can there be any better argument for AI?

PROWLER.io’s own ground-breaking research in two key areas was also showcased at the event. Dr Haitham Bou-Ammar and senior business manager Gaurav Bajaj - explained how AI in the shape of PROWLER.io’s VUKU platform - can be used to improve logistics, and unlock the business value of an extraordinary boom in speedy fulfilment of deliveries, especially in the developing world. Businesses, they said, are struggling to meet this demand. The key is probabilistic modelling and reinforcement learning algorithms that can ensure much greater efficiency - up to 35% - of collections and last mile deliveries - and thus reduce costs.

The talk by Dr Peter Krauthausen and Dr James Hensman explained the potential benefits of AI in asset management and how cutting-edge technologies have evolved to make the whole business of asset management simpler and more efficient. As Dr Krauthausen put it: “Asset management is probably the one industry that everyone is exposed to… investors, pensioners, anyone who buys a life insurance policy is involved in asset management in some form.”

Dr Hensman, who is head of Probabilistic Modelling at PROWLER.io, explained how the fundamental architecture of AI – foundation disciplines such as Machine Learning – have already had  such a huge effect on the development of AI in applications such as photo ID in smart phones. The message from their talk – AI in asset management will lead to improved decisions, and lower development costs. They revealed that PROWLER.io itself is going to launch two new investment products for the asset management industry.   

The first day’s talks concluded with dinner at Queens College and an after-dinner speech by Professor Ian Goldin of Oxford University on how the modern technological age has become effectively the renaissance of our time. Suitably refreshed by the excellent dinner at Queens College, we reconvened the following morning for a half day in the labs at the Department of Engineering, kicked off by Professor Rasmussen. This was followed by lunch at PROWLER.io HQ  and some intriguing talks by the multi-talented members of our own research team.

In drawing up the list of speakers for the event, we were keen to ensure that those invited came from a broad range of backgrounds. AI such as that developed by PROWLER.io has such a huge range of applications – we were determined to put forward a breezy, engaging set of topics that would appeal to as many people as possible. Not all of guests came from the technology or scientific sector; many are our investors, for instance, who have a financial background, astute enough to recognise the importance of AI within a fast-changing commercial landscape; other guests included journalists and strategists interested in learning more about the future of AI. Together I am sure we can do our very best to finally exterminate those wretched killer robot zombies or at least the myths surrounding them.  AI has a massive amount to contribute to our society and we all need to take advantage of it. To those who came along and contributed, either as a speaker or guest, many thanks from all of us at PROWLER.io.  It was a fascinating event and one that we hope to repeat in the near future. We will keep you posted; AI is a fast-moving field and it’s important that right now we make the very most of it – for all our futures.

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