By Marco Ciappelli
A conversation with Dr. Ayesha Khanna
Recorded in Singapore during RSA Conference APJ 2018
Please allow me to introduce the second podcast that I recorded in Singapore during RSA Conference APJ.
This one was with Dr. Ayesha Khanna right after her final keynote with Dr. Hugh Thompson, RSA Conference Program Chair, and CTO at Symantec Corporation. Even Sophia — Hanson Robotics’ latest and most advanced robot to date and a cultural icon — was part of that panel, but to be honest, at this stage I would rather talk about Artificial Intelligence with those of my kind. For the time being.
So I invited Dr. Khanna to talk about what the future of AI is. She is Co-Founder and CEO of ADDO AI and was named one of South East Asia’s groundbreaking female entrepreneurs by Forbes in 2018. She is also Founder of 21C GIRLS, a charity that delivers free coding and artificial intelligence classes to girls in Singapore.
Before I proceed further into this presentation, let me take a moment to remind you that ITSPmagazine is, and will always be a free publication.
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Now let’s go back to this intro and a few thoughts I had while editing the podcast. First of all, where do we stand with artificial intelligence and what should a business expect from it? As a business, you need to start with asking yourself why you need AI, and understand what it can really accomplish, clearing the air from the layers of smoke created by the marketing industry that wants you to believe that Artificial Intelligence is the panacea to all the problems you might have from now until the end of time.
The truth is that there is too much hype around artificial intelligence.
As Dr. Khanna explains, AI is essentially the ability to automate something that is rule-based, that follows specific procedural steps, that is pursuing a narrowly defined scope, or that can find unexpected patterns. All those business applications that derive from these capabilities can find a use in business automation, customer service, and other specific custom applications. Everything else is, well, not here yet.
“Not yet” means that without taking away from the potential future application that we can predict for many businesses, right now the expectations are far behind reality.
An organization needs to first clearly identify what the business problem is that it’s trying to resolve, what they are trying to achieve, and if they even have enough data, technology, and budget to get there.
You do not start with AI, you start with your goals and priorities and see if AI can help you achieve those.
Here is a question. If even large- and medium-sized companies are struggling to grasp AI's current and future applications with all this hype in the news and marketing departments, how do the regular people feel about it and its presence in modern consumer products?
On one side they seem excited; just like IoT and technology in general, there are some positive phototaxis effects towards the new shiny and blinking lights, and with no questions asked they jump on it and welcome it into their life. On the other side, they do not trust it, and they think they will never understand it, but it is ok… it looks like it is a must-have and I’ll be dammed if I do not have it.
Now, this “I do not know what it is and I do not think I will even be able to understand it” is the worst attitude that you can have towards AI and, let’s be honest, towards everything. This is the exact attitude that will take you (the consumer) out of the equation and make you powerless and passive. You do not need to have a Ph.D. in computer science and be able to program AI. But what you do need to do is make an effort to grasp the basic concepts — the what and the how to make it indeed part of your world and an instrument of your personal life and professional growth. The alternative to this is to be replaced by AI.
Change is an opportunity, and it is also the only constant.
It has been thought as such long before AI was a thing and was said by Heraclitus of Ephesus around 500 B.C. Pantha Rhei, life is flux, and as such, all things change.
Today it is artificial intelligence’s turn, and it is going to be everywhere, and change our society and way of life. According to Dr. Khanna, the best attitude towards this is to do what we have done in the history of humankind once more: to elevate ourselves and our domain of expertise to remain relevant in the new era of intelligence — which, whether you like it or not, is happening already.
Yes, although it is hyped now, we are not even near to the possibility of replacing a human brain that is required to execute a creative, complex task. Nevertheless, it is here and is developing fast. It will create disruption in the workforce and will be —it is already— changing our society.
So how should we, the regular people, feel about it? To quote Dr. Khanna: “We should not be naively optimistic nor depressingly pessimistic; we should be realistic.”
This is the reality, and it is not going to change. There is no product or service out there that soon will not have some levels of intelligence embedded in it. And as such, AI will be part of our economy, our society, and our everyday life.
It is the time now for technologists, journalists, teachers, politicians, and parents to accept the responsibility to educate everyone in our society, to live with it, and primarily to enlighten the next generation to have a balanced relationship with it. Who knows, maybe a new social contract, a few hundred years later I would say, will be necessary.
Dr. Khanna will also introduce her non-profit called 21st Century Girls that in Singapore is teaching 16-18-year-old girls not only to code but to understand artificial intelligence. It is a unique course as it also includes discussions with entrepreneurs about ethics and morals, visits to innovation labs to learn how the topics that they study will then be applied to real business scenarios.
At this point, and even more every day, we live in a world where technology and society are so closely interdependent that a symbiotic state is just a few years away.
It is time to look at this relationship with an analytic and critical eye to build the pillars of ethics and morality that will affect and shape the generations to come.
If we do not do this now, it might be too late, and we will be left with only one more chance to roll the dice and hope that the outcome will be what we should have planned ahead for, because we might really, really, really not like what we have randomly created.
Are you scared yet? Do not be. We got time.
Not much though.
Enjoy the podcast, listen to it carefully, and share it recklessly!
* If you have read my introduction above, you can go directly to the conversation by skipping ahead to 6:13 - Enjoy!
Empowering Girls in AI
ADDO AI is a partner of 21C Girls, a registered charity in Singapore that develops and delivers coding, artificial intelligence and robotics programs for girls in Asia. As supporters of girls education in AI and Data Science, ADDO AI teammates volunteer their time in classes and workshops.
21C Girls was founded by ADDO AI's CEO Dr. Ayesha Khanna in 2014 in Singapore.
Empower is a program to introduce girls in Polytechnics and ITE in Singapore to the basics of artificial intelligence (AI) and its applications. It will build the next generation of talent contributing to Singapore’s vision of a Smart Nation. Empower aims to teach AI to 1000 girls/year across Singapore by 2021.
Parwaaz is a program to introduce girls in colleges in Lahore to the basics of artificial intelligence (AI) and its applications. The program will launch as introductory lectures in AI in Fall 2018 and then expand to a course starting Jan 2019.
Watch Dr. Ayesha Khanna on the closing keynote at RSA Conference 2018 APJ during the The Hugh Thompson Show: Artificial Intelligence APJ Style