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TechWeek: in conversation with Jennifer L Fischer

Posted: Friday 30 October 2020

Rosie Allsopp speaks to the New York-based AI ethics expert to learn the state of play in the industry.

When we look at where humanity is with regard to developments and the adoption of Artificial Intelligence, it feels like we’re stood on the brink of a brave new world.

Artificial intelligence has the power to transform the lives of humans for the better with innovations in areas such as health tech or driverless cars or at a much more basic level, just asking Siri to send a text for us.

There are also some less positive aspects to the technology, which is why it’s great we have experts like Jennifer L Fischer. She’s one of a team specifically concerned with ethical AI, digital citizenship and the future of work. She’s a panellist at Digital Jersey’s TechWeek and in today’s discussion she will be aiming to shine a light on the realities of where we are with AI and sweep away some of the misconceptions that surround it.

She’ll be applying her considerable expertise to discuss how AI is benefitting industry along with a range of other experts.

“It’s an interesting mix in terms of the panellists, Each of us brings somewhat of a different perspective,” she explains.

“What my area of specialisation is, is AI ethics. We thought it would be best, rather than focusing on economics and some of the things other panels maybe speaking about, that I would focus on that perspective. In terms of ethical risks for businesses and essentially how that feeds into the bigger picture.”

Jennifer is currently enjoying a dual career. She’s the Executive Director at the Centre for Innovation and Professional Studies, at the Felician University, New York, and she’s also an adjunct professor.

She comes from a corporate background, and former roles include serving as a global IT executive at a Big 4 management consulting firm and Fortune 50 company.

“This past year I pivoted into higher education, although I had been teaching as an Adjunct professor for many, many years.”

As advancements in Artificial Intelligence become ever more sophisticated, it’s clear that ethical considerations will need to be as much of a priority as those advancements themselves as the lives of human beings become ever more enmeshed with and even governed by technology.

74% believe AI will be integrated into all enterprise applications within three years

And if you’re wondering if that’s actually happening, it’s a fact that’s acknowledged in this year’s Deloitte’s State of Enterprise AI survey.

It questioned more than 2,700 global executives in nine different countries that have adopted AI. Nearly three-quarters of them – 74% – said they believe AI will be integrated into all enterprise applications within three years.

“Respondents expect basically universal adoption of key AI technologies. Ninety seven percent said they are either using machine learning now or will be within the next year, 95% said the same for deep learning, 94% said that about natural language processing and computer vision.

“And if we think about the value of AI, 73% of respondents in that survey said AI is very or critically important to their business success today, and 71% expect to increase their investment next fiscal year.”

That’s not to say that there aren’t concerns felt about the pace of change. More than half these organisations – 56% -agree that their organisation is slowing its adoption of AI technologies because of the emerging risks.

“The same percentage is worried about a backlash by the public about AI with regard to cybersecurity issues, AI failures that might affect business operations, misuse of personal data, and regulatory changes involving AI.”

There’s no doubt that the phrase AI tends to strike fear into the hearts of some people who imagine a world dominated by robots. Jennifer says that while it’s true that tech can outperform humans in some narrowly defined tasks, it’s actually an opportunity to re-consider the world of work.

“Some jobs will be lost due to AI, but some will be created and they’ll all be changed. it will operationalise the working relationship between humans, teams and machines and drive value creation through human capabilities.

“This could include re-skilling IT professionals doing robot repair or advanced manufacturing jobs and future-proofing workers with human skills that robots don’t have such as creativity, problem solving, innovation and critical thinking.”

It’s important to consider these advances in the context of good citizenship – which is basically teaching people and organisations responsible technology usage.

“That’s where you have partnerships with the corporate world, government and non-profit organisations  creating opportunities for multi-disciplinary, innovative learning and social responsibility regarding the development, use and stewardship of technology as well as promoting civic engagement, economic opportunity and policy innovation.

“It’s also about the adoption of digital rights and liberties across philosophical, political, economic and legal landscapes.”

She said there are many opportunities presented by AI but the deeper question is, can we handle the responsibilities that come with it?

“AI technology affords us the ability to surpass human capabilities both in terms of performance and intelligence. It has amazing potential. Intelligent technology teaches us what it means to be human.However, we need to ask ourselves, are we ready to receive such a gift? Is humanity currently equipped to accept the personal responsibility to be successful with AI?”

Every one of us has to accept a certain level of personal responsibility when we’re dealing with AI

If you consider where we are at the moment, and the less savoury aspects of human nature where emotions take over from reasoning such as intolerance, entitlement, every single one of us has to accept a certain level of personal responsibility when we’re dealing with the Pandora’s Box that is AI.

That’s not to say it’s impossible for us to do that, if we are careful about practising good citizenship.

As for Jersey, can it capitalise on the opportunities and overcome the challenges?

Jennifer says yes, absolutely.

“Jersey can invest in new talent and existing talent. It has a competitive advantage and the potential to design better algorithms, and identify new ways of using AI so that it can be delivered across businesses and allow them to achieve meaningful value from their investments.

“it can also take advantage of partnerships, linking cutting-edge research and commercial success to drive innovation. For example, Digital Jersey is doing just that with the Felician University and I think there’s a lot of potential with those types of collaborations.”

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