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Karl Delagrange
January 21, 2021.

Six Misconceptions about Artificial Intelligence

Understanding artificial intelligence (AI) is not easy: the myths and inaccuracies about it are rife. However, since AI is bound to become a part of our daily lives, we, as business decision makers, politicians, activists, or consumers, must learn more about it, its underlying technology and challenges, in order to make informed decisions about it. Here are six common misconceptions about AI:

Machines learn by themselves

That’s the impression you get. The reality is that machines are not yet at the stage where they can make their own decisions about their field of application. And what decisions they do make are grounded in a considerable amount of human work upstream. Experienced specialists still have to formulate the problem, prepare the models, determine the appropriate training data sets, eliminate the potential biases induced by these data, and so on. Then, they have to adjust the software in light of its performance. AI models are still dependent on countless human brain-hours.

Machines are objective

Nothing could be further from the truth. After all, the design of the hardware and the programming of the software are human creations. In machine learning, objectivity is a function of the neutrality of the datasets that are submitted to the training model. Since cognitive bias is almost inevitable, the trickiest part of preparing the data is to limit this bias as much as possible. Often, a model reproduces a confirmation bias that it has inherited from its human creators. As they say: garbage in, garbage out.

AI is the same thing as machine learning

While it is true that almost all current applications of AI concern machine learning, the fact is that machine learning, or the idea that machines can learn and adapt through experience, is only one tool of AI. Perhaps one day we will discover new methods of solving problems not suited to machine learning, for example problems for which we do not have large amounts of qualified data. AI encompasses the more general concept whereby machines can perform tasks in an “intelligent” way, i.e. using functions similar to human intelligence. That said, the concept of AI has no commonly accepted definition and its limits are blurred. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it “complex information processing” or “cognitive automation”, but that would certainly be less sexy.

AI will kill jobs

As was the case with the automation and robotization of recent decades, it would be more accurate to say that AI technologies will replace some jobs and transform others. In other words, AI will profoundly change the nature of work, as was the case in previous industrial revolutions, but probably not reduce the overall number of jobs. Just like robotization made it possible to eliminate repetitive manual tasks, AI makes it possible to eliminate repetitive intellectual tasks, freeing up capacity to work in a new and more intelligent way. And just like robotization, AI can be more efficient than any human for certain tasks. Take, for example, an AI-based application for examining lung X-rays that can detect disease much faster and more reliably than radiologists.

AI is not useful in my company

Are you sure? AI can already improve interactions with customers, analyze data faster, assist in decision-making, generate early warnings of upcoming disruptions, and more. Why deprive yourself of it? It also has a number of useful applications in an industrial environment, for example computer vision/recognition, which allows it to detect a defective part much more efficiently and quickly than a human operator. Ignoring AI is like shunning the benefits of automation, at the cost of putting the company at a competitive disadvantage. AI is nothing more or less than the logical extension of the industrial revolution of automation/robotization.

Super-intelligent machines will surpass humans

Today’s AI applications are very context-specific, i.e. they respond to highly focused problems. Generalized intelligence like human or natural intelligence, which is capable of tackling any number of different tasks, is not yet on the agenda and belongs to the realm of science fiction. Mind you, back in 1865, moon travel also belonged to the realm of science fiction. While we cannot positively state, at this point, that AI will not surpass humans eventually, we think we can safely say that super-robots will not be able to surpass humans in everything within our lifetimes.

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