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July 28, 2023

What Does It All Mean?

A Conversation on the Broad Implications of AI Technology

One term has dominated conversation this year, and we’re betting you’ve probably already said it yourself at least once today: Artificial Intelligence. The term comes up a lot in our world – content and design – but it’s infiltrating every industry from education to real estate. 

We wanted to step outside the echo chamber that LinkedIn and our content marketing internet circles have become and get a bit of perspective on the way large language models and generative AI are impacting other industries, with insights contributed by people working on the technical side of the AI revolution. 

We’ll consider: 

  • General perceptions of AI (wrong and right)
  • The rise of AI in Education
  • AI’s implications for Healthcare
  • Regulation of AI 

To many of us, AI feels new and revolutionary, but the truth is that the technology we’re all playing with in the form of ChatGPT, Bard, and things like Midjourney are simply user-friendly applications giving us access to the engines behind many of the tools and apps we’ve been using for years. 

Artificial Intelligence is Not New

As Cassie Kozyrkov, chief decision scientist for Google points out in a fascinating article, “product designers of the past decade intentionally smoothed out the user experience (UX) to ensure that users wouldn’t notice when they interacted with AI components.” As a result, she explains, the extreme buzz around the discovery and development of the products that preceded those we use today existed long ago for researchers and then builders of AI-powered software. The buzz, she promises, was there–it just wasn’t at the level of most people’s awareness. 

Today, thanks to the fact that all we need is a browser to access the power of generative AI tools, everyone is suddenly talking about how they’re using these tools to boost their productivity, save time, and in some cases, shortcut their usual workflows or even abandon them altogether. 

Now that the public is tuned in – and naturally, that includes the media – there are a lot of stories about the dangers of AI technology, the degradation of these tools, and the potential dangers of employing AI tools widely in our everyday lives. 

But the truth about how these tools will change our world is much harder to uncover, mostly because that reality is impossible to anticipate, even for experts in the field. There are those who already believe that AI adoption is one step toward extinction of the human race, and there are many others with a more optimistic outlook. 

The biggest thing to remember is that the technology we are all becoming familiar with on an increasing basis as we go about our daily lives is a tool. Like a hammer, it can be wielded in a variety of ways, and not all of them are good. In this post, we’ll discuss the implications of AI across industries, including the challenges and opportunities that use of this technology presents. 

Turning to the Experts

To gain better insight into this topic, we spoke with Dr. Jules White and Dr. Ed Wiley, both experts with impressive experience in data science, computer science, and applications of AI across industries. 

Dr. Jules White is a professor in computer science, and the director of the initiative on the future of learning and generative AI at Vanderbilt University. He’s also the associate dean of non-traditional learning programs in the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt. 

Dr. Ed Wiley is the author of the forthcoming book, “AI: From Buzzword to Business Function,” and a veteran data scientist with experience across multiple industries. 

The Impacts of AI on Education

Like AI, education is a broad topic encompassing most members of the citizenry of the planet at some point in time. For our purposes, we’ve considered traditional educational systems like schools, universities, and online programs in our use of this term. 

Many young students (and their parents and teachers) initially viewed tools like ChatGPT and Bard as potential threats to teaching skills like critical thinking and argument formation, not to mention the obvious - writing. And there’s no doubt that as students learned how to utilize generative AI tools, there were many who saw it not as a productivity multiplier, but as a replacement for actually doing the work, which was an inevitability to most educators.  

Dr. White, who works in the world of academia at Vanderbilt, offered an almost exuberantly optimistic point of view.

“I view it as a huge amplifier of human creativity and productivity. So we absolutely want to embrace it. We want to teach people to use it effectively and appropriately, to understand the things that it does really well, to use those, and to understand how to leverage their own creativity plus those capabilities to be really productive, to accomplish things.” 

In his work, Dr. White has seen the evolution of use by students since these AI tools have been made easily accessible. He notes that one of the issues he sees is that students don’t have a clear message about whether it’s okay to use AI tools, and if it is, in what ways. “Students were worried about using it, were worried about educating themselves because they felt like they would then be somehow cheating if they're using it. But the truth is we want them to embrace it, learn how to innovate with it and do things. We also want them to go to the instructor and ask if it's appropriate on particular assignments and to understand what the boundaries are.” 

Rather than sticking their heads in the sand and simply ignoring the fact that this is a tool that will be widely used, even if it’s “banned,” educators should be learning how to use it and instructing their students on the best ways to use AI technology on various assignments. Dr. White went on to say, “There’s not a lot of difference here between this tool and a calculator. Sure, we need a nine-year old to learn how to perform basic arithmetic first, but calculators also have their place, and are useful tools.” 

AI in Instructional Design

There are exciting possibilities in the ways educators and administrators will use this technology to design instruction in the future, White went on to say. He noted that personalization and customized education are already front of mind in his own classes, and gave an example of how he’s employing the technology with a cybersecurity class he teaches. “I’ll say, ‘okay, Chat GPT, act like a computer that was the victim of a cyber attack. I'm going to type in Linux commands and you're going to respond with the output of those commands and it'll go and simulate that computer.’” His students then type in commands, and the bot will show simulated output. The technology essentially creates a game where they're trying to discover what the cyber attacker did. ”With a paragraph of text, I can create something that would have taken me years to program to the same level of sophistication.”

There will, of course, need to be guardrails erected around any new technology brought into a learning environment. Studies on both sides show both the likelihood of AI technology being employed to help students cheat and also the benefits demonstrated by AI-powered tutors to help students learn more effectively when studying everything from English grammar to coding

Applications of AI in Education

Outside of formal academia, plenty of education companies are already utilizing AI technology, and many have been for years. Some great examples are companies like: 

  • Duolingo: Duolingo is a language learning app that uses AI to personalize learning experiences for each user. Duolingo tracks each user's progress and uses that data to recommend lessons that are tailored to their individual needs.
  • Knewton: Knewton is an adaptive learning platform that uses AI to personalize learning for each student. Knewton tracks each student's progress and uses that data to adjust the difficulty of the lessons accordingly.
  • Cognia: Cognia is an assessment platform that uses AI to grade student work and provide feedback. Cognia's AI algorithms can identify patterns in student responses and provide personalized feedback that helps students to improve their understanding of the material.
  • Google Classroom: Google Classroom is a learning management system that uses AI to provide teachers with insights into their students' learning. Google Classroom's AI can track student engagement, identify students who are struggling, and recommend resources that can help students to improve their understanding of the material.

Even in his enthusiasm, Dr. White acknowledges that implementation of AI broadly through education won’t be an easy task. "AI has the potential to revolutionize education by making it more efficient, accurate, and personalized. However, there are also challenges associated with the use of AI in education, such as bias and cost.”

The Impact of AI on Healthcare

Keeping in mind the note we began on, it will surprise no one to learn that AI has been instrumental in powering the back end of healthcare for years. AI is already being used in healthcare to diagnose disease, recommend treatments, and provide personalized care.

Dr. Wiley, who has spent years working across a variety of healthcare technology applications, spoke about the applications of AI technology in this field.

“If you could nail one industry vertical that has the greatest opportunity and the greatest need, it probably is healthcare.”

From assessments of urgency in call center applications to diagnostic augmentation and evaluation of scans and images, AI has the potential to bring accuracy and speed to areas traditionally slowed by the reliance on human beings. The critical thing here, cautions Dr. Wiley, is this: “Don't ever take the human out of the loop. Because look at these interesting cross cases where you and the tech disagree, and use that to improve my diagnostic capability and also refine the machine’s algorithm.” 

The power of machine learning and all its applications in healthcare is astounding. According to Dr. Wiley, these tools have the power to rapidly scan amassed data searching for patterns that humans might never see. “That's exactly what's going on – you're amassing enough data to be able to identify patterns associated with the case that you're looking for or the case you're hoping is not there.”

The benefits of broad application of AI tools and machine learning to patients are incredible. One area highlighted by both experts was in drug development, while other clear areas of benefit lie in the ability to parse enormous amounts of data rapidly, identifying patterns of disease and treatment outcomes correlated with genetic factors. Left to humans, sorting and classifying the sheer volume of available data would be an impossible feat. 

As with all things AI (and any technology tool), there are also shortcomings and downfalls that developers and implementers will need to be aware of. Dr. White and Dr. Wiley both pointed out that algorithms are only as good as the information upon which they are trained, and studies have revealed bias inherent in some healthcare algorithms in past investigations. 

Another key concern about AI in healthcare applications revolves around privacy and security. Because many of the most compelling use cases revolve around the ability to parse vast quantities of patient data, the safekeeping of that data is a primary concern.  

AI Innovations in Healthcare Today

There are many companies in the healthcare space capitalizing on the benefits of this technology. 

  • Merative: Merative (formerly IBM Watson) develops and deploys AI-powered solutions for healthcare. Their products include Watson for Oncology, which helps doctors to diagnose and treat cancer, and Watson for Genomics, which helps researchers to understand the genetic basis of diseases.
  • Apple Health: Apple Health is a health tracking app that is built into Apple's mobile devices. Apple Health uses AI to track users' health data, such as their steps, heart rate, and sleep patterns.
  • Philips HealthSuite: Philips HealthSuite is a platform that helps healthcare providers to collect, analyze, and use data to improve patient care. Philips HealthSuite uses AI to help providers to identify patients who are at risk for developing diseases, and to personalize treatment plans.
  • Scipher Medicine: Scipher uses a patient’s individual molecular data to determine the best course of pharmaceutical treatment based on enormous amounts of compiled data about how patients with similar genetic makeups have responded. 

These are just a few examples of the many healthcare companies that are utilizing AI. As AI technology continues to develop, we can expect to see even more innovative applications of AI in healthcare in the years to come.

The Impact of AI on Government

A final discussion with the experts we consulted revolved around government and politics, covering the application of AI technology to government systems, the role governments will play in erecting guard rails around this innovation, and the potential for AI tech to be disruptive in the upcoming US elections, as well as others worldwide.

The last point was the one Dr. White wanted to address first, explaining that there would certainly be some exploitative use of graphics technology to develop media intended to mislead the public. “It's really the video and voice that gets people concerned, and that's a separate thing from Chat GPT and all these other tools. I think we're gonna have to focus much more on authenticating the sources of information and really trusting sources as opposed to just being like, ‘it looks right, it sounds right.’ And obviously that's going to be a challenge as a society.”

Utilization of AI Tech to Streamline Government

Anyone who's ever stood in line to get their car registration or driver’s license renewed can attest to the fact that there are things about government processes we encounter daily that are not as efficient as they could be. In many cases, we can point to situations where government seems to be lagging behind other industries in technology adoption. 

Dr. White explained, “There's all these use cases where we could dramatically improve our interaction and touch points with government if we could embrace the technology. The government is awash in software that is way out of date, does not look as innovative or exciting as the things we use on a daily basis, and is insecure. Think about going and taking all these legacy code bases and updating them and rewriting them so they're secure, more user friendly, more scalable, and so we're not dealing with slow, insecure, badly designed government websites or software systems. That could have a massive impact.” 

Government Regulation of AI Technology

One area currently receiving a lot of focus in the media is the effort by governments to erect some kind of regulatory guardrails to protect the citizenry from the potential for nefarious applications of this technology. 

Concerns around legislation were similar between the experts we spoke with. Dr. Wiley said,

“I think government regulation is important to ensure that AI is used in a responsible way, but we also need to make sure that regulation doesn't stifle innovation. I think the best approach is to have a light touch on regulation, letting the market drive innovation, but also making sure that there are safeguards in place to protect people."

Dr. White added, “I think the problem right now is there's a rush to regulation without truly understanding how the technology works and how you can use it to be innovative. And I worry that many policymakers aren't actively using it and using it effectively. So you want policymakers who are educated and actual real users, skilled users, or at least have staff that are skilled users.”

The question, clearly, is how to accomplish that task. In the past, according to Dr. White, the government would establish academies to study particular areas and advise policymakers. He suggested that scientists from both sides of the AI world (those who believe it needs massive regulation, and those who think less is more when it comes to regulation) should be called upon to explore the possibilities together. 

Europe is ahead of the United States in AI regulation, already enacting laws to protect citizens while encouraging development of technology that holds promise in so many areas. Though still in draft, the AI Act restricts what are seen as the technology’s riskiest uses, and limits the wide implementation of facial recognition software, while requiring makers of AI technology to disclose more about the data used to create their programs.The key to Europe's regulatory measures so far is that regulation depends on risks posed. Technology that has more potential for harmful misuse or contains more sensitive data will be more strictly regulated. 

The European approach to AI regulation is still evolving, but it is clear that Europe is taking a leading role in the development of AI regulation.

The Future of AI Technology and Humans

Though many of us have the perception that AI is brand new, the truth is that the technology powering the systems we now have access to has been developing for decades, and is only now presented to the general public in a raw form for us to use. It’s worthwhile to keep that in mind, since those writing sensational, alarmist articles and calling for strict regulation may not have much hands-on knowledge or experience. 

There are so many uses for the powerful applications in development. In finance, AI tech is already helping banks identify fraudulent credit card use and protecting consumers, and can also be used to offer personalized investing advice. In real estate, it can help create more accurate property valuations, taking into account many more factors than the existing methodology, and can also enable faster identification of ideal properties for potential buyers.

Because AI has so much power and potential to make human lives better, educating ourselves on what AI technology is (and is not) capable of is a wise first step toward understanding what the future might actually hold in terms of this innovation. In the meantime, anyone using the existing tools like ChatGPT and Bard, can easily educate themselves about how to prompt the available tools the right way for the best possible performance and outputs. 

As a final note, the rise of AI makes common sense human verification of facts more critical than ever. We invented this technology, and it’s our job to ensure it’s used responsibly and that we remain stewards of its development. 

About the author

Nancy Smay

Nancy is the managing editor and head of content strategy at Notable.

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