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Human impact: How machine learning is already a force for good

Despite the concerns around artificial intelligence and machine learning, the benefits seemingly outweigh the negatives.

By April Slattery

There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a new industrial revolution – a digital technological upheaval that will have an enduring effect on all our lives, driven in part by the rise of machine learning.

It is said that the current revolution in robotics, machine learning and automation is accelerating technological change at 10x the rate of that seen in at the turn of the 20th Century, with 300x the scope. Our last revolution enabled the production of machines that mechanised repetitive tasks. Today, the current wave of innovation is enabling machines to improve their own efficiency and automate functions that were previously solely dependent upon human intelligence.

You may not be aware that real-time machine learning already impacts our everyday interactions such as monitoring fraudulent bank transactions, using chatbots to interact with consumer brands and recruiters using neural networks to identify and hire jobseekers more effectively.

While recruiters are taking advantage of machine automation to improve hiring humans, there is also a growing fear of the impact that the technology revolution will have on employment. For many, there is an assumption that as we automate, workers will be displaced from roles otherwise dependent upon human intelligence.

Although there will also be cases where automation may replace human labour, research has also highlighted the potential for such technologies to empower and upskill. Automation changing our relationship with work presents an opportunity to develop our skills and creativity.

In research published in December 2017, Gartner predicts that artificial intelliengence (AI), including machine learning, will be a net job creator by 2020. Gartner also highlights the potential for AI to enrich our working lives by augmenting our skills and capabilities.

Through the exponential rise in funding attributed to machine learning (approximately $8 billion in 2016), 320,000 new positions are being created each year across diverse industries including nanotechnology, e-marketing, VR, senior care and the space economy.

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Technological change has even catalysed the UK’s government, with Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond noting in September 2017 that HM Treasury expects to see productivity improvements across government through the application of AI technologies.

Machine learning has the potential to automate a wide variety of repetitive tasks, freeing our time for more challenging and skilled activities. KPMG’s ‘Clara’ platform, for example, has employed machine learning to automate warehouse inventory checks – removing the necessity for arduous manual assessments by junior auditors, freeing their time to progress their careers more quickly, rather than eliminating their roles.

One impact of this technological upheaval – and the efficiencies and capabilities it provides – is that it enables a greater opportunity to focus on the next great challenges and risks effecting us today.

Technological advances have the potential to not only improve the quality of our working lives, but to improve and protect our health and wellbeing. A study by McGill University for example, recently demonstrated that by using machine learning it is possible to predict Alzheimer’s up to two years before onset – enabling degenerative disease specialists to shift more resource towards care and cure, as diagnosis becomes more efficient and effective.

Where it is the nature of such revolutions to stoke uncertainty, it is in the nature of humans to adopt new tools and to use them to thrive – whether harnessing fire, industry or machine learning. Embracing the capabilities of smart technologies provides perhaps the greatest opportunity in a generation, enabling us to achieve even more significant advancements than the benefits that we see around us today.

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