Smart Living | Smart Living

Smart Living | 04 Oct 2023

How AI has quietly changed our society

From assisting medical research to decision making by public bodies, artificial intelligence and machine learning have had an enormous impact on our society - for better and worse. We take stock of the impact it has had on our world.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is dominating the headlines, especially the latest generative AIs such as ChatGPT, that are seemingly capable enough to write and paint on their own. With all this hype, it’s easy to forget that AIs and other forms of automated analysis and decision making (which we’ll refer to as algorithms) are already shaping the world around us. Quietly so, in ways both big and small, for better and for worse.

Your health

If you know someone who has recently been diagnosed with a stroke, AI may well have had a hand in that. 86% of NHS stroke treatment networks already have access to AI diagnosis technology. This tech can halve the time it takes to get diagnosed and treated. In June, the government announced a £21 million fund to support the use of AI in other areas of medicine, including the analysis of chest X-Rays.

“Artificial intelligence is already transforming the way we deliver healthcare and AI tools are already making a significant impact across the NHS in diagnosing conditions earlier, meaning people can be treated more quickly,” said Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay.

But… patient data and confidentiality is a sticking point, as Riddhiman Das, Chief Executive Officer of AI privacy technology company TripleBlind recently told the World Economic Forum. “Prioritising privacy and security are essential. All AI/machine learning solutions must uphold stringent privacy standards,” he said.

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Your money

If you’ve recently applied for a loan, an AI may have had a hand in the bank’s decision-making process. AIs and other algorithms are transforming the speed at which banks can assess risk and make decisions like this. Your bad credit score may also have been calculated by an algorithm. AI is also being used to spot suspicious transactions, protecting you from fraud in real time. Sounds good right?

But… the fairness of automated decision making depends not only on how the algorithms are designed by their human coders. They also depend on being fed good quality data. After all, no one wants their mortgage application rejected because of a data error or because the algorithm thinks they’re a credit risk based on, say, the behaviour of other people living in one’s current postcode.

“There are risks inherent in the AI technology and its application in the financial sector,” the IMF has warned, “including embedded bias, privacy concerns, outcome opaqueness, performance robustness, unique cyberthreats…”

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Your fashion

Bartering is back, and it’s all thanks to AI. More than 350 retailers are now signed up to Nibble, an UK-based, AI-powered chatbot that lets you haggle for a lower price tag. But AI is not only changing how you buy your next-season sweater. It’s changing how it looks, too.

Generative AI can now be trained to identify trends, tastes, and even come up with ‘new’ ones. Collections sent down the catwalk at the “Fashion X AI” show in December 2022 had been developed using the world’s first designer-led AI design system, called ‘AI-based Interactive Design Assistant for Fashion’. Or AiDA for short.

But… fashion designers are already plagued by accusations of plagiarism. In its recent report on AI and the fashion industry, McKinsey highlighted a thorny question: “Who owns the intellectual property and creative rights to AI-generated works, which could be based on multimodal data sources such as other designers’ past collections”?

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Your transport

“Artificial intelligence is changing the transport sector,” according to a European Parliament report. “It can help to make all transport modes safer, cleaner, smarter and more efficient. Artificial intelligence-led autonomous transport could, for instance, help to reduce the human errors that are involved in many traffic accidents.”

Closer to home, in an effort to tackle the down-to-earth issue of congestion, Transport for London has been using AI technology to monitor and assess new cycle routes in the capital since 2020. It also uses AI to help detect and deal with disruption on London’s roads. Meanwhile, Network Rail is trialling AI to identify hazardous scrap materials left on its tracks.

But if automated mechanisms can do more and more work previously done by people, what subsequently happens to those people becomes a weighty decision for the rest of us and not for AIs. Then there’s the issue of culpability. If there’s an accident involving AI at some level, disentangling where the responsibility lies requires reasoned, considered judgment.

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Your food

Next time you tuck into a ready meal, consider that an AI may have fed into its recipe. Waitrose’s latest Japanese range, for instance, was developed with Tastewise, an AI that analyses menus, social media and more to pinpoint food trends.

But… it doesn’t always work out so well. When the New Zealand supermarket Pak’nSave sought AI advice earlier this summer, recommendations included ”Oreo vegetable stir-fry” and “poison bread sandwiches”.

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Your entertainment

Among the winning works of art at the 2022 Colorado State Art Fair was a piece called ‘Théâtre D’opéra Spatial’, submitted by Jason M Allen and made with a lot of help from generative AI system Midjourney. “Art is dead, Dude”, said Allen. “It’s over. AI won. Humans lost.”

image of ‘Théâtre D'opéra Spatial’, an AI-generated artwork
‘Théâtre D’opéra Spatial’, an artwork generated by the Midjourney AI based on a prompt by Jason M Allen.

AI can create ‘new’ songs, paintings and books in the style of your favourite artist – or even in the form of their younger selves. Harrison Ford, for example, turned the clock back 40 years in the recent film Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Although legions of visual effects artists helped bring this digital deaging to the screen, machine learning still played a crucial role in making it look believable.

But… actors and writers in Hollywood are so worried about how their studio bosses will use AIs that they spent months on strike, bringing Tinseltown to a standstill. “If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble. We are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines,” said SAG-AFTRA union president Fran Drescher.

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So what next?

AI and other algorithmic automated systems have already ushered in notable changes to society. But, as we’ve seen, the speed at which they’re being adopted throws up some thorny issues. Writing in The Independent, Labour leader Keir Starmer insisted that AI “must work for working people.”

So far, countries have yet to take a coordinated approach on how to regulate AI which is important for a technology that is often being developed and used across borders.

The UK is hosting an international AI summit at the start of November 2023, while also funding a new taskforce with £100 million so it can look into the risks of AI. This, the government claims, is “more funding dedicated to AI safety than any other government in the world”.

Meanwhile, the EU’s draft Artificial Intelligence Act will attempt to classify any given AI by how much risk it could pose to the health, safety or fundamental rights of a person. The higher the risk classification, then the more testing, documentation and accountability will be required from the developers of that AI.

China has strict, detailed regulations in place which demand that algorithms be registered with the government, which then approves whether an AI can be released for public use. AIs that could influence public opinion must undergo security reviews.

All eyes now turn to see what the US, the home of so much AI research and development, will do. Watch this space.

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