Bots for Humanity

99 percent of technological progress by modern humans came in the last 10,000 years. We took tens of thousands of years to settle down, after a period of global migration. Once we did, we discovered ways to cultivate plants, around 12,000 years ago, discovered metals, around 8,000 years ago, and started writing things, around 5,000 years ago. Each of these phases helped us bring mankind together through teaching, with the last phase being one that allowed us to pass ideas on beyond the lifetime of the teacher.

It is in this passing of information through generations of teaching that has lead us to arrive at the technologically advanced times that we live in today but ever growing risks from existential threats are pacing towards us at a rate much faster than that of the progress of our countering efforts. Finding better and faster solutions to some of mankind’s most pressing issues may be beyond the capacity of collective human minds. In the wake of an Artificial Intelligence explosion, could mankind be saved by heroic bots, created to discover the solutions we can’t?

Last month, a neuroscience-inspired, Artificial Intelligence company called Circle AI, collaborated with WPP to create a conversation bot for the United Nations. The aim of the bot was to get citizens to track the daily progress of 10 actions that were identified as positive acts we can all take to help tackle climate change.

The initiative was first put forward by Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG). He said: “The challenge to humanity that climate change represents is of such epic proportions that only through collective global action will we have a chance to combat it successfully. Every single human being on our severely stressed planet has to take responsibility.”

Circle AI Chief Executive and AI Research Engineer, Jason Hadjioannou said: “Mitigating the devastatingly catastrophic effects of climate change and tackling other existential threats to Humans and planet Earth, may take the someday invention of Artificial General Intelligence. But today we can make a start by creating Artificial Intelligence systems and AI agents that help.”

The United Nations’ conversation bot, named the ActNowBot, was announced by Sir David Attenborough at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland on the 3rd December 2018.

Speaking about the project, Sir David Attenborough said: “We all know climate change is a global problem – and that it requires a global solution. This is an opportunity for people from across the globe, regardless of their nationality or circumstances, to be part of most important discussion of this century: the unprecedented action needed to reach the Paris Agreement targets.”

London-based, Circle AI provides conversational AI tech to organisations like Facebook Inc and the UN. Circle also concerns itself with contributing R&D efforts towards the exploration of ideas around Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), crediting some of the inspiration for concepts on conversational AI to the ideas and work of British-American philosopher and cognitive scientist, Dr Peter Carruthers and his theories in human cognition – specifically quoting: “there is a type of inner, explicitly linguistic thinking that allows us to bring our own thoughts into conscious awareness. We may be able to think without language, but language lets us know that we are thinking.”

Hadjioannou cites motivation for wanting to contribute towards advancing the field of AGI, as coming from the notion that solutions to some of mankind’s greatest problems may be beyond that of Human minds, instead someday emerging from the limitless ingenuity and advanced cognitive ability of artificial minds.

With Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook recently commenting that Apple’s “most important contribution to mankind will be in health” it seems there is a burgeoning trend to look deep into the future of cutting-edge technology for ways to save humanity. And this is reassuringly exciting!

The People Behind Britain’s AI Research & Development

The UK has a great heritage in AI, stemming back to pioneers such as Alan Turing, one of the undisputed fathers of the field. Britain has some of the best AI research groups in the world, including Cambridge, Imperial and University College London (UCL), and is a growing centre for tech entrepreneurship. But companies specialising in AI are few and far between, and those that do exist tend to be focused in one particular area.

Google’s acquisition of DeepMind has shone a light on this relatively nascent commercial sector, and Ben Medlock, co-founder of AI firm SwiftKey, believes that the UK is capable of building sustainable AI businesses to rival the giants of the West Coast.

Some experts have warned that artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment. Dr Stuart Armstrong, from the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, said computers had the potential to take over people’s jobs at a faster rate than new roles could be created.

He cited logistics, administration and insurance underwriting as professions that were particularly vulnerable to the development of artificial intelligence. However, Anderson said AI is not all about “hacking the workforce to pieces”. Rather it is about making individuals more productive, and making sure that “processes get applied, stuff is accurate, errors are eliminated, and compliance is met”. Analyst firm Gartner predicts that ‘smart machines’ will have a widespread impact on businesses by 2020.

Here are some British AI companies making headlines in the field:

VocalIQ
Founded by Blaise Thomson, Martin Szummer and Steve Young, VocalIQ is a Cambridge-based startup, formed to exploit technology developed by the Spoken Dialogue Systems Group at the University of Cambridge, UK. With expertise and toolkits covering speech recognition, spoken language understanding, dialog design, and speech synthesis the company provides customised spoken language interfaces to any device, and for any application including smartphones, robots, cars, call-centres, and games. In September 2015 VocalIQ was acquired by Apple.

SwiftKey
SwiftKey uses artificial intelligence to make personalised mobile apps. It is best known for the SwiftKey keyboard, which learns from each individual user to accurately predict their next word and improve autocorrect. Its machine learning and natural language processing technology understands the context of language and how words fit together. SwiftKey products were embedded on more than 100 million devices last year, and the company has just launched an app for iPhones and iPads called SwiftKey Note. The company behind SwiftKey was founded in 2008 by Jon Reynolds and Dr Ben Medlock.

Bloom AI
Bloom develops consumer artificial intelligence software that attempts to befriend humans. Its lead developer, Jason Hadjioannou, showcased a companion AI app for iOS at 2015’s TechCrunch Disrupt in London. The app uses artificial intelligence to learn about and bond with the user, proactively striking up conversations and remembering the personal interests of the individual. Bloom’s companion app is interacted with via natural spoken language and presents one of the most realistic speech synthesis engines currently available. Bloom AI is based in England and was founded by Jason Hadjioannou.

Celaton
Celaton’s inSTREAM software applies artificial intelligence to labour-intensive clerical tasks and decision making. Every day, businesses receive mountains of information via email and paper. InSTREAM learns to recognise different types of information and process it accordingly. It never forgets, and handles huge volumes of information at high-speed. Like a real person, it asks questions when it is not sure what to do. Andrew Anderson is the founder and CEO of Celaton.

Lincor
Lincor provides hospital bedside computers to entertain patients and engage them with relevant information and advice. This virtual personal doctor will constantly analyse live personal health data to enable preventative medicine and tailored lifestyle advice. During a hospital visit, the data will be further analysed by hospital AI, giving doctors a more complete and detailed picture. Enda Murphy is the founder and CTO of Lincor Solutions.

Featurespace
Featurespace has developed and sells two software products based on its predictive analytics platform. One is for fraud detection and the other for marketing analytics. Its products use advanced proprietary algorithms to exploit the vast amounts of customer interaction data that many companies collect, delivering insights that can help to detect and prevent fraud and prevent customer churn. Featurespace’s team is led by CEO Martina King (former Managing Director of Aurasma and Yahoo! Europe) and CTO David Excell, who co-founded the company with Professor Bill Fitzgerald, alongside Matt Mills (Commercial Director) and Simon Rodgers (Director of Engineering).

Darktrace
Darktrace uses advanced mathematics to automatically detect abnormal behaviour in organisations in order to manage risks from cyber-attacks. Unlike software that reads log files or puts locks on the technology, Darktrace’s approach allows businesses to protect their information and intellectual property from state-sponsored, criminal groups or malicious employees that many believe are already inside the networks of every critical infrastructure company. Darktrace was founded in Cambridge, UK, in 2013 by mathematicians and machine learning specialists from the University of Cambridge, together with intelligence experts from MI5 and GCHQ.