January 14, 2020

Is an “AI winter” approaching or is our relationship with the technology changing?

By Ellen Daniel

According to Tech Nation, investment in Artificial Intelligence reached record levels in the UK in 2019, making it the third biggest AI investor in the world.

The last few years has seen AI and machine learning become must-have technologies for businesses across numerous industries, with AI use growing by 270% over the last four years, according to Leftronic. Many companies have therefore widely publicised the fact that they are investing in this area.

However, 2020 may see the focus on the tech world shift away from AI, with the BBC reporting that the hype surrounding the technology could be dying down, approaching an “AI winter”.

Computer scientist Yoshua Bengio told the BBC that AI’s capabilities had been “somewhat overhyped” over the last ten years, and Gary Marcus, a researcher at New York University, said that “real innovation” was needed for the technology to progress further.

AI winter or evolving relationship?

The hype cycle, a term coined by research firm Gartner, is a representation of the phases new technology goes through from inflated expectations, through the trough of disillusionment and then the plateau of productivity.

Hype surrounding technology such as AI inevitably slows down as public perception changes, but Peter van der Putten, assistant professor in AI, Leiden University, and director of decisioning at Pegasystems, said this does not mean that we are necessarily approaching an “AI winter”, but instead reflects how our relationship with AI is complex and evolving:

“You do need to separate that heady brew of hype, perception and expectations from the underlying developments and scale of application of AI, which is growing steadily. When technologies are applied more and more they become more ‘normal’ and some of the hype disappears, this disappearance is then actually a sign of more widespread application.

“But more fundamentally what is missing in talk of AI winter is the human factor. There is a saying ‘we shape our tools and thereafter the tools shape us’. And we see that happening now with AI and the various outcries around ethical bias or other applications of AI that perceived to be not always in the best interest of the customer/citizen/human.”

Peter van der Putten said:

“We need to find new ways to relate to this technology especially because it is so ‘personal’ – AI is a natural extension of man so it will become part of us. This process may be painful at times but it is part of ‘growing up’. Our relationship with AI will follow the natural course of techno-utopianism and dystopian outcries to a settling down into more widespread application on our own terms.

“Now this may sound as if we have completely cracked AI already but that’s not the case. We don’t need artificial general intelligence to produce useful AI applications for good either. The last decade was all about machine learning, but there is still a lot of work to do combine it with the more traditional tasks of good old fashioned AI, such as logic and reasoning. This will be key to keep the machine learning under control, set constraints and arbitrations and express human values.”

Read more: Artificial intelligence predictions for 2020: 16 experts have their say.