Artificial intelligence will make humans super, says Accenture CTO (video)

13 Nov 2015

Paul Daugherty, CTO, Accenture. Photo: Luke Maxwell

Accenture CTO Paul Daugherty said artificial intelligence will empower people in the future to perform higher-skilled work. But it won’t result in super humans.

“We believe that the real power of artificial intelligence is to augment what humans are great at and make them better at what they do,” said Paul Daugherty, chief technology officer at Accenture.

One of the biggest trends of 2015 has to be the rise of artificial intelligence as a viable way forward for technology and humanity. Everything from machine learning, machine vision and cognitive computing are being mixed together and are already blending with our digital lives.

‘We believe we are at a point where we are poised to see the real breakthroughs of artificial intelligence technologies’

Just look at Siri on your iPhone, Cortana on Windows 10 machines and some of the artificial intelligence features Google is putting into products like Gmail.

For Daugherty, the promise of artificial intelligence isn’t about robots taking our jobs, but rather empowering humans to do more things brilliantly.

“We see artificial intelligence as a set or family of technologies that can create capabilities to sense, comprehend and then take action on a variety of inputs and stimulus. It’s really multiple technologies, deep learning, machine learning, semantic ontology, expert systems, video analytics, etc. A lot of different technologies coming together that allow us to create these new capabilities either for consumers to change the way they live or employees to change the way their jobs work and the way they work in organisations.”

Accenture’s R&D and AI investment in Dublin

Accenture is investing $25m to create a new Centre of Innovation that will employ 200 people in Dublin, Accenture has also recently announced a new specialised R&D lab in Dublin that will focus on artificial intelligence.

As well as being Accenture’s chief technology officer, Daugherty also serves as managing director of Accenture’s Technology, Strategy and Innovation group. He also oversees Accenture Technology Labs, Accenture’s Cloud and Mobility businesses and groups that incubate emerging technology capabilities.

Changing how people work, Daugherty explained, is why gets Accenture excited about the potential of artificial intelligence.

“We do believe we are in this era of exponentialism with changes in technology that are creating the breakthroughs with new technology that’s been the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) for 30 years. We believe we are at a point where we are poised to see the real breakthroughs of artificial intelligence technologies.”

Asked about his ambitions for the new specialised AI R&D lab in Dublin, Daugherty said: “It is a blank page but we have high ambitions and expectations for what we are going to do here in Dublin. We’ve announced previously the Accenture Centre of Excellence for Innovation, which is a 200-person €25m investment in innovation in Dublin.

“What we’ve announced today was specifically created as part of that a new Accenture Technology Labs location in Dublin focused on artificial intelligence and what we expect to do here is tap into a lot of innovation and talent happening in the education and research sectors with artificial intelligence. What we looking for this team to do is look out and understand the advances, apply to specific industry and business problems and also apply to our own business.

“We see tremendous opportunities to improve the way artificial intelligence works and we are already applying artificial intelligence to help us build systems faster, solve problems faster and expect the team here to tap into a new set of innovations and really accelerate that.”

Uber humans

Growing up on sci-fi movies and TV shows, AI systems like Kit in Knight Rider or Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey were either helpful or very dangerous. I ask Daugherty what he thinks AI will mean for ordinary people in their working and personal lives.

“We have a different perspective on artificial intelligence than some have.

“It is the concept of making humans super rather than making super humans. We believe that the real power of artificial intelligence is to augment what humans are great at and make them better at what they do. Making humans super.”

He continued: “We don’t believe that we are going to create an uber-human that is going to replace what people do.

“It’s all about making humans more effective; for workers with augmented technology in the form of virtual reality technologies, augmented vision combined with machine learning to help lower-skilled workers do more advanced jobs very productively, creates additional opportunities for people and that’s why we are excited by artificial intelligence.

“We have a people-first approach that is a little different from the perspective many people take and that will be the work of the folks here in our Dublin lab.”

AI and the industrial future

On the industrial and business front, Daugherty says AI presents opportunities across the spectrum.

“There are tremendous opportunities in healthcare. We are doing work with drug manufacturers, for example, clinical trial analysis and drawing conclusions much more quickly in minutes rather than hours or days like it used to take in healthcare for diagnosis.

“In manufacturing, it could be about helping workers do higher-skilled jobs in a manufacturing process.

“We are seeing it being combined with drone technology and other internet of things (IoT) technologies to do fault detection and prediction more effectively. It’s really opportunities across the board that we are seeing with this technology.”

When it comes to the entrepreneurial opportunities that arise from artificial intelligence, Daugherty says it is about creating experiences that give consumers more free time.

“We have a part of Accenture called Accenture Interactive and a group called VR that focuses on this idea of consumer experience. And we think that type of activity, envisioning new ways consumers and people experience technology [and] live their lives combined with the power of the technology, that’s what’s going to create exciting opportunities.

“I think it’s an exciting time to be an entrepreneur around the technology because the availability of this technology in the cloud, in a digital forum, means it’s accessible for entrepreneurs to try out new ideas and we will see a great amount of experimentation.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years