Creativity and regulation needed for artificial intelligence

21 Mar 2017

Tech pioneer Inma Martinez will speak at the Inspirefest Salon Series in London. Image: Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media

The ‘artificially intelligent’ future needs regulation and human creativity, according to tech pioneer Inma Martinez, who will speak at the Inspirefest Salon in London this week.

March of the Machines

The computers are taking over! Or so it seems. With headlines declaring that supercomputers can now beat expert humans in complex strategic games and can even chug through the medical literature to diagnose disease, it’s easy to believe we are on the cusp of science-fiction becoming fact as artificial intelligence gets a mind of its own.

But for technology pioneer and data scientist Inma Martinez, the precipitous rise of fast and flashy artificial intelligence (AI) comes as no surprise. We are now ‘almost vertical’ in the exponential growth in AI technology, and she stresses the need to regulate the AI industry, but reassures that as the computers get even ‘smarter’ we will still need human creativity.

For those outside the field, it might feel as though AI has suddenly burst through, but not for Martinez, who was a pioneer in the early ‘personalisation services’ of the internet.

Back in the early days of WAP (wireless access protocol), she worked on software that captured a user’s behaviours as they spent time on a website. “The more the person used the system, the more it got to know them, what links they clicked at what time of day, and then, the next time they logged in, that information was there for them,” she said. “In those days we didn’t even call it AI.”

Such ‘narrow’ artificial intelligence – systems that do one thing very well – have been assisting us in the background for a long time, Martinez explained, citing the examples of email spam filters and software that assigns aircraft to gates at airports. “The world is full of these things that people are unaware of,” she said.

‘The machines are good at simulating being human, but not at being human’

The rather flashier side of AI has been making the headlines with supercomputers beating experts in chess, Go and poker, and high-profile figures including Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have expressed concerns over where AI might go.

For Martinez, one of the most striking – and potentially scary – current developments in artificial intelligence is the rise of responsive robots, such as Spot the dog from Boston Dynamics, which bounces back from human kicks. “[That kind of] recovery is what shows intelligence,” she said.

AI vs humanity

But, as the algorithms advance, what will happen to humans? Martinez, who is today a venture partner at Deep Science Ventures and who advises on deriving value from data for companies including IBM, HP, P&G, Unilever, IDEO, Blackrock and Sony, believes human creativity will continue to shine through in a world of ‘smart’ computers.

“The machines are good at simulating being human, but not at being human,” she said, noting that computers’ lack intuition and ‘gut feeling’. “The way to preserve humanity in the future, which will be full of robots, is by increasing the amount of creativity that society requires. Machines will do tedious things, not ballet or films.”

Meanwhile, Martinez has serious concerns about the lack of regulation in artificial intelligence. “This is a non-regulated industry. There is no regulation about how far AI development can go,” she said. “This is a real industry and it is taking off, and no one is paying attention as to how it should be regulated.”

Inma Martinez will be speaking at the Inspirefest 2017 Salon Series in London on 23 March, as well as on the Inspirefest stage in Dublin this summer. Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to get your Early Bird tickets.

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Inma Martinez image: Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication