The Intelligent Workplace

The Intelligent Workplace

Episode 29

Real world Artificial Intelligence

​Callum Bir
Chairman
AI Australia​​

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On this episode, we have a real world discussion about Artificial Intelligence. Does your average person actually understand it? At one end of the scale, there is a fictionalized Hollywood version of AI that . On the other end, there are examples of AI that the everyday person doesn’t even realize exists. And if they did know about it, would they understand it?
 
How is your understanding of Artificial Intelligence concepts and real world examples?
 
On this episode, Callum Bir, the Chair of AI Australia, joins me to talk about some real world AI examples. We discuss how AI is changing our lives, right now, and where the technology may be heading.
 

Chris:                    

Why don’t you tell everybody a bit about yourself?

Callum:                

Thank you for asking. So at AI Australia, we do about three things. One is consulting, so we work with governments and large enterprises in Australia. We also provide training and development services for professionals who want to get into AI or want to get certifications around AI.

Callum:                

And finally we work with early stage startups that are getting into AI or looking at accelerating their side of ventures around AI. So pretty much Chris, all things AI.

Chris:                    

Sounds pretty exciting, mate. Now I mentioned in that opening that there is a real gap between understanding of AI. At one end we’ve got the Hollywood version. At the other end we’ve got the really technical stuff and somewhere in the middle is where maybe people in society are sitting with their understanding.

Chris:                    

So how do you give someone who may not be a technical person, that whole elevator pitch around what AI actually is?

Callum:                

So there is already a lot of AI that we’re already using today that we may not even know that we’re using AI. So let’s just say if you’re booking an Uber to go from one place to the other place. Uber at the back end is using a lot of AI to understand how to get you from one place to the other.

Callum:                

You might have Google Home at home or Alexa or any one of your favorites, or you might be asking Google, hey Google, what’s the weather now? Can you imagine a lot of AI is already baked into a lot of that stuff so that those types of devices are able to understand what is your intent, what is it you’re saying, how to make sense of what you’re saying and then come back with an answer that’s contextual, things that you’re looking for.

Callum:                

So there is already a lot of AI that we’re already using that we may or may not necessarily be aware of, but obviously there is a lot more AI that we could be using that we’re not.

Chris:                    

Yeah, I think that’s the issue that maybe we’re just getting so used to it being part of our lives, we no longer realize that there are these algorithms sitting behind the devices that we’re using that are just making our life easy. Do you think that’s maybe why people just sort of turn off to this and don’t really understand it?

Callum:                

I think there are two issues on that of why people don’t understand it. And I kind of think about this as, how do you take AI out of the geek territory and how do you bring it back into our everyday lives?

Chris:                    

I like that.

Callum:                

So it kind of reminds me back to the internet days. It’s like in the 90s we were all talking about the internet and oh my God, the conversations were like TCP IP and HTTP and what is that? And you know what, today, the kids today know more about all that stuff. Well they don’t know about this stuff and they don’t need to know about that stuff and get on about doing all the digital stuff they need to do. If anything, they’re the ones teaching us how to use some of the internet stuff.

Callum:                

So I think AI is no different. I think at the moment we’re all geeking out about AI. I think instead of geeking out, we should be getting us talking about what can we do, what should we do, what can we not do and what impact can we make around that.

Chris:                    

That is why you’re here today. And I know through AI Australia you’ve worked with many clients, so I’m hoping we can share a few real world examples here today that we can get excited about that.

Chris:                    

But before we get into it, I was watching a interview this week with a guy called Michael Gervais who has been conducting interviews with some really amazing women lately on his Decoding Disruptive series.

Chris:                    

One of the women he spoke to was head of responsible AI at Accenture, Rumman Chowdhury, and I just love something that she said about AI in the interview. She said, and well of course I’m paraphrasing here, but she said, “Some people think that Silicon Valley’s AI projects are only solving issues for the privileged.” She mentioned things like ride sharing that you mentioned as well, food delivery services, content streaming and job share technologies.

Chris:                    

Do you think this is fair?

Callum:                

I think there are two ways to think about that. First of all, I think AI has the single biggest potential for the underprivileged, and I’ve personally been involved in so many projects and it’s places where people do not have access to things like healthcare, access to medical diagnostics, access to really top end resources that otherwise would be serving the privileged or people with the money. And AI is a great augmentation to resources that are already scarce that is available for the underprivileged.

Callum:                

And the second point I wanted to make on that was as you mentioned, we also believe that ethics is paramount. We’re investing heavily into the ethics. We ourselves have invested into bringing on board [Arno Tambuli], who’s written a book in Australia around responsible AI and is considered a thought leader in the areas of ethics.

Callum:                

We believe that’s important as an AI company ourselves to consume those types of ethics to ensure that we’re in compliance with the guidelines the Australian government is putting together, but also helping other organizations to get on top of navigating the complexities around ethics and responsible AI in particular.

Chris:                    

Ah mate, the whole thing around AI ethics is so hot right now. We’ve mentioned it a few times on this podcast even as well, and there’s so many different opinions that have been offered up around how to deal with that, and what the results are if you don’t deal with it. I think we could have a whole other episode on that and I commend you on the new hire for AI Australia. That is absolutely fantastic.

Callum:                

Yeah, so I think to your earlier question on what types of problems we’re solving. Look, I think there are three areas that I’m personally most excited about. The first area is really around healthcare. I mean I think about how do we solve some of the world’s biggest problems and how do we solve some of our biggest issues in Australia? And what are those issues?

Callum:                

There are three that I think AI has the best potential that I’m personally very excited about within AI Australia. The first is healthcare. And if we sort of look at what’s happening in Australia, and this is no different anywhere in the world with what’s happening with our aging population, our scarce resources like beds and resources and staffing and the availability of nurses and doctors and specialists.

Callum:                

So how do we start getting AI to help us reduce waste? How do we start providing better experiences to our patients? How do we start using AI and other technologies to support that? To start getting into things like robotic surgeries or provide care outside the hospital or eliminate things that we know can be done, but we don’t have the time and the energy and the effort to do.

Callum:                

And the second area as we all know, Chris in Australia is climate. Look at what’s happened with bushfires recently in Australia.

Chris:                    

Yeah, devastating.

Callum:                

It’s absolutely devastating. Can you think about how we could have helped our very limited fire resources that we have, the fire crew. How can we use AI to make what they do safer? How can we start deploying drones that are powered by AI at the back end? So that we can start being more optimized of how we spray and attack together with our firemen today and various other assets that we have to deploy.

Callum:                

Technically to be more efficient, control those types of things at the point of action where I think AI and I know every person on that front line would appreciate the kind of work we do right there.

Callum:                

But then you think about how can we start preventing some of things in the future by being more prepared, better prepared, and then those are the types of things that are so critical.

Chris:                    

It’s funny, those bush fires have been so devastating and we’ve lost a few lives. It’s been horrific. I mean just being able to even save one life based on some AI activity with those drones, like you’re saying is just amazing to think that we could do that.

Chris:                    

But if you think of the everyday man and you said to them, what’s AI? Saving firefighters lives by deploying a drone wouldn’t even be on their radar, would it?

Callum:                

Absolutely, and this is not just the common man. This is the things that we need to make more aware with our key decision makers, our politicians, our executives that are making these types of decisions that understand how to do things the way it has been done for a very, very long time. But how do we get a much greater consciousness around the types of things AI and other deep technologies can start to do?

Chris:                    

It’s amazing, it’s amazing. Your real world examples are far more impressive than the one that I came up with today, which was just sort of wondering how it is that Spotify can always amazingly just dish me up the greatest tracks that I want to hear on my playlist. So I think yours are a little bit more highbrow than mine today, but it’s still another example of AI. Have you got anything else for us, mate?

Callum:                

Yeah, look, I think from an everyday perspective, I don’t know about you Chris, I take a lot of public transport in Sydney and we all understand the state of affairs of our public transport and you start to think about how can we use AI to better help us understand how to navigate.

Callum:                

Look, I think there is already AI with our GPS systems today, so it’s not just a GPS anymore. So if you’re using Google maps or anything like that, there is so much of AI behind it.

Callum:                

But look, that’s just not enough. That’s just not enough of how do we get our trains to work collaboratively with all the other modes of transport and how do we start managing traffic better?

Callum:                

How do we start changing the behavior of when we should be driving and when we shouldn’t be driving or when we should be taking which modes of public transport? How do we deal with rain and all of those types of infrastructure related issues? There are so many opportunities to make lives easier for all the commuters, including everyday people like myself.

Chris:                    

Yeah, I’m hearing you, mate. Look, I’ve got one for you actually. When we talked about health a little bit earlier. We’ve got an aging population here in Australia and there’s lots of money being spent on addressing the needs of the elderly. Is AI able to help in caring for the elderly or making things easier, or maybe taking a broader view of data and trends around community health within that sector?

Callum:                

Ah, look, that’s such a big topic, Chris. The answer is yes to pretty much all of the above, I’d say. The question is where do we start? I think one of the single largest issues we have with aging population is how do we extend lives and how do we improve the quality of the life that our elders are living today?

Callum:                

And this is where I’m excited about the use of AI. So for instance, one of the biggest concerns we have with our aging population is risks of things like a heart attack, and that unfortunately is one of the single largest causes of death.

Callum:                

So could we use AI and I know we’re getting closer and closer to these types of technology today with AI where we can start to better predict individuals at risk or we can start to predict early warning signals of people that are starting to get into that stage of a heart attack.

Callum:                

And if we can start to use AI to do things like that, then we’re able to start providing the right level of interventions early enough, which then allows us to provide extension of life and improve quality of life. And that’s just one of many examples that I can think of that we are working with at the moment in AI.

Chris:                    

Can I ask you a quick question? Do you think that AI could one day be part of the solution in finding a cure for cancer?

Callum:                

Well, we’re already well ahead in that, Chris, in that issue. If you think about how do we find cures of cancer today, there is so much of work that has been done in looking at existing drugs in the past that may or may not necessarily have worked, but may have worked for certain individuals.

Callum:                

And as a result of that, many of those drugs have not gone to market today. And now we can start to use AI and compute and various other technologies associated to that, but start narrowing down of things that we didn’t think worked but may work for certain populations. But that previously was not possible and the technology was not available. But today it is.

Callum:                

So as we start thinking about how do we start deploying that to start identifying cures that may work, that didn’t work in the past, that’ll work today. That’s just one example of that.

Callum:                

The second example is how do we accelerate so much of R&D that’s happening today in the cancer world and AI is right in the core center of that.

Chris:                    

So helping to really deal with big data and crunch numbers. That’s where the AIs coming into that one, is it?

Callum:                

Well, that as well as better predicting which ones will work and which ones won’t.

Chris:                    

On that topic of predicting, I’ve read some stuff, I think it might’ve been out of an Adelaide company that we’re doing some research around breast cancer and imaging of cancerous cells and being able to use AI to help better predict which cells they were looking at which may effectively cause cancer. Amazing stuff.

Callum:                

Absolutely. I mean the whole radiology space, looking and scanning images, that’s already digital. So that’s one of the first places where AI is already working. And I think we’re going several steps beyond that now, which is not only how do we identify abnormalities within that specific image, but also start to understand what interventions we could make.

Callum:                

And if we, let’s say, have to operate and take that particular cancerous piece out, we’re able to now start taking AI based solutions to start mapping out and automatically identifying what’s the best route to go into that and extract that piece so that you’re then able to provide better tools. So our operations are very, very precise as opposed to how it has been done in the past.

Chris:                    

Oh mate, this is amazing stuff. Can we bring it back to something that we often talk about here on the podcast, so that is the employee experience. I mean it’s so important these days to ensure that we attract and retain great talent. How can AI assist in this space?

Callum:                

That’s a great question, Chris. We ourselves have been using a lot of AI for our own employee base, especially as we’re growing. So you think about how we do that. So historically, we probably have been doing a lot of analytics anyway, looking at things like employee churn, customer employee satisfaction scores.

Callum:                

But there is so much of data that’s been collected and there is so much additional data that is out there including the utilization of emails and how much screen time people, your employees are looking at.

Callum:                

So we can now start to crunch all the data using AI and start identifying individuals at risk of burnouts. Individuals that potentially may have, we can start measuring engagement or predicting engagement levels that historically was not possible. And we all understand that it’s things like engagement levels, participation, teamwork, collaboration, and then identifying issues they could potentially prevent things like churn and burnouts.

Callum:                

And even understanding some of their risk scores of absenteeisms and things like that. We’re starting to make better sense of all that information using AI so we can start to think about what decisions we need to make around our programs, employee programs and overall improving that whole satisfaction or engagement of employees, which ultimately results in better employees.

Chris:                    

Quick question, two parts to this question. What excites you the most about AI and what scares you the most about it?

Callum:                

Well, what’s excites me most about AI? That’s an easy one because I wake up every day excited about AI. That’s my world. So what excites me most about AI is the potential.

Callum:                

So you think about one day in a world, I don’t know when, I hope sooner than later, is that we have pretty much unlimited access to healthcare. At the moment we know that’s not available. We’re limited by physical resources. We’re limited by human capacity. We’re limited by the shortages of skill sets already. So super excited about how health can be significantly transformed.

Callum:                

And then you think about our own lives and things that we do either at work or play, and you think about how that’s transforming and how AI will significantly transform that. So I can start doing things personally that I like doing as opposed to things I don’t like doing and things I personally don’t like doing, and I know my family does not like doing. As much as possible, I’d like AI to do that so that I can start focusing on things I want to focus on.

Chris:                    

The important stuff. Yeah, I like that. And what about something that might scare you about AI? And this is probably where Hollywood comes in with the Terminator and that Will Smith movie, where there’s a bad side, that robots are going to take over the world. I’m assuming you don’t subscribe to that point of view.

Callum:                

Look, there are a couple of things that really scares me around AI. I think the first one is how AI can be used to cause harm, and there are a number of real world examples of how AI is currently being used to cause harm, and we certainly do not endorse that by any fashion. We don’t, even if we know it, I think we need to find ways to report those types of things.

Callum:                

So one is around terrorism and how AI can be easily used to cause cyber crimes and a variety of those terror activities, and AI as a weapon in particular. Those are real, real concerns. They are real, they exist. And I just only hope that we get much better at using AI to prevent and protect ourselves and build resilience to all those other threats that are very real in our current world.

Chris:                    

Well, Callum, what a great chat we have had today, mate. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I love it when I get onto these episodes and I’m just learning the whole time and we cover so much, Callum. It was an awesome chat, mate. You really know your stuff and I’m loving what AI Australia is doing. So, mate, best of luck for the future. I think it’s pretty bright, pretty exciting for you guys, and we’ll talk again soon. So yeah, thanks for your time today, Callum.

Callum:                

It’s been our pleasure. Thank you very much.

 

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