A new world awaits us

29.12.2020 | Author: Verena Richter

Illustration of an abstract scene with a centred light beam and grey background.

Photo: Martha Fiennes

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Five experts talk about their fascination with AI – and where the opportunities lie.

One of the definitions of artificial intelligence is machines’ ability to learn independently. This new technology can already create films, recognise human feelings and drive automated cars. We gain an insight into different areas of work that deal with AI.

“The AI I work with is definitely female.”

Martha Fiennes, 56, is an award-winning director and has made a film which uses artificial intelligence to perpetually self-generate.

Portrait of Martha Fiennes looking up into the light.

Photo: Anthony D’Angio/Kiss the frog

Columns are pushed together, collapse and reform into new shapes. It is rather like looking at the world through a kaleidoscope, a puzzle that puts itself together differently each time you turn it. This film, or to be more accurate, “moving image artwork”, by Martha Fiennes is called “Yugen”, a Japanese word that describes a mysterious inner beauty. The artwork explores birth and death, light and shade. The British director filmed a variety of scenes and backdrops, but they are assembled by artificial intelligence. And the result is different time after time; it has no beginning and no end. Coincidence? “What is coincidence?” Martha wants to know. “People have always perceived a deeper meaning in seemingly random formations and interpreted them as auguries.” This is precisely why the artist is always keen to see what new work the AI will come up with at each performance. “You never know what mood she’ll be in.” She? “Yes, the AI I work with is definitely female,” says Martha and laughs. Her invisible colleague never repeats itself; this is what makes the film so vibrant, even magical. Technology as a spiritual path is an admittedly unusual idea. But not for a woman with Martha’s creative background. Her siblings include the actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes. “And my star sign is Aquarius,” the artist says with another laugh. “We like to push boundaries.”

“You can’t shape the future if you don’t get involved.”

Aya Jaff, 24, programmer and speaker, gives talks about AI and dispels people’s fear of digitisation.

Portrait of Aya Jaff sitting on a chair in a lilac-coloured suit.

Photo: Kathrin Makowski

What got on her nerves when she was a teenager? Jumping out of bed in the morning, hurrying to school – and then finding out that the first lesson had been cancelled, and she could have slept in. As a solution, Aya Jaff wanted to develop an app which would tell people whether they could turn over and go back to sleep. Aya, who at the time was 15 years old and living in Nuremberg, developed a business plan, applied to a youth foundation – and received prize money of 400 euros. Not enough to pay the programmer. “That’s why I started a club in which volunteers taught us to code.” Nevertheless, the free lesson app came to nothing; instead, Aya co-developed “Tradity”, a stock exchange game played at the computer, which later also served as the inspiration for her book “Moneymakers”. The Iraq-born computer scientist and author has now made it onto the “30 under 30” list of the US magazine “Forbes”. Aya believes that the biggest risk to society lies in rejecting a digital future. After all, “You can’t shape the future if you don’t get involved.” In her talks, Aya motivates her listeners to take responsibility. She often travels around to explain new technologies and relieve people’s fears: “Algorithms develop on the basis of the data we give them. Only if the data are fair and free from prejudice, can artificial intelligence help create a world in which everyone is equal.”

“The programme notices when the driver is tired.”

Rana el Kaliouby, 42, is the CEO and co-founder of Affectiva, a company that develops software which recognises feelings.

Portrait of Rana el Kaliouby sitting in a purple chair against a blue background.

Photo: Private

It all happened because of her long-distance relationship: Cambridge to Cairo. Back then, the computer science student spent a lot of time at her laptop. “When I chatted with my boyfriend, I had the impression that my feelings were vanishing in cyberspace,” Rana remembers. “I often thought how nice it would be if the computer could sense what I was feeling. If it said, ‘Rana, you look sad, let me play some music for you.’” She pursued this idea further. Her cooperation with an autism researcher put the Egyptian on the right path. “He already had a data set of more than 400 emotions which he used to explain feelings to people who had difficulty with non-verbal communication.” Rana is now the founder of Affectiva, a company in Boston which develops software for recognising emotions. To this end, the computer has access to millions of images of people who are laughing, crying or angry. “The more diverse the people are, the better,” explains Rana. This is the only way to ensure that the computer does not develop prejudices and can identify every facial expression. Affectiva can be used in self-driving cars: “The programme notices when the driver is tired.” Or in healthcare: “A doctor can’t visit every one of his patients. But a robot could observe the patient and get help in an emergency.”

“When I was eight years old, I was already interested in stem cells.”

Gracelyn Shi, 16, a programmer and researcher, is enthusiastic about the potential – and limits – of AI.

Portrait of Gracelyn Shi in a white dress.

Photo: Private

In some ways, she is a typical teenager: Gracelyn Shi likes putting on make-up, going shopping and meeting her friends. However, the 16-year-old from Toronto spends the rest of her time in front of the computer, where she does bioinformatics research, programmes in Python and makes YouTube videos in which she explains how artificial intelligence is revolutionising medicine. “When I was eight years old, I was already interested in stem cells,” she says. And no, she says she is not smarter than her classmates, merely more curious. That’s hard to believe, considering the speed with which Gracelyn talks about genetics and machine learning. She spent last summer interning at a Canadian bank helping them build machine-learning applications. “Machines are so much faster than we are, especially when it comes to recognising patterns,” says the young woman, and describes the results of a study in which computers evaluated tumour images more accurately than doctors with years of experience. AI also plays a major role in deciphering our genetic code. However, as she points out, “When the algorithm identifies a defect in the DNA, it doesn’t ask itself whether correcting the defect would cause another problem.” Humans are therefore needed to place information in a larger context and evaluate situations from an ethical viewpoint. This is another reason why she aims to learn more every day: to understand the limits of artificial intelligence.

“My job is to recognise the potential consequences.”

Elizabeth Hofvenschiöld, 44, futurist at Mercedes‑Benz Group AG, analyses the consequences of innovations while they are still being developed.

Portrait of Elizabeth Hofvenschiöld against a grey background.

Photo: Mercedes-Benz AG/Sandra Wolf

She started out as an archaeologist, but today, Swedish-born Elizabeth Hofvenschiöld is a futurist. What has she learnt on this journey through time? That everything changes. And that new developments need sensible guidelines. This is why she focuses on the ethical and societal aspects of automated driving at Daimler AG. These relate to safety, reliability, responsibility and privacy. “My job is to recognise the potential consequences we may expect when this kind of technology is launched on the market,” she explains. “But I’m particularly interested in the advantages of AI. Should disadvantages become apparent, we can implement countermeasures very quickly.” This is why Daimler AG constantly analyses data on automated driving which is then optimised further in complex vehicle tests. “Driver behaviour varies widely from country to country. Automated driving will probably be met with different degrees of acceptance from place to place – this is another reason why it is important to take the needs in different countries into account.” Next to her work, Elizabeth is currently also writing her doctoral thesis. The subject: communication between futurists and decision makers. She also takes care of her family. Where does she find the energy for all this? “I’m very passionate about my work,” she replies.

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