UPDATED 13:19 EDT / NOVEMBER 20 2020


Before machine learning can become ubiquitous, here are four things we need to do now

It wasn’t too long ago that concepts such as communicating with your friends in real time through text or accessing your bank account information all from a mobile device seemed outside the realm of possibility. Today, thanks in large part to the cloud, these actions are so commonplace, we hardly even think about these incredible processes.

Now, as we enter the golden age of machine learning, we can expect a similar boom of benefits that previously seemed impossible.

Machine learning is already helping companies make better and faster decisions. In healthcare, the use of predictive models created with machine learning is accelerating research and discovery of new drugs and treatment regiments. In other industries, it’s helping remote villages of Southeast Africa gain access to financial services and matching individuals experiencing homelessness with housing.

In the short term, we’re encouraged by the applications of machine learning already benefiting our world. But it has the potential to have an even greater impact on our society. In the future, machine learning will be intertwined and under the hood of almost every application, business process and end-user experience.

However, before this technology becomes so ubiquitous that it’s almost boring, there are four key barriers to adoption we need to clear first:

Democratizing machine learning

The only way that machine learning will truly scale is if we as an industry make it easier for everyone – regardless of skill level or resources – to be able to incorporate this sophisticated technology into applications and business processes.

To achieve this, companies should take advantage of tools that have intelligence directly built into applications from which their entire organization can benefit. For example, Kabbage Inc., a data and technology company providing small business cash flow solutions, used artificial intelligence to adapt and help process quickly an unprecedented number of small business loans and unemployment claims caused by COVID-19 while preserving more than 945,000 jobs in America. By folding artificial intelligence into personalization, document processing, enterprise search, contact center intelligence, supply chain or fraud detection, all workers can benefit from machine learning in a frictionless way.

As processes go from manual to automatic, workers are free to innovate and invent, and companies are empowered to be proactive instead of reactive. And as this technology becomes more intuitive and accessible, it can be applied to nearly every problem imaginable — from the toughest challenges in the information technology department to the biggest environmental issues in the world.

Upskilling workers

According to the World Economic Forum, the growth of AI could create 58 million net new jobs in the next few years. However, research suggests that there are currently only 300,000 AI engineers worldwide, and AI-related job postings are three times that of job searches with a widening divergence.

Given this significant gap, organizations need to recognize that they simply aren’t going to be able to hire all the data scientists they need as they continue to implement machine learning into their work. Moreover, this pace of innovation will open doors and ultimately create jobs we can’t even begin to imagine today.

That’s why companies around the world such as Morningstar, Liberty Mutual and DBS Bank are finding innovative ways to encourage their employees to gain new machine learning skills with a fun, interactive hands-on approach. It’s critical that organizations should not only direct their efforts towards training the workforce they have with machine learning skills, but also invest in training programs that develop these important skills in the workforce of tomorrow.

Instilling trust in products

With anything new, often people are of two minds: Either an emerging technology is a panacea and global savior, or it is a destructive force with cataclysmic tendencies. The reality is, more often than not, a nuance somewhere in the middle. These disparate perspectives can be reconciled with information, transparency and trust.

As a first step, leaders in the industry need to help companies and communities learn about machine learning, how it works, where it can be applied and ways to use it responsibly, and understand what it is not.

Second, in order to gain faith in machine learning products, they need to be built by diverse groups of people across gender, race, age, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, culture and education. We will all benefit from individuals who bring varying backgrounds, ideas and points of view to inventing new machine learning products.

Third, machine learning services should be rigorously tested, measuring accuracy against third party benchmarks. Benchmarks should be established by academia, as well as governments, and be applied to any machine learning-based service, creating a rubric for reliable results, as well as contextualizing results for use cases.

Regulating machine learning

Finally, as a society, we need to agree on what parameters should be put in place governing how and when machine learning can be used. With any new technology, there has to be a balance in protecting civil rights while also allowing for continued innovation and practical application of the technology.

Any organization working with machine learning technology should be engaging customers, researchers, academics and others to determine the benefits of its machine learning technology along with the potential risks. And they should be in active conversation with policymakers, supporting legislation, and creating their own guidelines for the responsible use of machine learning technology. Transparency, open dialogue and constant evaluation must always be prioritized to ensure that machine learning is applied appropriately and is continuously enhanced.

What’s next

Through machine learning we’ve already accomplished so much, and yet it’s still day one (and we haven’t even had a cup of coffee yet!). If we’re using machine learning to help endangered orangutans, just imagine how it could be used to help save and preserve our oceans and marine life. If we’re using this technology to create digital snapshots of the planet’s forests in real-time, imagine how it could be used to predict and prevent forest fires. If machine learning can be used to help connect small-holding farmers to the people and resources they need to achieve their economic potential, imagine how it could help end world hunger.

To achieve this reality, we as an industry have a lot of work ahead of us. I’m incredibly optimistic that machine learning will help us solve some of the world’s toughest challenges and create amazing end-user experiences we’ve never even dreamed. Before we know it, machine learning will be as familiar as reaching for our phones.

Swami Sivasubramanian is vice president of Amazon AI, running AI and machine learning services for Amazon Web Services Inc. He wrote this article for SiliconANGLE.

Image: geralt/Pixabay

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