“The hype and hyperbole is there, but the technology is real and there are huge business implications in this,” said Dr. Joshua Sullivan, the keynote speaker at the Chamber Strome Business series on March 21, 2018. The Hampton Roads Chamber and the Old Dominion University Strome College of Business presented the second installment of this series for 2018 with the topic Emergence of Today’s Machines.
Sullivan is a Senior Vice President for Booz Allen and leads the data science and advanced analytics capabilities for the firm and their clients. He is also co-author of “The Mathematical Corporation: Where Machine Intelligence and Human Ingenuity Achieve the Impossible.”
While artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, may sound like something out of a science-fiction novel, Sullivan shared stories and video examples of machines doing amazing things. “The field of AI has been around for 50 years, we are hearing the buzz about it now because of huge advances in machine learning and the historical data we now have to calculate algorithms,” Sullivan said. In a photo of a human scientist and a floor to ceiling machine, Sullivan asked the audience who was the biologist in the photo. It was not the human. The machine, called Eve is indeed a research scientist working on the first effective vaccine for malaria treatment.
Sullivan urged the audience not to think of AI and Machine Learning as science fiction and to examine the reality that “we will have machines as co-workers and that will impact every type of business. Machines will be a collaborative part of the workforce.” Sullivan demonstrated the ways in which machines learn versus human learning and pointed out that while they can emulate the human brain they can’t replace it. “They can’t imagine as humans do, or speak conversationally or create art.”
The machines can provide us access to an item that may not be readily available, like a black hawk helicopter. Sullivan shared footage of a simulated black hawk helicopter scanning a landscape and identifying sea vessels and people. He also shared a machine technology that scans 7,000 images per second and identifies them. “The implications are both helpful and scary.”
Before we get too concerned about advanced technology taking over, Sullivan reassured the audience that there will always remain a role for people in this environment. “Ingenuity, creativity, ethics, the ability to fight bias, leadership and strategy, none of this going to be eclipsed my technology. In all of his research and interaction with clients, businesses and scientists it was universally agreed upon that, “as complex and challenging as technology can be, the hardest parts to get right are leadership and strategy.”
Business leaders must accept that machine learning is very much a reality, “and that we must prepare for the training of a workforce in the age if AI,” Sullivan said, but the future of business still very much depends on strong leaders.
The Hampton Roads Chamber means business and is always working to ensure the climate in Hampton Roads is right for business. Hampton Roads Chamber president and CEO, Bryan K. Stephens asked Sullivan what the impact of AI and machine learning would have on workforce development and what the impact to businesses would be. “There is always a role and a place for humans, we are the decision making group, but we need to have a national discussion concerning training the workforce in this new age of AI and accelerate the pace of that,” Sullivan said.
It is clear that as we move into the next decade, machine technology and artificial intelligence will be alongside our business leaders and workforce well into the future.
The Chamber Strome Business Series continues on April 10th with Isabel Rullan who founded the think tank ConPRmetidos and will discuss finding opportunity for economic development in the Puerto Rican diaspora.