Unicorns seek nourishment in the AI trough

Author: George Mangion
Published on Malta BusinessToday 28th May 2020

Unicorns seek nourishment in the AI troughTaking a break from the ravages of the economic devastation by the Corona pandemic that is shaking the global economies, one may at least thank heavens for the blessing that humanity will reap from the benign qualities of AI.

How can this help humanity fight the scourges of the latest pandemic? The answer is that its ability to analyse large volumes of scientific data involved in the research by medical staff in their quest to combat the COVID-19 strain is vastly improved by using AI facilities. This resource can be of great value, especially in biotech, molecular experiments, and its accessory components of ubiquitous data, high-speed connections, and autonomous robots.

Undoubtedly, AI is fast becoming a major technological tool for prescriptive analytics, the step beyond predictive analytics that helps us determine how to implement and/or optimise optimal decisions.  In business applications, it can assess future risks, quantify probabilities and in so doing, give us insights how to improve market penetration, customer satisfaction, security analysis, trade execution, fraud detection, and prevention, while proving indispensable in land and air traffic control, national security and medical health.

This is not to mention a host of healthcare applications such as patient-specific treatments for infectious diseases and illnesses.  To mention a few examples of the rapid progress made by research and development co-funded by multi-national firms, one may start by mentioning Google.

The giant search engine firm is a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, developing self-driving automobiles, smartphone assistants, and other examples of machine learning. Equally important was the prediction five years ago by the late Prof Hawking who said the primitive forms of artificial intelligence developed so far have already proved very useful, but he fears the consequences of creating something that can match or surpass humans.

Large supercomputers are forging paths into natural language learning, realtime surgical procedures, climate change, molecular dynamics, cures for disease, and astrophysical simulation.  Take the example of Microsoft.  It has constructed a supercomputer designed for machine learning applications as part of its Azure cloud infrastructure service.  It should be one of the most powerful computers on the planet and it goes without saying that supercomputing may slowly migrate entirely to the cloud.

The supercomputer was developed for OpenAI, the organization working to build “safe artificial general intelligence” assuming such a thing is possible. The new, OpenAI-co-designed machine is massive.  It contains over 285,000 processor cores, 10,000 graphics cards, and 400 gigabits per second of connectivity for each graphics card server.

It was designed to train single massive AI models, which are models that learn from ingesting billions of pages of text from self-published books, instruction manuals, history lessons, human resources guidelines, and other publicly available sources.

The infrastructure hosted by the Microsoft-OpenAI supercomputer places it within the top five super computers in the world.  However, even more, remarkable is the fact that this super computer is optimized for AI workloads.  When it comes to the use of artificial intelligence in powering complex robotics, one cannot ignore the worst fears of prominent technologists and scientists like Elon Musk, the late Stephen Hawking, and Bill Gates.  Solemnly, they have all voiced alarm over the possible emergence of self-aware machines which unless harnessed, may in the future, be out to do harm to the human race.

A cohort of venture capitalists are funding this expensive research in the private sector and they are constantly poised to look out for talented persons in their ongoing recruiting outreach. Masayoshi Son is a Japanese investor who created Softbank (now with version 2) which he wants to mimic a “virtual Silicon Valley”, meaning a platform on which unicorns (start-ups that turned to become a billion-dollar marvel) can offer each other contacts and advice, buy goods and services from each other, and even join forces.

Son told CNBC that people should brace themselves for the proliferation of artificial intelligence as it will change the way we live within three decades. Son, who founded SoftBank in the 1980s, has grand visions of what technological advancements the future holds.

SoftBank’s subsidiaries are pushing the frontiers of technology in areas such as the “Internet of Things”, artificial intelligence and deep learning.  It hatched the unique “Vision Fund“ with an initial $100 billion war chest looking to invest in start-ups with operational experience, and technical background.  For this purpose, in the US, the Vision Fund is aggressively competing with traditional technology investors in Silicon Valley in a no-holds-barred fight for talent.

Son believes he has a unique ability to predict future technology trends, and gallantly states he is ready for the gamble.  SoftBank is synonymous with its charismatic founder that is reshaping global tech with its colossal treasure box.  It is shaking up the cosy world of Silicon Valley venture capital.

Enter the start-up Behavox, a US data operating platform that enables companies to aggregate, analyse, and act on their entire organization’s data, which was funded $100m by SoftBank Vision Fund 2.  This start-up company leverages machine learning and advanced analytics in a quest to provide a Data Operating Platform that enables organizations to aggregate, analyse and act on their internal data enable organizations to mitigate compliance, cyber and conduct risk while identifying revenue opportunities in large volumes of communications data.

In passing, one may feel that the disruptive path of this new technology constantly needs more champions armed with an aggressive investment appetite to nurture innovative ventures. Readers appreciate this disruptive technology has a benign purpose and is helping in many ways such as: to link various civilizations, improve crop yields, scan persons for the trace of infection in airports, schools, etc, accelerate COVID-19 vaccine research.

Artificial intelligence in machines is designed to carry medical assessments during epidemics when over-worked doctors are busy tending the sick. Imagine how in modern times, there are robots that are efficient and devoid of emotions as they quietly supervise hundreds of complex factory operations possibly during the temporary absence of workers cordoned off under an extended quarantine mandated during COVID-19 pandemic.

Again, one lauds the collective drive of Unicorns employing top scientists and researchers in their noble quest to discover an effective vaccine fit to eradicate the COVID-19 curse.

George Mangion


Author: George Mangion
Published on Malta BusinessToday 28th May 2020
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