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Positive use of AI for all - EDITORIAL

2018-05-18 02:18:42
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In this era when information and communication technology is playing a vital role in shaping a new world, the United Nations yesterday celebrated the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.   
According to the UN, the World Telecommunication Day has been celebrated annually on May 17 since 1969, marking the founding of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865. The changes that have taken place since then are beyond our understanding, imagination or expectations.   


In November 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society called upon the UN General Assembly to declare  May 17 as World Information Society Day to focus on the importance of information and communication technology and the wide range of issues related to the Information Society raised by the World Summit on the Information Society.   
The purpose of this day is to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the internet and other ICT channels could bring to societies and ways to bridge the digital divide.  
The theme this year is imaginative if not astounding—“enabling the positive use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for all.”   


The UN says that in recent years there has been significant progress in AI technology, made possible by tremendous advances in contributing fields, such as Big Data, machine learning, computing power, storage capacity and cloud computing. AI-based technologies are already emerging as a key component of proactive tools and applications being used to help people lead better lives by improving healthcare, education, finance, agriculture, transportation, and a wide range of other services.  
Member nations are called upon to celebrate this day organizing appropriate national programmes, with a view to stimulating reflection and exchange of ideas on the theme, debating the various aspects of the theme with all partners in society and formulating a report reflecting national discussions on the issues underlying the theme, to be fed back to ITU and the rest of its membership.   


In Sri Lanka, an Association for Artificial Intelligence (SLAAI) was started in 2000. It is a non-profit scientific association devoted to understanding of the mechanisms underlying thoughts and intelligent behaviour and their emulation in machines. SLAAI says its membership represents both academia and industry in the country while the primary objectives of SLAAI are to increase public awareness of Artificial Intelligence, improve teaching and research in AI, and also promote industry academia partnership in the use of AI techniques for real world problem solving.   


ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao in a message says, AI is taking centre stage with a lot of impact on people’s lives. AI’s potential power is being exploited and developed at an unprecedented speed. AI brings us many opportunities and challenges. AI will greatly change our economy and society.  
According to the Guardian newspaper, AI is a spectre that haunts the modern workforce. Some studies suggest up to 30% of people could lose their jobs to it. Driverless vehicles could see the end of truck drivers, robots could increasingly take over even complex manufacturing, personal assistants and customer support workers may be made redundant. Robots look set to judge gymnastics. Not content with the three options provided in reply emails in Gmail, Google will now even write a whole email for you.     


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