How to Succeed in AI by Really, Really Trying

B. Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

  • Just as the promise of AI is very real and likely to significantly alter the way all markets do business, so too is the danger that the decisions we make based upon AI may be flawed, filled with unseen bias, or just plain wrong.
  • Recent, diverging solutions from IBM and Google to the problem of building trust in AI reveal the sheer magnitude of this multifaceted problem and point to a multi-pronged solution that starts on the drawing board and ends in practice.

Without a doubt, artificial intelligence (AI) has already changed the way consumers interact with technology and the way businesses think about big challenges like digital transformation. In fact, GlobalData research shows that approximately 50% of IT buyers have already prioritized the adoption of AI technologies. And that number is expected to jump to more than 67% over the next two years.

However, a dark shadow looms over this universal sense of optimism, namely the growing realization that good AI is hard to come by. More specifically, the skill and resources required to arrive at a valuable outcome, such as predicting the fastest way to drive home from work, are immense. Worse, such decisions may appear to be correct when in reality they harbor unseen biases (bad assumptions) based on incorrect or incomplete data. And many facets of AI such as deep learning (DL) algorithms are in essence a black box, unable to reveal how and why a given decision has been made.

Global technology and platform providers with a stake in AI are starting to aggressively address these unseen dangers, shifting their stance away from a ‘what can AI do for you!’ marketing message to a more pragmatic view that prioritizes the foundations of AI, such as data quality. Over the last two weeks, two of these vendors, IBM and Google, both took an important next step by introducing tools capable of building trust and transparency into AI itself. Both offer highly divergent approaches, yet neither solves the problem in its entirety.

For example, Google’s new tool, appropriately named the What-If Tool, allows users to analyze an ML model directly without any programming. Intended for use long before an AI solution is put into operation, this tool allows users to readily visualize how the outcome of a given ML model will change according to any number of ‘what if’ scenarios surrounding the model itself or its underlying data set. The idea is to quickly ferret out programming errors, problems with the data set, or even whether or not an algorithm is fair or biased. But, because it is built to be used prior to deployment, it cannot foresee any changes to the underlying data or business parameters that may ultimately impact results.

Conversely, IBM has taken an operational approach to the problem with a new set of trust and transparency capabilities for AI on IBM Cloud. IBM’s new tools evaluate the effectiveness of a given model based on how the business expects it to behave, explaining its effectiveness and accuracy in natural business language. Moreover, they don’t look at a model at rest but instead evaluate it at runtime based on the business KPIs upon which it was founded. These new features are therefore a living, constant watchdog that evolves with the overall business. However, because these services base their results on anticipated behavior, they cannot reveal problems such as biases that may be built into the data itself.

There are several conclusions that can be drawn from these two innovations. First, there is no single, magic wand available to solve this problem in both theory and practice. Second, technology providers recognize that a lack of trust in the solutions built on their software will ultimately lead to a lack of trust in those vendors. For that reason, both solutions are being offered free of charge, Google’s as open source and IBM’s as a free add-on for existing users. Most importantly, the divergent nature of these solutions point to the necessity of a multi-pronged approach to building trust, first in the underlying data, next in the model and algorithms, and ultimately in the final solution running in the wild.

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