It’s not just Skynet: How artificial intelligence is actually helping the human race

26 November 2015 | About a 6 minute read
Tags: artificial intelligence, Skynet, tech

When most people hear the words “artificial intelligence” or A.I., they conjure up images of Skynet or robots gone rogue. The idea of a world controlled by machines is terrifying, and even the likes of Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk have spoken up about their fears for the future of A.I. Their concerns aren’t unfounded, a machine with limitless learning and evolution potential is a impending Pandora’s box of trouble. But for all the fear, concerns and general scaremongering, there are also some areas of A.I. that are incredible, inspiring and useful.

I studied Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence at university, and during my studies, I was lucky enough to be a part of a research project in the Biomedical Engineering department in Imperial College. The researchers were working on an application that was designed to try and reduce the amount of antibiotics being prescribed in intensive care units. I was one of two developers on the project at the time. We worked on creating a case based reasoning application to be used by an ICU doctor. The doctor would input patient data and the application would then return the most similar cases, their prescription and whether or not it worked.

Ultimately, the doctor has the last say in what to prescribe this patient, but in a time-sensitive, high-pressure environment such as the ICU, this tool acts as an aid in making a quick decision. Generally in these situations, a doctor will err on the side of safety and prescribe the drugs, however as we are seeing in the news recently there is big danger when it comes to the over-prescription of antibiotics.

While my contribution to this project as an undergraduate was significantly less than those who spent years working on it, I still found it an incredibly rewarding experience to work on something that was (hopefully) going to help people. Even more so when I was told earlier this summer that it is now in use in a hospital here in London, as well as the project having received funding for the next three years due to its success.

This is just one example of how artificial intelligence can be used for good, but certainly not the only one. To this end, I have put together a list of some amazing examples of artificial intelligence making a positive difference around the world:

1. Cancer Research Smart Robot

Uppsala University in Sweden released an article this September about a “smart robot” they have created to assist with researching effective cancer treatment. This robot plans and conducts its own experiments with a variety of substances and draws its own conclusions from the results. At present, the robot only searches for solutions that kill cancer cells, but the next step for the research is to take into account side effects and patient tolerance to certain treatments. Although it’s only in early stages, it still marks the beginning of what could be revolutionary in the search for cancer cures with A.I.



2. Melonoma Detection

I’m sure we’ve all used Google Image search at some point and been delighted about the accuracy with which it matches our search to existing images on the web. Image recognition and image processing is an incredibly interesting area as it is, but combine that with your smartphone camera, and you’ve got a pretty powerful tool on your hands.

Skin Vision is an app that uses these tools to help detect melanoma just from a snapshot of your skin. It analyses an image that you upload, and can determine irregular growth on your skin and skin tissue, highlighting potential risk areas.





3. Prosthetic Limbs

Icelandic company Ossur has developed the “Rheo knee”, which makes up part of a prosthetic leg, and is built with its own artificial intelligene. The Rheo knee helps propel the user forward, and it’s A.I. will match the natural gait of the wearer. It’s also smart enough to try and anticipate and prepare itself for the next step. The inbuilt machine learning will also improve its intelligence over time, so the more the wearer uses it, the smarter it gets.





4. Guidance for the Blind

It sounds like something from Star Trek, but Mexico’s Cinvestav (Centre for Research and Advanced Studies) have developed a device to help both the blind and those with low vision navigate more easily. The device is essentially a pair of glasses that combines ultrasound, A.I. and GPS to help detect the wearer’s surroundings and help them navigate around their environment more easily.



5. Assisting in Education for Children with Autism

Autism is an area that is gaining increasing coverage and awareness lately, with over 1 in 100 people in the UK falling on the spectrum. According to research carried out by the National Autistic Society, 63% of parents with autistic children surveyed said that they do not feel their child is at the right kind of school to best aid their child’s development.

To try an assist in the development of autistic children, some schools are experimenting with using anthropomorphic robots. These robots interact with the children, but also allow the teachers to objectively observe each child’s interaction and development with the robot. One example is “Nao”, a small humanoid robot that was at the centre of research carried out by Notre Dame University in 2013. The researchers found that using the robot did indeed help the children, especially when it came to developing their social interactions, such as making eye contact.






Ethics and responsible development is something to consider in any area of science, but concerns over new technology is nothing new either. The inventor of the X-ray, Wilhelm Roentgen, carried out the world’s first X-ray on his wife’s hand. She was so scared by seeing her own skeleton that the poor woman fainted. In 1885, Stockholm had more telephones than anywhere else in the world, but yet many of the locals were terrified of it, fearing that it was possessed by a demon.

It is human nature to fear that which we don’t fully understand, we probably wouldn’t have survived this long as a species if it wasn’t the case. Treading softly and acknowledging the concerns over A.I. and its potential is not unwise, but we can also stop and appreciate the amazing things that have been done so far in our lifetimes, and I for one am pretty excited to see what we come up with next!

To continue the conversation about A.I., speak to Laura: [email protected]



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