“Artificial intelligence has the potential to be an even bigger technological breakthrough than the PC or the internet,” says Joseph Sirosh, Head of AI and Corporate Vice president of artificial intelligence at Microsoft International and keynote speaker at the WeAreDevelopers World Congress. What achievement AI offers, especially for people with disabilities, and how we manage that machine and human will work side by side and not against each other in the future, is revealed in this article.

“Artificial intelligence has the potential to be an even bigger breakthrough than the PC or the internet,” says Joseph Sirosh, Head of AI at Microsoft International and keynote speaker at the WeAreDevelopers World Congress. The possibilities are seemingly endless: from health to agriculture to climate research or even revolutionizing entire production cycles across all industries.
Joseph Sirosh recently discussed the opportunities slumbering within artificial intelligence and how these can change people’s lives. “A thrilled customer recently sent us an email. She is visually impaired, and, thanks to our app, she was able to go to the supermarket and get exactly what she wanted for the very first time, without having to ask for help.” The app Seeing AI uses a smartphone camera to describe what is in focus at any given moment – and not just generic descriptions such as ‘yoghurt’ or ‘pasta’, but specific information about whether it’s low-fat yogurt from Tirol Milch or wholegrain spelled fusilli from Ja! Natürlich – in short, right down to the very last detail. This gives people incredible freedom,” enthuses Sirosh. Visually impaired Microsoft developer Saqib Shaikh has also come up with something similar. He has developed a pair of smart glasses that don’t just read texts aloud, but can even recognize people and assess their emotions – for the visually challenged, this technology means an improved quality of life barely conceivable until now.
The development of future technologies, particularly in the realm of artificial intelligence, can, therefore, contribute significantly to removing social and professional barriers for those with a disability. Around the world, around 1.2 billion people live with a disability, presenting them with all manner of challenges day in, day out. Commissioned by Microsoft as part of a representative survey, opinion research institute Civey polled participants to find out to what extent artificial intelligence or robots can facilitate the everyday lives of people with a disability and how intensively the state should promote developments for the good of disabled people.

Expecting better with AI

Over 70% of those surveyed believed that AI or robots had great or very great potential for improving everyday life for disabled people. The vast majority of around 60% also believed that governments should strongly or very strongly promote the development of artificial intelligence to benefit those with a disability. Possible approaches in this context would be, for example, government grants for AI research projects with a specific social focus.

Marked acceptance of artificial intelligence for social issues

Overall, the survey confirms that the extent to which AI is welcomed depends on specific application scenarios and transparent goals. In a Civey survey conducted last year, only one quarter or so of those surveyed (26%) believed that artificial intelligence would definitely change our society for the better or at least somewhat for the better.
“The survey clearly shows that we must not let up in our efforts to illustrate the potential of AI in specific cases and address the concerns and fears of citizens in a transparent manner,” says Sirosh.
It is vital to make the most of the opportunities afforded to us by artificial intelligence and to rise to the challenge, despite all the concerns and reservations. “But this does not mean that we must not be uncritical or ask a lot of questions,” stresses Sirosh. The question is not what we can all learn from computers or machines, but rather what we want them to do for us.
In 20 years, Sirosh predicts, we will be using artificial intelligence as digital assistants to steer us through all the masses of information and provide us with news customized to our needs.

Team worker, not terminator

Artificial intelligence will unquestionably take over or alter some jobs. By 2027, 24.7 million jobs around the world will be lost ‒ but 14.9 million new ones will be created at the same time, says Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, in his book “The Future Computed – Artificial Intelligence and its role in society”. Doubtless, there will be other new jobs emerging that are inconceivable to us today. “That’s always been the case,” remarks Sirosh.
References to pessimistic “human-against-machine” Hollywood scenarios, underpinned by research results that proclaim the end of jobs for humans, naturally stir up fear of the digital future. High time to draw a line between science fiction and real technological progress.

Humans and machines – an unbeatable team

The present situation is rather akin to the arrival of the steam railway in 1825. At the time, its unimaginable speed made people uneasy; it was feared as devil’s work, something that would bring down sickness upon human heads and destroy man and nature. Today, it’s the whirlwind speed of digitalization and all the attendant changes that are making people quake in their boots. Every day we read about machines able to learn how to perform certain tasks by themselves ‒ more accurately and rapidly than we can. We read about artificial intelligence in the form of digital assistants that are creeping into our smartphones, living rooms, cars, learning more and more about us and our tastes the more we use them. Many people consider their jobs, indeed even the entire human race, to be under threat from robots.
However, this march of technology is in no way about replacing people with artificial intelligence. Quite the contrary: Humans and machines complement one another excellently and are unbeatable as a team. Our empathy, creativity, emotionality and innovative power combined with the machines’ ability to identify patterns swiftly from among vast mounds of data augurs great things for the future. If we can learn how to work together with machines, we will have the opportunity to solve the major problems facing humankind. Artificial intelligence will be able to help us cure diseases, improve the climate, make better use of resources and drastically reduce the number of traffic deaths. “AI will be more help than harm, provided we approach it courageously and transparently,” according to Sirosh.

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