A Cork-based professor has become the first Irishman to be elected to the board of the main global body for artificial intelligence.
Prof Barry O’Sullivan, who is director of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in University College Cork, has been elected as deputy president of the European Association for Artificial Intelligence.
The organisation has more than 4,500 members across over 30 countries, having been established in 1982.
It seeks to research and promote the study and application of AI. In assuming his role, Prof O’Sullivan said the organisation needs to do more to become central to the discussions about the responsibilities and ethical issues associated with the technology.
He said while many people believe that the application of AI is still something for the future, that is not necessarily the case.
“We are certainly at the point in technology where we can build these things,” he said.
“The decisions are here now.”
However, he said there were a lot of “killer robot” stories that belonged more to the realm of science fiction.
He said that, instead, there are serious issues which need to be debated about the role of AI in replacing human engagement in work through automation, and in other areas such as in medicine and in the military.
“One of the issues is the fundamental question of ‘do we want machines to take decisions for us?’” he said.
Prof O’Sullivan said he wants the European Association for Artificial Intelligence to have more of a social media presence and to be proactive in becoming engaged in the debate about the use of AI.
“Personally, I feel that there are too few people who are expert in AI, in terms of a day job developing these technologies, engaging in the debate,” he said.
One example to which he pointed, is the automation of work. “A lot of people think AI is going to automate the very manual, routine stuff that is economically at the bottom of the rung but that is unlikely,” he said.
“It’s far more likely that the type of work that can be automated are at a professional level — auditing, legal advice, number crunching, accounting, all these kind of thing,” he said.
“The person who is physically digging a road, that is much more difficult to automate.
“It’s not the low-value jobs, its the middle tier.”
Prof O’Sullivan also said that work on fully autonomous intelligence is not the focus of the AI community in the main, but rather that AI is developing in areas where the machine had partial autonomy within boundaries set by humans.
Prof O’Sullivan said he hopes to talk to the European Commission regarding ways of engaging in the debate about the current and future role of AI.
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