Q: Who will set AI standards? A: Whoever gets there first

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Much has been written about artificial intelligence (AI). Much more is waiting to be written. Some of it is pretty scary. Consultants are having a field day guessing (surely, ‘intelligently predicting’) how many jobs will be lost to AI over the coming years. And how big the market is. Then there is the other train of thought that points to a host of technologies that have threatened to wipe out millions of jobs, and instead have simply moved those jobs into new ones. IT is one such example, the IoT is another. The jury is out as to which will be the case for AI.

Recently, though, some very big names are ganging up to make AI mainstream. A new ‘super club’ has been formed to make sure that AI does not take over the planet, at least not in a bad way. Five tech giants, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, Google and Amazon have formed the AI Partnership.

It is built on altruistic principles, but one has to wonder whether the aim is actually to corner the market. The names of those not in the club (yet?) are as impressive, but – apparently – welcome to join.

One thing that is pretty clear is that each one of these companies is a thoroughly commercial entity. The other thing that is emerging is that standards for AI will need to be addressed, even if it is unclear exactly what those will entail.

It is not a coincidence, surely, that Facebook, Google and others have recently joined the ITU standards making organisation. As Chaesub Lee, Director of the ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau says in an interview with DisruptiveViews, “standards developed by single companies or small groups of companies may achieve great success, adopted by a broad range of industry players. In such cases, it is not uncommon to remodel such standards as international standards to ensure that they are globally applicable”.

It has always been the case that standards are made by people who turn up, which generally means that standards are made by companies who are big enough to be able to afford to send teams of people to standards making meetings. It may be, unfair as it might seem, that standards for AI and a host of other innovations that are moving too fast for comfort (or safety) – such as autonomous vehicles – will be driven by those who can afford to show up, and who have deadlines they need to meet before the money runs out.

Whatever standards ITU, and other standards making bodies’ members, decide are needed for new technologies, there seems to be hope that the process will not delay their arrival for as long as we thought.

In the meantime, as AI goes mainstream, let us hope our jobs aren’t taken over by robots.

Or perhaps they already have been.

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