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Analytics Magazine

Inside story — Hot topics: AI & ML

Are there any hotter topics in the analytics community today than artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)? If so, please let me know.

Ironically, in 1991, when I began editing OR/MS Today (the membership magazine of INFORMS), AI and ML were also hot topics. At the time, Lionheart Publishing, which has produced OR/MS Today for the past 30 years, also published a newsletter all about AI. Unfortunately, the hype about AI and ML soon waned, and the newsletter disappeared.

Turns out that in the real world, useful AI and ML implementation and related results require massive amounts of data and computing power, both of which were in relatively short supply 30 years ago. To put it politely, back then, AI and ML were way ahead of their time – a couple of great ideas in search of unavailable digital support. Jump ahead to 2018. Today, most analytics professionals have access to more data than they can make sense of, and computing power is testing the bounds of Moore’s Law.

Not surprisingly, AI and ML are back in vogue, yet questions remain: Will artificial intelligence and machine learning universally and profoundly transform and enhance not only the way we manufacture widgets, operate organizations and boost business profits, but will it also impact the way we live our everyday lives? Or will AI- and ML-powered robots not only take away our jobs, but will they also threaten our very existence à la HAL 9000 in the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

We hasten to add that 40 years after “Space Odyssey,” artificial intelligence and machine-learning systems are still in their infancy, as Joseph Byrum points out in this issue of Analytics. For more answers, I refer you to Tom Davenport’s book, “Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines,” as well as to Byrum’s cover story in this month’s issue of Analytics,Anxiety Over Artificial Intelligence.”

Writes Byrum: “We’re nowhere near the point where machine-learning algorithms could become self-aware, much less develop an unrelenting grudge against mankind. Even the most sophisticated military AI projects only scratch the surface of what’s theoretically possible. Because AI is so new, this is our one and only opportunity to better explain what it means to a skeptical public before science fiction screenwriters and celebrities completely drown out the conversation with compelling, but not exactly accurate, stories.”

Spoiler alert: By making smart, informed, fact-based decisions, humans will prevail.

– Peter Horner, editor

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