The “upsurge” in patent applications for devices and machines powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the last five years, suggests that it could soon revolutionize all areas of daily life far beyond the tech world, a UN report suggested on Thursday.
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Technology Trends report, 50 per cent of all patents for AI – the replication of human intelligence by machines for use in industries such as transport and healthcare, for instance – have been published since 2013, adding up to more than 170,000 different patented ideas.
This followed on from an initial boom in AI scientific publications, which began in 2001.
WIPO Director General Francis Gurry told journalists in Geneva the surge in patenting was “striking”, noting that AI research began in the 1950s. “But there has been a quantum leap since about 2013, so we’re dealing with what is happening right now in a very fast-moving field,” he insisted.
‘Machine learning’ is the dominant AI application
By number, patent applications for machine learning, indicate that this is currently the dominant application of AI; think of apps that include ride-sharing services to minimize detours.
The fastest-growing AI area is “deep learning”, however, which is used in speech recognition.
This saw a 175-per cent annual increase in patent applications from 2013 to 2016, far in excess of the 33 per cent average for all patents in the same period.
US and China dominate so far
The United States and China dominate the field of patent application, although only a fraction of China’s patents is filed abroad. US-based tech giant IBM leads by number of patent applications (8,290), followed by Microsoft (5,930).
Japan’s Toshiba has the next highest patent tally (5,223), ahead of South Korea’s Samsung (5,102) and Japan’s NEC Group (4,406).
China’s increasingly important role in the sector is also illustrated by the fact that Chinese organizations make up 17 of the top 20 academic players in AI patenting, as well as 10 of the top 20 in AI-related scientific publications.
‘Major’ military, economic uses for AI
In coming years, AI is set to grow with “major military and economic” uses, Mr Gurry suggested, before highlighting the importance of proposed WIPO-led discussions between Member States, on legal and ethical issues relating to intellectual property rights that have been raised by the technology.
“One would expect that the strategic focus of major geopolitical players will turn to their positioning in relation to AI,” he said.
Internet search giants have also been key to the AI revolution, the WIPO report shows, with Google (US) and Baidu (China) embracing the potential of the technology early on, just as Microsoft and Apple did before them.
“You did say that we see some of the internet giants there,” Mr Gurry said to reporters. “Why? Because of data…because of the access they have to data.”
In addition to the US and China’s large populations, the WIPO head noted the importance of State-led support for innovation in both places, which included investing in technology hubs and even training specialized patent officers.
Biggest AI opportunities lie outside software industry
Faced with this backing, “it’s very difficult for other countries, even those with great education, to compete with the business, engineering and investing talent” of China and the US, AI expert and CEO of Landing AI and deeplearning.ai, Andrew Ng, notes in the WIPO publication, adding that the “biggest untapped opportunities” lie outside the software industry, in areas including agriculture, healthcare and manufacturing.
European diversity ‘an obstacle to machine learning’
Echoing those comments, the WIPO Director General noted that the cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe “is not necessarily favouring the formation of major data pools. And we all know the more data, the better for machine learning for example, the results, you are going to get”.
Asked whether the world was better off because of the technology, which industry experts credit with the potential to create massive economic value, the WIPO Director General underlined the fact that the science behind it is “neutral”.
“Is it (AI) good news or bad news?” he asked. “Well, I would tend to say that all technology is somewhat neutral, and it depends on what you do with it. So, insofar as you may use AI science and techniques for developing autonomous weapons systems that are going to kill us all, is not very good news, but insofar as it’s being used to improve health indicators for diagnostics, for other purposes, it’s great news.”
Technology for Social Good in India
From using drones to plan water supply schemes in hard-to-reach locations, to deploying satellite imagery for enhancing land usage, or using mobile phones to track children’s health, technology is changing the way we live. The World Bank is supporting several interventions where new-age technology is being used for social good, giving a new tool to policymakers to improve governance and the quality of our lives
Making farmers resilient
Digital applications are helping farmers in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh make faster and better decisions on crop planning based on weather conditions, soil and other indicators
This $12.67-million Sustainable Livelihoods and Adaptation to Climate Change project that started in 2015 has so far empowered more than 8,000 farmers to adopt climate resilient practices.
Satellite images taken from a height of 900 km in Karnataka capture crucial data like land use as well as land cover, groundwater prospects, and soil characteristics. When this data is fused with rainfall patterns and literacy rates, it helps experts and communities to prioritize action plans such as those for soil and water conservation
Geographic information system (GIS) technology can also map nutrient deficiencies in the soil, which helps with crop planning.
The Karnataka Watershed Development Project, known locally as Sujala, covered over half a million hectares of land in seven predominantly rain-fed districts in Karnataka between 2001 and 2009 and was the first to deploy the use of satellite remote sensing and GIS mapping effectively over a large area.
Supplying Water in Challenging Terrain
Shimla city in Himachal Pradesh gets water once every two days for a few hours, while bulk water is pumped over 1,400 meters, creating a high cost of service
To tackle this, drones have been used to click high resolution images in high altitudes and challenging topography in World Bank’s Shimla Water Supply and Sewerage Service Delivery Reform Project. This, along with GIS technologies, has helped the state government prepare a 24×7 water supply model for the city that addresses issues such as pressure management, transmission and distribution networks, and identifying illegal connections.
All across India approximately 150,000 Anganwadi workers are using smartphones to track growth and nutrition in children. Photos of the hot lunch served to the children at health and nutrition centers, for example, can now easily be shared with block, district and state-level officials.
“It’s easier to work with mobiles than registers,” confessed an Anganwadi worker in Madhya Pradesh.
The World Bank has so far invested about $306 million in nutrition through the ICDS Systems Strengthening and Nutrition Improvement Project.
In Chhattisgarh, a mobile based application called Nutri-Click provides real time, need-based, one-on-one counseling on appropriate nutrition and care practices to pregnant women and caregivers and mothers of young children and their family members.
The program has so far helped over 4000 pregnant and lactating women
Digitizing Medical Records
Doctors in 36 public hospitals in Tamil Nadu can now access, collect and analyze critical health data for quick and timely interventions with the click of a button. The system also helps with retrieval of manual records as well as maintenance and management of medical equipment, making the entire process transparent and convenient.
The $110.3 million Tamil Nadu Health Systems Project was active in five Tamil Nadu districts. A second phase will now aim to cover another 222 hospitals across the remaining 25 state districts.
In 164 municipalities in Karnataka, property owners are now able to calculate their property taxes online; 10 million birth and death records are now online and searchable; and over 390,000 citizen complaints were lodged over 10 months—98 percent of which were redressed.
Through the Karnataka Municipal Reforms Project, municipal revenues have increased while interface between citizens and local administrations has vastly improved.
World Bank’s Vocational Training Improvement Project has helped digitize activities such as admissions, examination management, and certifications in Industrial Training Institutes (ITI) under the National Council of Vocational Training.
The portal provides detailed records from more than 13,000 public and private ITIs across the country, including data related to courses offered, admissions, examinations, placements, etc.
So far more than 150,000 e-certificates to past trainees have been issued, and over 2 million certified trainees have received online certificates, saving time and effort.
Innovative smartphone app to improve rainwater harvesting in Africa
It is now possible to calculate the amount of rainwater that can be harvested from the roof of houses thanks to a new smart phone app developed by UN Environment and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The app, a first of its kind, is based on actual meteorological data collected from weather stations across Africa. The data is specific to locations closest to the weather stations, which the app presents as the nearest city.
Promoting rainwater harvesting is becoming increasingly important to ensure greater water security. It offers an adaptation strategy to climate change, providing an opportunity to store rainwater under increasing conditions of high rainfall variability.
Rainwater harvesting can also improve livelihoods of women and children by reducing time spent on fetching water: women still spend 16 million hours a day collecting water in 25 sub-Saharan countries.
It can improve household sanitation and health with an improved drinking water source. Rainwater harvesting also contributes to food security, providing water during dry seasons for small-scale agriculture. Although not every single drop of rain can and should be harvested, rainwater is still an underutilized water source in Africa.
The lack of water is a real challenge across Africa. On average, a person needs eight glasses of water (2 liters) per day. According to the Vital Water Graphics report by UN Environment and GRID Arendal, “more than 2.8 billion people in 48 countries will face water stress or water scarcity conditions by 2025. An area is experiencing water stress when annual water supplies drop below 1700 m3 per person”.
In many such countries, rainwater can be harnessed easily for domestic and agricultural use. Harvested rainwater can also benefit the environment and ecosystem when used to enhance groundwater recharge and restore vegetative cover. The low cost of rainwater harvesting technologies can be a more attractive investment option in rural areas compared to investing in a main water supply system.
The new app demonstrates opportunities for rainwater harvesting. For example, a person in Turkana county in Kenya can enter her location (Kenya, Lodwar), the length and width of the roof of the house (in metres), the number of family members, and the quantity of water used per day. The app returns the estimated amount of rainwater that can be harvested, and the quantity of water for a family. It also proposes the size of the rainwater harvesting system as well as its estimated cost. Simple sketches showing rainwater systems and how to recharge groundwater are also included in the app. Rainwater harvesting systems can be easily constructed using appropriate technology and locally available materials.
Rainwater can be collected in relatively simple ways. Rainwater that falls in ditches, on rooftops or on other surface areas is collected in storage facilities, such as water tanks or ponds. This water is stored and used for domestic and agricultural purposes. There are also other ways of rainwater harvesting, such as storing it in the ground where it can be used as groundwater for human consumption or for nature.
Ann Kiria, chair of a young women’s group in Kajiado in Kenya said, “water harvesting has benefited our community where women have played a key role in constructing water tanks. With the knowledge we have acquired, building a water tank to harvest rainwater is no more out of reach”.
Currently the smart phone application is available for Android (Play Store) system for free. You can download it by searching for RWH Africa Interactive Tool.
A web version is also available at http://www.rainwaterharvesting.africa. An IOS (App Store) version will follow soon.
Companies Are Saving to Transform as Digital Disruption Gains Momentum Globally
As digital technologies continue to reinvent how businesses grow and
operate, the associated risks and opportunities are prompting companies to
expand their cost management strategies, according to Deloitte’s second
biennial global cost survey, released today. The study, “Save-to-transform as a Catalyst for
Embracing Digital Disruption,” shows
that while traditional cost reduction methods are still crucial, many
organizations are also investing heavily in transformative digital technologies
to improve operating efficiency and cost savings while also boosting overall
performance and competitiveness in an increasingly digital world.
Concurrently, as digital disruption emerges as an impetus for change, cost management remains a strong imperative globally. According to the survey of more than 1,200 global executives and business leaders, 71% are planning to undertake cost reduction initiatives over the next 24 months. Sixty-eight percent reported total reductions of 10% or higher, and nearly one-third (31%) have cost improvement targets above 20%. Eighty-one percent, however, report being unable to meet fully their cost reduction goals during the past year, 18 percentage points worse than in 2017, due to implementation challenges, lack of effective systems, and infeasible targets.
Digital disruption and cybersecurity rank as leading external risks
Demonstrating the significant role technology is playing in shaping cost management strategies, digital disruption soared to the top of the list as the biggest external risk according to respondents at 61%, up from just 6% in 2017. Digital disruption was surpassed only by another technology-related risk, cybersecurity, which at 62% ranks at or near the top of the risk list globally and in all regions except Latin America. Internally, reliability and functionality of information systems was identified as a top risk.
“In today’s highly dynamic and competitive landscape, digital disruption is changing how companies view every aspect of their business, including cost management practices,” said Omar Aguilar, principal and global strategic cost transformation leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP. “Deloitte’s study shows that businesses are now recognizing they must save-to-transform, using investments in digital infrastructure to drive dramatic improvements in future performance, efficiency and market position.”
Digital risks are spurring organizations to use cost reduction as a mechanism to fund technological transformation. Globally, the survey found that application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is expected to more than double from 25% to 63%. Findings also show similar growth is expected for automation (25% to 62%) and business intelligence (35% to 59%). Cloud continues to be the most widely implemented digital technology covered by the survey at 49% and is expected to remain popular due to its ability to tighten data security, as well as to reduce costs and improve productivity. However, all technologies in the survey are expected to be implemented at a level of 47% or higher over the next 24 months, signaling the widespread business impact of technology innovation.
Revenue growth is on the rise, but companies are cautious
The survey also found that companies are well-positioned to undergo this type of transformation, with 86% of respondents reporting increased revenue over the past two years. This optimistic outlook continues into the future, with the same number of respondents expecting revenue growth over the next 24 months as businesses around the world enjoy one of the longest periods of economic expansion in history.
Even with the optimistic outlook, however, forward-thinking organizations are taking a cautionary stance. Economic patterns are cyclical, and potential warning signs are starting to emerge. In particular, the survey data show a 97% increase in global respondents who are concerned about macroeconomic risk over the next two years, and a 20% increase in U.S. respondents who expect a significant reduction in consumer demand over the same period.
Shifting cost management from growth to transformation
Through years of historic economic growth, cost reduction has evolved into an essential tool to help businesses fund their required growth investments (saving to grow). Now, however, many companies are taking things even further, using digital cost solutions and infrastructure improvements. These include robotic process automation, cognitive technologies, business intelligence and cloud-based enterprise resource planning to lift their efficiency, performance, and competitiveness to a new level (saving to transform).
“The 2019 study shows that companies have an enormous opportunity to capitalize on current economic strengths and leverage cost management practices to transform and innovate their businesses,” said Jason Girzadas, managing principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, Deloitte Global. “Our mission at Deloitte is to help organizations around the world implement these transformations and make their businesses more efficient and more successful, now and in the future.”
“Cost management practices and approaches have grown increasingly sophisticated over time, and digital solutions, although still maturing, now represent the most advanced level of cost management,” said Aguilar. “By harnessing the power of digital technology to streamline their cost structures and generate cost savings, companies can take full advantage of the latest digital innovations — becoming the disrupters, rather than the disrupted.”
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