Data Tools: Artificial Intelligence and Decision Making

“Machines can excel at frequent high-volume tasks. Humans can tackle novel situations.” – Anthony Goldbloom

Jobs today will look drastically different in 30 years from now (Goldbloom, 2016; McAfee, 2013).  Artificial intelligence (AI) works on Sundays, they don’t take holidays, and they work well at high frequency and voluminous tasks, and thus they have the possibility of replacing many of the current jobs of 2016 (Goldbloom, 2016; Meetoo, 2016).  AI has been doing things that haven’t been done before: understanding, speaking, hearing, seeing, answering, writing, and analyzing (McAfee, 2013). Also, AI can make use of data hidden in “dark wells” and silos, where the end-user had no idea that the data even existed, to begin with (Power, 2015). Eventually, AI and machine learning will be commonly used as a tool to augment or replace decision makers.  Goldbloom (2016) gave the example that a teacher may be able to read 10,000 essays or an ophthalmologist may see 50,000 eyes over a 40-year period; whereas a machine can read millions of essays and see millions of eyes in minutes.

Machine learning is one of the most powerful branches to AI, where machines learn from data, similar to how humans learn to create predictions of the future (Cringely, 2013; Cyranoski, 2015; Goldbloom, 2016; Power, 2015). It would take many scientists to analyze a big dataset in its entirety without a loss of memory such that to gain insights and to fully understand how the connections were made in the AI system (Cringely, 2013; Goldbloom, 2016). This is no easy task because the eerily accurate rules created by AI out of thousands of variables can lack substantive human meaning, making it hard to interpret the results and make an informed data-driven decision (Power, 2015).

AI has been used to solve problems in industry and academia already, which has given data scientist knowledge on the current limitations of AI and whether or not they can augment or replace key decision makers (Cyranoski, 2015; Goldbloom, 2016). Machine learning and AI does well at analyzing patterns from frequent and voluminous amounts of data at faster speeds than humans, but they fail to recognize patterns in infrequent and small amounts of data (Goldbloom, 2016).  Therefore, for small datasets artificial intelligence will not be able to replace decision makers, but for big datasets, they would.

Thus, the fundamental question that decision makers need to ask is how is the decision reduced to frequent high volume task and how much of it is reduced to novel situations (Goldbloom, 2016).  Thus, if the ratio is skewed on the high volume tasks then AI could be a candidate to replace decision makers, if the ratio is evenly split, then AI could augment and assist decision makers, and if the ratio is skewed on novel situations, then AI wouldn’t help decision makers.  They novel situations are equivalent to our tough challenges today (McAfee, 2013).

Finally, Meetoo (2016), warned that it doesn’t matter how intelligent or strategic a job could be, if there is enough data on that job to create accurate rules it can be automated as well; because machine learning can run millions of simulations against itself to generate huge volumes of data to learn from.  This is no different than humans doing self-study and continuous practice to be subject matter experts in their field. But people in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) will be best equip them for the future world with AI, because it is from knowing how to combine these fields that novel, infrequent, and unique challenges will arise that humans can solve and machine learning cannot (Goldbloom, 2016; McAfee, 2013; Meetoo, 2016).