In 1918, JC Smuts in The League of Nations: a practical suggestion warned that, “vast social and industrial changes are coming, perhaps upheavals which may in their magnitude and effects be comparable to war itself.”
He was talking about a world post WWII. Soon after, the Roaring Twenties ushered in an era of technological advancements. It was a time when medical pioneers like Australian doctor Mark Lidwill and physicist Edgar Booth developed the first artificial pacemaker.
To imagine tomorrow’s world is harder still.
What we do know though, is that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will take centre stage. So, what role will smart machines capable of performing ‘human’ tasks play in our lives?
Our researchers have been pushing the boundaries of knowledge in this area. Their research gives context to yet another era where societies are in drastic change.
Here’s what they’ve discovered.
Learning from nature
Associate Professor Ali Mirjalili is the Director for the Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research and Optimisation at Torrens University Australia. He’s been blazing a path in AI research for some time.
In 2021, he was named among Australia’s top 40 early career researchers to watch, based on his annual H-index, a measure which considers his volume of research output, as well as the impact it has in his field.
Professor Mirjalili’s research looks at a specific area of computational intelligence, which itself is a subset of AI. His focus is evolutionary and nature-inspired algorithms. Put simply, his research looks to nature for solutions to problems.
“Snakes don't have legs, but they can camouflage to survive. Birds develop feather to be able to fly and avoid predator and better find food. So, we're inspired from those,” Mirjalili explains.
“We mimic the same principle in a computer and solve some of the challenges that we face as humans.”
Using this concept, Professor Mirjalili has drawn from the behaviour of ants to look at ways to improve logistics across the supply chain.
“Ants gravitate toward the food source. And at some point, they will establish a path between nest and the food source.”
“Imagine a truck is an ant. For the truck, we want to find the best path, the optimal path between warehouses and the customer to minimize fuel consumption. So, we will follow the same principles and find the shortest path for the truck to save fuel.”
Through this research Professor Mirjalili has been able to help a number of companies across different countries, including India, Egypt and Jordan.
“They get the best or the state-of-the-art solutions to their problems.”
Killer robots, crunching numbers
In 2018, venture capitalist Dr. Kai-Fu Le predicted that AI would change the world more than anything in the history of humankind - including electricity. A quick glance reveals that it’s already crept into our lives in all sorts of ways – from smart assistants like Siri and Alexa to chat bots, spam filters on our email and recommendations on Netflix.
As AI weaves an intricate web across everything that we do, there’s the ever-increasing unease that a scenario like Terminator could play out – where killer robots emerge and take over. According to Adjunct Professor Heinz Herrmann, what transpires in the movie can be thought of as a cautionary tale around the ethics of AI.
“There have been spectacular failures of artificial intelligence in recent years. Facial recognition algorithms that led to wrongful arrests or are being used for surveillance of ethnic minorities in some countries.”
Professor Herrmann and his research team have been closely studying, “whether there has been a bias or a fairness issue with a particular algorithm,” and are looking at ways of, “preventing this from happening.”
“Our research is seeking to address all of the ethical issues that have been identified – we're going into the area of unknown unknowns. We don't even know [what] we're going to be faced with.”
But when used ethically and effectively, Professor Herrmann says AI can trump humans at problem-solving. One of his research projects shows that using AI in accounting practices can spot irregularities in the numbers much more swiftly and accurately than the average human brain.
“[It would] take a phenomenal amount of time for a human to perform –and humans may not be as sophisticated in picking up on certain intricacies.”
The benefits of using AI in the banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI) sectors are indisputable, says Professor Herrmann.
“The benefits [across]the entire set of BFSI unanimously is fraud detection – anything from insurance fraud to credit card fraud, to cyber fraud.”
Listen to Research That Matters to hear more about the research projects of Professor Mirjalili and Professor Herrmann in Episode 5: Societies in Drastic Change.
Research That Matters, is a 9-part podcast series featuring researchers from Torrens University Australia, who are working to solve complex global problems and to propel innovation. Hosted by Clement Paligaru and produced by Written & Recorded.
Find all episodes of Research That Matters at https://www.torrens.edu.au/research/research-that-matters-podcast