We talked with Ergi Şener about the change of artificial intelligence (ai) from the past to the present, its impact today and its effect of future.
Ergi Sener, who is indicated as one of the 20 Turkish people to be followed in the field of technology (*), received a BS in Microelectronics Engineering in 2005 and double MS in Computer Science & Management in 2007 from Sabancı University. He is pursuing a PHD degree in Management.
Ergi began his career as the co-founder and business development director of New Tone Technology Solutions in 2007 with the partnership of Sabancı University’s Venture Program. After the successful exit of this company, between 2009 and 2013, he worked as a CRM manager at Garanti Payment Systems and as a senior product manager in the New Technology Business Division of Turkcell.
In 2013, he joined MasterCard as a business development and innovation manager for emerging markets and managed the SEE cluster. After his corporate career, Ergi acted as a serial entrepreneur and founded 3 companies on fintech, IoT and AI. He was also the managing director of a Dutch based incubation center. He is currently the co-founder and CEO of a new generation fintech, Payneer. During his career, among with many others Ergi received “Big Data Analysis & Data Mining Innovation Award” in 2017 & 2018, “”Global Telecoms Business Innovation Award” in 2014, “MasterCard Europe President’s Award for Innovation” in 2013 and “Payment System of the Year Award” and Turkcell CEO Award’12.
Ergi is an instructer at Sabancı University and Bahcesehir University, and technology editor at hurriyet.com.tr. He is also the angel investor of Wastespresso and kadinlarinelinden.com.
Question 1: What do you think about the development of artificial intelligence from past to present? Since corona pandemic outbreak, we had a paradigm shift and everything has transformed very fast. What do you think about the development of artificial intelligence after post corona?
Although the term AI suffers from too many definitions, we can simply define it as “trying to make computers think and act like humans”. The more humanlike is the desired outcome, the more data and processing power are required. Since AI is one of the most prominent technology trends of today, we regularly find ourselves in a lot of conversations such as when will artificial intelligence replace our jobs or which sectors will be disrupted by AI… Indeed, AI is a branch of science that is changing the world in many ways. It is constantly growing and evolving on a large scale that includes research, education, and technological developments.
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Almost 70 years passed since the father of AI, Elon Turing, laid the foundations of this discipline. Since the beginning of the first studies, the major aim was to have computers act as humans. Although some technology giants like Google or Amazon claim that they passed the Turing test, there are still many years ahead for such a progress.
As we enter 2021, it will not be wrong to say that, in order to relieve us against pessimistic scenarios; AI technology will not replace many jobs in the short term, but will cause radical changes in business practices and processes. It will also transform many sectors and jobs. Therefore, it is very important to follow the developments in the field of AI closely and make plans for its integration to our business. Danger bells will be ringing for those who do not care about the progress of AI or think it is too early.
I should state it in a way that “today, AI is eating the World”. A serious change is taking place with the development of AI in many different areas from driverless vehicles to image processing; from natural language processing, to optimization problems; from robotic systems to “drones”; or from speech recognition technologies and virtual assistants to process automation.
AI will be more with us in the Post-Corona period. We might recognize this more clearly if we analyze how AI has been used to fight Corona, one of the major crises of humanity. A global epidemic like Coronavirus, once again revealed the importance of technology, artificial intelligence and data science and their effectiveness in addressing the epidemic and returning to regular life by getting rid of the virus faster.
AI was used to monitor and predict the spread of epidemics
The better we track the spread and effect of the virus, the better we can fight with it. Analyzing virus-related news, social media posts, and government documents by artificial intelligence platforms can predict the spread of the epidemic. BlueDot, a Canadian start-up, uses artificial intelligence to track infectious disease risks. BlueDot’s AI warned about Corona threat days before the World Health Organization or Disease Control and Warning Centers. In doing so, BlueDot first reported articles on 27 cases published in Chine for the initial findings in Wuhan and added it to its warning system. Then, in order to find people who are likely to be infected and travel using global airline ticketing data, was used to determine the cities and countries that can be reached directly from Wuhan. The international destinations that BlueDot predicted to attract the most passengers from Wuhan were: Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei, Phuket, Seoul and Singapore, which were the first places Coronavirus was seen after Wuhan.
AI was used to diagnose the virus
Infervision, a Beijing-based start-up that also conducts AI-focused studies, developed a system that allows the disease to be effectively detected and monitored with the artificial intelligence-based solution it has developed. Thanks to this solution, which increases the speed of diagnosis, it is also possible to reduce the increasing panic in hospitals. Infervision’s software detects and interprets the symptoms of pneumonia caused by the virus. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba also implemented an AI-powered system that managed to diagnose the virus with 96% accuracy within seconds. Alibaba’s system was developed by training on images and data from 5,000 confirmed Coronavirus cases and is currently used in more than 100 hospitals in China. Both systems are developed by analyzing patients’ chest CT scans (tomography).
Color Coded Health Assessment Application
Despite its controversial technology and use of AI, China’s advanced surveillance system uses SenseTime’s facial recognition technology and temperature detection software to identify people who have fever and are more likely to be viruses. The Chinese Government also, with the support of tech giants such as Alibaba and Ant Financials, implemented a color-coded health rating system to help track millions of people returning to work after the rapidly spreading Coronavirus outbreak. With this application, people are divided into three categories as “green, yellow or red” according to their health conditions, travel history, whether they have visited the places where the virus is common, and their interactions with infected people. In line with the analysis of the program, it is determined whether individuals in the relevant category will be quarantined or permitted. For individuals provided with a green health code to enter public points, subways and office buildings, a QR code is sent from their mobile application and this code is scanned by the authorities.
Delivery of medical devices by drones
One of the fastest and safest ways to deliver the necessary medical devices in the event of an epidemic is the use of drones. For this purpose, the Japanese Terra Drone company supports the transportation of medical devices and quarantine materials between the Disease Control Centers and Hospitals in Xinchang with minimum risk. Drones can also be used to control public spaces, monitor compliance with quarantine practices, and thermal imaging.
Use of robots in sterilization, food and material supply
Since physical robots are not infected with viruses, they can be used to perform many routine tasks (cleaning, sterilization, food and medicine supply, etc.) and to reduce human contact. Robots from Denmark-based Blue Ocean Robotics use ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and viruses. In addition, Pudu Technology’s robots, which are used to bring food in hospitals, are used in 40 hospitals in China.
Use of chatbot to share information or answer questions
Citizens can get free health consultancy services from chatbot services delivered through WeChat, China’s popular social messaging application. However, chatbots also share information about recent travel procedures and circulars.
Using AI in new drug development
Google’s DeepMind division has used state-of-the-art AI algorithms and deep learning systems to understand the proteins that can cause the virus, and published the findings to help develop therapies for the virus. However, the BenevolentAI company uses AI systems to help treat Coronavirus. The company used its predictive capabilities to identify drugs that could be effective against the virus in the market after the outbreak.
Autonomous vehicles have become one of the most popular AI use cases in recent years. We are still waiting the autonomous vehicles in traffic, but there is a great progress from automotive industry and over-the-top technology companies to make this dream a reality. During epidemic, again in China, autonomous vehicles are used as taxis to reduce the spread of the virus.
All the applications above show that AI has fastened with Corona, and we will see with many different applications in many different sectors. Also, it is crucial that the companies advanced in AI and that are investing on AI will be effective in many areas and will have the ability to disrupt many sectors. Apple can be a good example with the new Apple Watches. Apple can track Corona and heart attack with its predictive analytics platforms.
Question 2: If you take in Turkey, what are we doing in artificial intelligence as Turkey? Are we at a level that can compete with the world? Has artificial intelligence taken its place in our professional life in all sectors?
As with any popular technology, we should isolate the truth and “hype” when talking about AI. With the popularization of AI, many new trends in the tech world has started to be associated with AI, and AI has become sought after in everything (increased investment in AI also has a direct and significant effect on this). Unfortunately, in Turkey, many people in the business do not have a correct understanding and enough information about AI. What can be accomplished with AI is truly limitless: virtual digital assistants, chatbots, driverless vehicles, real-time translation services, AI-powered physical robots, etc… In real terms, AI has begun to deeply affect both our daily life and business processes, and in 2021, we will be deeply feeling many concrete uses for it. In this context, it is obvious that AI will have a transformative effect on consumers, institutions and even government organizations around the world. In addition to the actual potential of artificial intelligence, how we manage such a profound technological revolution and its impact on our professional and personal lives should also be seriously discussed and a strategic road map should be determined for Turkey in a bigger picture.
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Today, AI has become a phase that transforms a faster intelligence than human into money. The most common use case of AI in Turkey as well as in many other countries is chatbots that answer consumers’ questions and direct them to the appropriate place or person. It is a common example of AI, and one, most people have experienced personally. Different applications of AI can be diversified in different areas such as fraud detection, predictions, optimization, product recommendation, pricing forecasts, recommendations and personalized marketing. We have seen some pilot uses for all these use cases in different sectors. But the real question is whether we have shared such a success study or not.
Especially AI, combined with a fast and robust infrastructure, provides the opportunity to access real-time data and reach every customer with personalized content at the right time and with the right message. Analytical and camera capabilities were on the agenda of every technology giant, but the real opportunity (“untapped opportunity”) lies in the lack of readiness for many companies’ platforms or products that will be worthwhile for daily life.
As Turkey, we should also increase our focus and investment on AI. Actually, we have really very valuable academicians and experts working on AI; however, these professionals mainly work abroad. One of my friends is currently the director of personalization platform of Netflix – one of the most advanced companies in terms of AI implications. On the other hand, another friend of mine is in a managerial role at Google autonomous vehicle, Waymo. We also have great start-ups developing state of the art AI use cases and many AI innovations. Great projects also take place in universities by researches and academicians. But these initiatives should be supported in a structured manner with a clear strategy. Currently, we have not seen concrete results on AI efforts.
In this period, AI is likely affect our lives more and more every day. It is important to strategically advance the work in this field in our country and to follow this focus systematically.
Question 3: We know that singularity, or the technological singularity, is the hypothetical belief that in the future, artificial intelligence will go beyond human intelligence and will visibly change civilization – the nature of humanity. So, what do you think about singularity? Can artificial intelligence go beyond human intelligence? Or will humans always be one step ahead, as artificial intelligence will develop at the same rate as humans?
As I mentioned, with the first appearance of AI concept 70 years ago, the major goal was to have systems levels same as humans. Today, platforms claiming to pass the famous Turing test are increasing day by day (Turing test refers to the situation in which the answer to a question asked by a person cannot be distinguished whether it is given by a human or by a machine). Google, at its recent events mentioned that the Google Assistant passed the Turing Test. However, it is not proper to claim that the test was passed with the examples that were tried in an extremely limited fiction. In the face of the uncertain processes we are in, machines that can understand and connect with human reactions, natural languages and our world as much as the human brain have not been built.
On the other hand, based on a recent Stanford report, AI computational power is accelerating faster than traditional processor development. Every three months, the speed of AI computation doubles, according to Stanford University’s 2019 AI Index report. These improvements show how fast AI is improving. But there is still a long way to go.
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I believe that singularity concept is exaggerated. Elon Musk’s Neuralink initiative is so crucial to be determined as a first step to reach augmented humans, but many factors will affect this vision. We still need time to see many of the most popular use cases of AI in our daily lives, like autonomous vehicles, physical robots, etc. So, singularity can be considered like a science fiction concept, but we should also be aware that there is a critical progress on this issue.
Besides, leaders in the fields of AI, including Elon Musk and Google DeepMind’s Mustafa Suleyman, have signed a letter calling on the United Nations to ban lethal autonomous weapons, otherwise known as “killer robots.” In their petition, the group states that the development of such technology would usher in a “third revolution in warfare,” that could equal the invention of gunpowder and nuclear weapons. The letter is signed by the founders of 116 AI and robotics companies from 26 countries,
Musk has a history of expressing serious concerns about the negative potential of AI. I agree with Elon Musk and believe that if we do not find ways to control the improvement of AI, we will not control it then. So, there should a global consensus for the sake of humanity. However, we should understand that AI will be one of the crucial factors that will affect the competition level of the countries. Russian president Putin stated that whichever country leads the way in AI research will come to dominate global affairs. So, it will not be easy to have such a global consensus, which will also result in accelerated crisis that will be shared by AI.
Thank you to Ergi Şener for the nice interview.
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