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(Yonhap Feature) Artificial intelligence gains momentum among IT companies.

2017/03/31 09:00

By Kim Han-joo

SEOUL, March 31 (Yonhap) -- Artificial intelligence (AI), for the past few decades, used to be a staple of science fiction films in which a future was depicted as being full of robots that are as smart as humans. In "A.I. Artificial Intelligence," directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 2001, a robotic boy even dreams of becoming "real" so he can gain the love of his human parents.

Now, AI and cybernetics are moving beyond the realm of fiction and are penetrating deeper into our everyday lives. Without realizing it, AI has started to exert considerable influence on our daily lives, ranging from voice-recognized personal assistants like Google Inc.'s Siri and Amazon Inc.'s Alexa, to more fundamental technologies such as deep learning algorithms.

The sharp interest in AI is being spearheaded by not only global Internet giants like Google, Amazon and IBM Corp. but also a string of startups in the sector that are trying to acquire the core AI technologies such as machine learning, automatic translation, self-driving cars and smart robotics.

U.S. tech firm Google is clearly the leader in this field, by first grabbing the attention of the public through a high-profile match between its AI program AlphaGo and South Korean Go champ Lee Se-dol in 2016.

The historic victory of AlphaGo highlighted how a computer software has mastered the ancient Chinese board game that was considered impossible for computers to win and showed how far machine learning has progressed.

The photo shows the historic Go match was held between Google Inc.'s Artificial Intelligence program AlphaGo and South Korean Go champ Lee Se-dol. (Yonhap) The photo shows the historic Go match was held between Google Inc.'s Artificial Intelligence program AlphaGo and South Korean Go champ Lee Se-dol. (Yonhap)

Adding to its deep learning platform, Google has applied its AI technology to a translation platform by becoming the first to introduce its Neural Machine Translation (NMT) system last year that significantly improves translation quality and reduces errors.

The NMT system is based on a deep learning framework that learns from millions of examples from over 100 different languages. Unlike previous machine translations that were adopted 10 years ago, the new system considers an entire sentence as one unit. Previous systems independently translated words and phrases within a sentence.

"The way Google Translate works is that it crawls and indexes content that is already translated by humans," said Barak Turovsky, who is responsible for product management for Google Translate.

Like the historic Go match, a group of four professional translators competed against three AI-powered programs provided by Google, South Korea's top Internet provider Naver Inc. and leading automated interpretation company Systran International earlier this year.

At the event, professional translators did better in translating random English articles -- literature and non-literature -- into Korean and Korean articles into English than the machines. Among the AI-powered translators, Google scored higher than its rival AI machines.

"Google Translate increases accuracy in full sentence translations, and the figure quality is expected to get higher as more data piles up over time," said Lois Kim, a Google Korea official.

An Artificial Intelligence-based translation software in a competition against professional human translators in Seoul on Feb. 21, 2017. (Yonhap) An Artificial Intelligence-based translation software in a competition against professional human translators in Seoul on Feb. 21, 2017. (Yonhap)

The translation platform currently converts phrases and sentences from English to eight other languages, including Korean. The company said it plans to apply NMT to other languages in its translation service. Google's AI can not only understand languages like Korean, but can now translate between two languages it has not even been trained to.

In addition to automated translation, Google also adopted a machine learning algorithm to its computer vision model of Google Photos to produce captions that can accurately describe images. The service -- both available online and through mobile applications -- can back up, organize and label the photos automatically so that the users can quickly find them.

"We hope the computer vision model goes beyond average human level," Neil Alldrin, an engineer at Google's image search team, told reporters in March.

Watson, IBM's AI-powered system, has worked in fields like health care, finance and retail to utilize big data and help doctors find treatments for cancer, one of the leading causes of death in the world.

Noticeably, Watson for Oncology is designed to assist doctors to make more informed treatment decisions by analyzing a patient's medical information against a vast array of data and expertise to provide evidence-based treatment options.

Last year, Gachon University Gil Medical Center in Seoul employed Watson for the first time in the world to assist doctors in diagnosing cancer.

Earlier this month, the Busan National University Hospital located in South Korea's second largest city and Konyang University Hospital at the central part of the country also adopted the system to assist the oncologists.

"Watson makes a decision based on solid proof from real-time medical data that comes out every day. With the help of Watson, doctors can find the best treatment solution," said Park Geon-wook, an oncologist at Dongsan Medical Center.

Since doctors are struggling to keep up with the large volume of research and medical records that are produced day after day, Watson scales vital knowledge by analyzing the meaning and context of data, IBM said.

Andrew Norden, Deputy Chief Health Officer at IBM Watson Health, said AI devices like Watson were created to help doctors, not to replace them. The doctor added that Watson can become human doctors' greatest helper, predicting more hospitals will adopt the system in the near future.

The AI technology can also be found on roads as automated vehicles are starting to appear, with global carmakers and tech firms like Google BMW and Mercedes-Benz leading the trend.

Google first began testing an automated vehicle in 2012 and the transportation department in the United States announced definitions of different levels of automation, which was later adopted by most of the countries in the world.

 South Korea's top Internet portal operator Naver Corp. joined a race here for the development of autonomous cars after gaining government permission for a road test of its autonomous vehicle. (Photo courtesy of Naver Corp.) (Yonhap) South Korea's top Internet portal operator Naver Corp. joined a race here for the development of autonomous cars after gaining government permission for a road test of its autonomous vehicle. (Photo courtesy of Naver Corp.) (Yonhap)

South Korea's top Internet portal operator Naver Corp. also recently joined a race here for the development of autonomous cars after gaining government permission for a road test of its autonomous vehicle.

The vehicle was the 13th self-driving car to have obtained a license plate in South Korea since the transportation ministry introduced a temporary license system for self-driving cars under development in February 2016.

Among other local developers of self-driving cars are top automakers Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. The two, along with their auto-parts-making affiliate Hyundai Mobis Co., have obtained test licenses for six self-driving cars.

Despite the convenience that AI can bring to everyday life, the growth of technology has raised other questions and even concerns of allowing machines to think for themselves, with some having reservations that such developments will pose a threat to humanity.

Experts and academia are divided over the issue, with one side saying that jobs could become extinct due to such technological advances once AI becomes smarter than humans. On the other hand, many experts say that AI will only serve to strengthen a human's capabilities.

"AI is sometimes misunderstood as the technology that will replace humans. However, the core value of AI is that it enhances human's ability so that they could do jobs that they were unable to do before," said Kim Jin-hyung, chief of private-funded AI Research Center. "The result depends on how humans utilize AI and there is a need for further discussion on the ethical and social implications."

   khj@yna.co.kr

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