AI, meet AL

Hanging with a robot in Korea

It was always going to happen. As the world speeds inexorably towards the internet of every-single-damn-thing and data dungheaps smother every corner of life, my career at the keyboard was inevitably going to run into artificial intelligence.

I suppose that it’s best that at least I’m writing about AI, and it’s not writing about me – yet. The project is called “Kulturtechniken 4.0” and is a major part of my new role with Goethe-Institut Australia, a German language and culture institute in Sydney where I now work part-time as online editor.

In a team of five, I am writing about the interplay between AI and cultural techniques (things like writing, singing, making music, painting and so on). It’s been a challenge getting the group work going during the social isolation of COVID-19, but we are not alone in that regard and we have been so fortunate in Australia so far in this pandemic, I dare not utter a word of complaint.

But it has been tough trying to crank out a story a week on topics that most people go to university for a decade, just so they can understand. How do you write a story on music recognition technology or neural machine translation when you struggle to understand it yourself? Answer: keep it simple and keep thinking of the reader. And find LOTS of experts to help you along the way.

I’ve learned something else too. When I started the project a month ago, I thought my interactions with AI had been pretty minimal so far – limited to hanging out with dopey robots in South Korea for instance, or teasing someone’s personal assistant when I go over to someone’s house. Turns out I’m feeding data into artificial intelligence systems pretty much every day of my life and I didn’t even know it.

Here’s one for instance.  You know those times you’re asked to “click the box where you see a bus” and you think you’re clever because you can prove you are not a bot? Well, by doing that, you’re teaching a machine system, somewhere, to recognise buses. You are helping an AI system to learn. We’re all part of it now.


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