June 2020, it’s the beginning of winter in Brisbane, and COVID-related challenges and conversations are as ubiquitous as free webinars and Queenslanders complaining about the cold. With this in mind, when preparing to co-facilitate the latest installment of Real World Futures presented by QUTeX – Artificial Intelligence & Smart Cities, I was not overly surprised by the 1000+ registrations ranging from Cairo to Cairns and everywhere in between. Yet, when logging in 30 minutes prior to recording and seeing 400+ people in the virtual waiting room, it was clear that we had a topic worth talking about, but what triggered such attention?
To say AI has reached buzzword status would be an understatement. Anecdotally, as a Partnership Manager at QUTeX, my conversations with corporate leaders usually involve insights into the latest investigation or integration of the newest digital tool or technology solution. Indeed, AI is quickly becoming reality for most businesses today. Yet, I wonder if we are at risk of becoming too complacent? Or are we yet to fully embrace the possibilities of AI?
The RWF presentation: The present, the possible, and interplanetary exploration
The keynote was Tan Yigitcanlar, an Associate Professor at the QUT School of Civil Engineering and Built Environment. Tan has been researching the prevalence of artificial intelligence (AI) and in recent years has been documenting how AI is beginning to manifest itself at an unprecedented pace and uncovering its impact on our cities. In promoting Tan’s presentation, we posed the question, how prepared are we to alleviate the destructive effect of AI on our cities and societies?
Tan explored of the levels of AI and some of the milestone moments from history from reactive and limited memory machines, such as IBM’s Deep Blue in 1997 and Google’s Alpha Go in 2016, through to today’s research into emotionally-sensitive chatbots, for example. The latter feeds into ‘theory of mind AI’ and then with greater knowledge we progress to ‘self-aware AI’. Both levels certainly piqued interest amongst participants; especially when Tan encouraged thoughts of intergalactic exploration. However, rather than divulge in speculation and the world of science fiction, Tan quickly drew us back to the current reality and AI’s application to our current economy, environment, and society.
It was paradoxical in a way that we were talking about advancing at such pace, but then snapping back to the limitations of current applications and research. I suppose that’s why Tan is arguing that we have moved beyond the point of passive engagement to disruption. We need to consider how to alleviate the destructive effect of AI on our cities and societies and focus on preparedness. Tan suggests preparedness requires breaking down the silos within which the technologies are created, introducing the concept of ‘citizen scientists’, and using a ‘quadruple helix’ of combined public, private, academic, and community engagement. In doing so, we increase the level of collaboration and accountability but most importantly trust.
Undeniably, AI is here to stay, and Tan outlined how we have already gleaned innumerable benefits from business efficiencies in data analytics to improved health and education outcomes, as well as applications in energy, security, transport, and governance to name a few more. Beyond this, it is apparent that our current environment is ripe for disruption, with a burgeoning rise of AI-Powered companies in our postcrisis world.
But where does this interest in AI begin and end? Why is there such interest?
The possibilities and the partnerships
With the possibilities seemingly endless, most organisations, I would assume, are already on a digital transformation journey. Yet, in my experience, it is too often a series of reactive engagements and ‘playing catch-up’. I would suggest most have employed automated decision-making with AI, as it is an increasingly popular application and is being introduced into the market at a rapid pace. Guidelines and governance are quickly catching up to ensure best practice is observed. Moreover, we are largely cognizant of current limitations and biases, since automated systems have the potential to significantly impact the rights and privacy of individuals, from bank loan applications through to medical prognoses. However, ascertaining the digital maturity or indeed the capability of your organisation is much harder.
If your business has the appetite for digital thought leadership, life-long learning and partnering with a future-focussed education provider, the QUTeX Digital Capability Practice is currently connecting with government and corporate organisations to share contemporary research, analysis, advisory services and education to guide leaders and their businesses to digital business transformation success. QUTeX is here to prepare you and your business to take advantage of digital opportunities and to manage digital threats by developing your competencies across three domains – from digital information and data literacy, to digital strategy development and digital ethics.
* * * * *
To learn more about the possibilities of a partnership with QUTeX, connect with us via: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lastly, if you are not already subscribed to our mailing list QUTeX Connect, sign up here: https://alumni-and-friends.qut.edu.au/qutex-connect-subscription
 Candelon, F., Reichert, T., Duranton, S., Charme di Carlo, R., & De Bondt, M. (2020). The Rise of the AI-Powered Company in the Postcrisis World. BCG Global. Retrieved 21 July 2020, from https://www.bcg.com/publications/2020/business-applications-artificial-intelligence-post-covid.
 (Candelon et al., 2020).
 Commonwealth Ombudsman. (2020). Automated Decision-making – Better Practice Guide. Canberra. Retrieved 21 July 2020, from https://www.ombudsman.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0030/109596/OMB1188-Automated-Decision-Making-Report_Final-A1898885.pdf
 (Commonwealth Ombudsman, 2020)
 Nelson, G. (2019). Bias in Artificial Intelligence. North Carolina Medical Journal, 80(4), 220-222. https://doi.org/10.18043/ncm.80.4.220