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UN hails AI's 'quantum leap' in tech

04 Feb 2019

The United Nations says that the artificial intelligence boom is continuing to build up- in just five years, more than 170,000 patented ideas that use AI have already been filed, suggesting that it could soon revolutionise all areas of daily life.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Technology Trends Report found that half of all patents for AI have been published in the last five years – a marked upsurge since the initial boom that started in 2001.

According to WIPO director general Francis Gurry the upsurge is ‘striking’. Although AI research started in the 1950s, what’s happening now is part of a fast-moving field.

China and the United States dominate patent applications. IBM was responsible for 8290 patents, while Microsoft followed at 5930.  Japan-based Toshiba filed 5223 patents and Samsung filed 5502.

According to the report, Chinese organisations also make up 17 out of the top 20 academic spots in AI patenting, and 10 out of the top 20 in AI-related scientific publications.

The fastest-growing area within artificial intelligence is deep learning, which is commonly used in speech recognition. 

According to the report, deep learning saw a 175% annual increase in patent applications from 2013 to 2016, far in excess of the 33% average for all patents in the same period.

The biggest AI opportunities are beyond software, according to AI expert Andrew Ng. “It’s very difficult for other countries, even those with great education, to compete with the business, engineering and investing talent” that China and the United States provide, he says.

He also believes agriculture, healthcare, and manufacturing are also growth areas that could benefit from AI.

There is also massive potential for military applications of AI, according to Francis Gurry.

“One would expect that the strategic focus of major geopolitical players will turn to their positioning in relation to AI,” he says.  However, there needs to be discussions about legal and ethical issues that relate to intellectual property rights, he believes.

In addition to the US and China’s large populations, Gurry says that it is important to have state-led support for innovation in both places, which included investing in technology hubs and even training specialised patent officers.

“Is it (AI) good news or bad news?” Asks Gurry.

“Well, I would tend to say that all technology is somewhat neutral, and it depends on what you do with it. So, insofar as you may use AI science and techniques for developing autonomous weapons systems that are going to kill us all, is not very good news, but insofar as it’s being used to improve health indicators for diagnostics, for other purposes, it’s great news.”

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