The predictive capability afforded by artificial intelligence puts businesses at a competitive advantage. This was spelled out at the AI & Big Data Congress which emphasised the importance of early adoption of this technology in generating more economic activity and jobs along with the support it provides in reworking organisational intelligence against today’s backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The director of the AI & Big Data Congress, Marc Torrent, who heads the Centre of Innovation for Data tech and Artificial Intelligence (CIDAI) and Eurecat’s Big Data & Data Science Unit, listed the areas of activity where a significant transfer of artificial intelligence is envisaged. They include agriculture, energy and sustainability, language and speech, mobility, health and wellbeing, education, cultural and experience-based industries and industry 4.0.

“Countries investing heavily in artificial intelligence will achieve more economic growth and consequently more business and job creation together with higher quality adoption anchored in its principles and not with imported technology,” said Daniel Marco, the Catalan Government’s Director General of Innovation and Digital Economy, in the welcome session at the congress.

Artificial intelligence “is perhaps one of the digital technologies which will have the greatest impact on enterprises, society and the community,” added Marco, who estimated that there are 180 businesses in this field in Catalonia which he pointed out have turnover coming to €1.35 billion.

“Artificial intelligence will be one of the factors that make businesses stand out,” agreed the President of Eurecat, Xavier Torra, who noted that the predictive capability afforded by this technology “enhances the value of data collection and processing”.

Torra believes that “artificial intelligence offers midsized companies affordable opportunities to stand out from the rest, to compete in markets which are increasingly challenging.”

Michael Donaldson, Commissioner of Technological Innovation, Electronic Administration and Good Governance at Barcelona City Council, ​​commented that “in addition to the predictive capability provided by understanding big data and artificial intelligence, there is also the ability to adapt” from the standpoint of “more personal, more collective, more organisational intelligence” given its significance in the current setting.

Donaldson said that Barcelona City Council is at present rolling out a Government Measure, a strategy to build in AI as a means of enhancing public service delivery with particular emphasis on the ethical implications to ensure that emerging technologies do not trigger further discrimination.

In his talk, Marc Torrent outlined the CIDAI’s objectives and listed some of its projects for 2020. They include using deep learning for diagnosing lung tumours, predicting accident rates to improve traffic control infrastructures, enhancing selective recycling and using machine learning in encrypted datasets while maintaining information confidentiality.

Trends and challenges

The congress featured a keynote by David Carmona, Microsoft’s General Manager of Artificial Intelligence and Innovation, who discussed the main scenarios where AI is being applied in the current context as well as the most important technological trends for the future.

In his view, after a period spent on pilot tests and evaluating and exploring artificial intelligence, “the present crisis has fast-tracked the stage of starting up AI tied to business results”.

“We are seeing how many enterprises are using it to respond to the crisis in much more tactical scenarios, while we will also see, when we slowly but surely get back to a new normal, how artificial intelligence will be a distinct tool for differentiation and will be part of reimagining business,” he argued.

Similarly, Carmona singled out process optimisation, employee productivity and customer service as three scenarios in which “artificial intelligence can very easily lend a hand today with no need for major investment”.

Oriol Vinyals, Research Director in Deep Learning at Google DeepMind, also talked about the latest trends in machine learning and outlined the challenges and breakthroughs in deep learning which are likely to happen in the next few years.

“Often the easiest solutions end up being the best” for developing products designed to solve a problem said Vinyals. He thinks that the time between the development of an idea and its market implementation is getting shorter as a result of improved communication and procedures involving researchers, product managers and software engineers.

The AI & Big Data Congress is a CIDAI initiative coordinated by Eurecat and sponsored by the Catalan Government, the SDG Group, Microsoft, everis and CaixaBank.