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The centralization of the data powering the AI software

mfalcon 0

Artificial Intelligence powered software is everywhere and it’s spreading massively, so it’s a pretty safe guess to say that in a short time span, even small unconnected businesses are going to rely on AI algorithms to run their daily operations. If they refuse they could give a competitive advantage to similar businesses that use AI and then start an downwards spiral in their income.

Nowadays, if a small or medium business wants to engage with AI powered systems they have two options:

1) Invest and risk a big amount of money in order to build an in-house team and to get access to sophisticated hardware.

2) Invest a significant lower amount (decreasing the risk too) than the previous option to pay a third party to provide the AI as a service.

A lot of small or medium businesses are taking the second option. Which are usually the most “reasonable” providers? The data, hardware resources and people talent giants like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and so on. That massive amount of resources gives these giants a pretty big competitive advantage against smaller companies, they can offer best performing AI algorithms at a lower cost because of their economy of scale.

This is extremely dangerous, because their systems improve with the feedback of their customers and with the ever increasing stream of data coming from several sources (the data of this customers being one of them), making competing with them more difficult as time passes.

The capitalist system allows this kind of processes to occur and we can accept it as the rules of the game, but the biggest problem is that we’re giving them our data, what do we search for, what do we consume, what do we do for leisure, all of this centralized in a few giant companies from the same country.

Data is power, by giving our data to these companies we are allowing them to increase the gap between the powerful and the weak, the weak being smaller companies trying to compete with them, smaller companies depending on their services and people being more easily manipulated by having more information about them.

The data these companies collect is used to train AI algorithms, which are then used to make decisions about which people are going to get a credit, what is the cost of insurance to someone who buys a car, if a person is allowed to travel to another country and a lot of other things that impacts our lives. What happens if their AI algorithms are biased in some way? What consequences do you think that would have in our lives? (hint: they already have biased decision making algorithms in production).

So we are giving our data to these powerful companies which they use to get even bigger and to improve their competitive barriers and also we are at the mercy of their biased algorithms, which can take decisions which have an impact in our lives. Sounds good?

What can we do?

I think we still have some opportunities to improve this situation and take some power and autonomy back. I obviously don’t know if there’s a chance to revert this trend, but it’s always better to think and act to make something we think could be useful for the society, the least we can do is to try.

Some ideas:

– Build and share easily accessible open source tools for companies to create AI tools in-house without the need of costly and specialized resources. An example for this kind of tools would be this one by Max Woolf.

– Work towards an AI accountability framework (documentation and tools) which can help companies assess if their data is biased in some way and suggest a plan of action to solve this problem.

– Demand our governments to create a concious AI strategy for the country to follow, for example by making it easier for small companies to create data collection departments on which people can label data in an ethical way.

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