Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools realities: 5 questions to ask your developers

IT leaders need to understand some hard truths of Artificial Intelligence tools in order to shape AI strategy. Consider these key questions to discuss with your developers 
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Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools that just a few years ago would have been found only at the most cutting-edge companies are now becoming commonplace. But while specialized hardware, software, and frameworks may be more mainstream these days, the knowledge and experience to use them effectively has not kept up.

Here are five essential questions to ask your development teams before you finalize your AI strategy.

1. What do you mean when you say you want to use AI tools?

Artificial Intelligence covers a broad range of definitions, algorithms, approaches, tools, and solutions. For example, there are the underlying approaches such as machine learning (both supervised and unsupervised), and rule-based systems. On top of these approaches are packages that provide solutions from image recognition to  natural language processing (NLP). Which approaches and tools are the best for addressing the problem?

[ Check out our primer on 10 key artificial intelligence terms for IT and business leaders: Cheat sheet: AI glossary. ]

Developers need to choose the right tool for the problem at hand. BERT, GPT, and other complex neural network-based approaches might often be in the headlines but that doesn’t mean they’re the most appropriate tool for most use cases. The simplest algorithm that solves the problem is typically best and innovation leaders should be sure their teams are selecting their tools accordingly, not based on hype.

The simplest algorithm is typically best and innovation leaders should be sure their teams are selecting their tools accordingly.

2. How well do you understand the problem you want AI to solve?

The goal of AI tools is to mimic human intelligence – so how well do you understand the problem? Is the approach that subject matter experts take to solve the problem well understood? What is the expected accuracy of the subject matter expert? How confident are you that the AI tool can meet or exceed that level of accuracy?

If your developers are not experts in the domain where the AI will be trained – and they probably aren’t – they’ll likely need input from subject matter experts in that field. These experts will need to work alongside data scientists and engineers to craft, tune, and evaluate the models, so it’s important to designate knowledgeable experts the development team can turn to with questions.

Also keep in mind that even experts make mistakes, so don’t expect an AI system trained on a non-trivial problem to be perfect either. AI may be able to compete at or above human levels in chess, Go, and Jeopardy, but these narrow domains are outliers rather than the rule. Be realistic about how well the system can be expected to perform – claims that AI systems will surpass their human counterparts in terms of quality and accuracy rarely turn out to be true.

3. Many AI tools depend on data for machine learning. What data do you have?

Algorithms are only as good as the data they are given. Machine learning models can require massive quantities of data to build accurate statistical models. Depending on the use case and the algorithm, data requirements can range from thousands to millions of examples. Is the data available? Has the quality of the data been checked? Bias inherent in the data is also an issue – can you be sure that the data doesn’t include biases?

[ How can you guard against AI bias? Read also AI bias: 9 questions for IT leaders to ask. ]

Many leaders believe they have mass quantities of valuable untapped data just waiting to be mined by an AI algorithm. And it’s true that most companies maintain logs, transactions, old emails, customer information databases, and so on – but frequently that data is noisy, inconsistent, or unsuited for training an AI system for the task you want to address.

A thorough assessment of the available training data is a prerequisite for any AI endeavor. In some cases, data preparation can take up to 90 percent of the development effort in an AI project, so validating the quality of the data available should be a top priority from the beginning.

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Taylor Peer is the director of data science at Cortical.io, where he and his team develop software products infused with state-of-the-art machine learning approaches to solve real-world AI problems in industry. He has a Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering from the Vienna University of Technology.

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