Artificial intelligence is here to stay

A mixed bag of robots, startups, scientists, and investors was what Umeå Tech Arena’s thought provocative evening offered.

Artificial intelligence, AI, is here to stay, but it’s a long way before all visions and dreams on what it may accomplish are fulfilled. Actually that will probably never happen.

This was the conclusion Johanna Björklund, one of the speakers at Umeå Tech Arena, made as the Norrland’s Opera was filled with close to 500 curious soles, eager to get to know the latest tech developments in robots and machine intelligence.

Johanna Björklund is an entrepreneur and the CEO for startup company Smart Video, and co-founder of the IT-company Codemill. In addition to this, she’s also a researcher at Computing Science at Umeå University. With one foot in the startup community and the other in the frontline of research, she embodies recent years’ happy marriage between entrepreneurship and academia in Umeå.

For the continued development and growth of Umeå as a tech city, where artificial intelligence becomes increasingly important, this kind of symbiosis is important. The positive effect of this symbiosis became evident during Umeå Tech Arena, as many of the speakers, Johanna Björklund included, combine research with running a business.

Robots in shops

Thomas Hellström, Professor in Computing Science and a colleague of Johanna Björklund, is also one of the founders of the startup Factify.

– We are developing personal assistant with AI for shopping, says Thomas Hellström while showing several examples on how robots have been tested to help guide customers in in Japanese shops.

– It was very interesting, says Simon Norberg, owner of the store Children’s House. I went to Thomas Hellström immediately after his presentation, to find out how we can learn and see more of this technique.

Can a robot have feelings?

Thomas Hellström had company of the robot Pepper on stage, a fun surprise for many in the audience. It turned out that Pepper not only could have a dialogue with one of the evening’s moderators, Anders Blomberg, but that Pepper also had a sense of humor. Well, at least it was perceived as humor when the robot and Anders were joking with each other on stage.

But, the question is if a robot really can have a sense of humor. Can a machine have feelings? One of the fundamental questions that Johanna Björklund brought up in her talk.

– Will robots have rights? Can we make machines that, in a way, are living, feeling, and sentient beings? She asked as she opened up for discussions about ethics and choices and the crossroad we are facing, as machines are becoming increasingly intelligent.

– In the future we will apply pieces of AI on to new areas, we will find out what is easy for AI and what is hard. It is a jungle, but I am optimistic about the development, Johanna Björklund states.

Many speakers

During the evening there was a long row of speakers with more examples on the developments in artificial intelligence. Johan Tordsson, researcher at Computing Science and CTO at the startup Elastisys, told us about making the IT systems that surrounds us more intelligent. Henrik Rehbinder explained how the company Lexplore makes use of AI to test reading ability. Klara Leander and Magnus Bergmark from Doberman talked about how they, as investors, look for people with great ideas to invest in.

AI is growing internationally

Christian Guttmann, global head of AI at Tieto, showed that artificial intelligence is a gigantic internationally growing tech area, with the US and China in the lead.

– AI will have an effect on everything we do. Self-driving cars will reduce the pollution and we will have fewer car accidents. As a consequence this may reduce the number of organs available for transplantations, since most organs come from people who die in traffic accidents, as Christian Guttmann explained.

He pointed out many challenges that lie ahead and that ethical rules and regulations for AI will be a key issue to address.

Umeå’s role in artificial intelligence

Helena Lindgren, researcher in Computing Science, finished by telling how Umeå will step up, to be part of the international development on artificial intelligence. For instance, more AI researchers will be employed at Umeå University and Umeå will play an active role in arranging the world’s largest research conference on artificial intelligence that takes place in Stockholm, July 2018. And these were only a few of the examples.