AI Talk: “Turning Point” and emerging technologies

Jan. 8, 2021 / By V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD

Let me start by wishing everyone the very best for 2021! As vaccines begin to be distributed, with any luck we will return to a new normal by early summer. Let’s all pray for a better tomorrow and decade ahead.

Aerial view of a Downtown Los Angeles at sunset

Turning point. Policymaking in the Era of Artificial Intelligence. Darrel West and John Allen

Turning Point, the latest book from the Brookings Institution focuses on policy. The focus is how to harness the power of AI while negating its shortcomings. The topics range from smart cities, health care, education, transportation, e-commerce and defense. Recurring themes include privacy, security, ethics and bias in AI solutions. These are all topics of frequent discussion in the AI community.

One topic, however, was more interesting—that of risk. How do you manage risk? If a driverless car has an accident, is the software developer to blame? What about a wrong diagnosis? The authors advocate an approach of product liability, which has fairly established precedence. There needs to be oversight and regulation across the board, with industry specific fine tuning. At the core, we need understandable AI with clear explanations of its decision making process. Third party certifications of AI solutions to ensure the AI does what it does ethically and without bias. Military and dual-use technology requires even more vigilance. War making should not be delegated to autonomous systems but incorporate humans in the loop.

The book covers a fair number of comparisons to Chinese progress in developing and deploying solutions. One fairly egregious example is China’s system of assigning a “social credit score,” which is a system of monitoring and collecting data on every aspect of a person’s social interactions to decide whether a person is a good or bad risk as far as credit goes. Clearly, this is not an approach we want to adopt in democratic republics. The authors include lots of cues for the incoming administration on what needs to be done to guide the AI train towards prosperity for all.

Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2020, World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum is an organization quite famous for its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where billionaires and the world’s most powerful leaders congregate to ponder the future of world economies. A couple of months ago they released a report highlighting 10 emerging technologies that have the potential to significantly impact the world this coming decade (2). The list is indeed interesting! Here is the gist of the report:

  1. Microneedles the size of a single hair used to deliver meds through patches
  2. Sun-powered alchemy to convert carbon dioxide to useful chemicals
  3. Virtual patients: technology to simulate human organs that can reduce the need for human trials of various treatments.
  4. Spatial computing that blurs the distinction between physical and virtual worlds thereby seamlessly allowing the user to both interact with and assist in whatever task is being carried out
  5. Digital medicine: the roll out of apps that not only diagnose using sensors, but also treat individuals for a variety of conditions
  6. Electric aviation: technology that can revolutionize air travel (at least short flights) and reduce pollution from fuel and noise
  7. Lower-carbon cement: a technology that can put a dent on eight percent of global carbon dioxide released from cement use throughout the world
  8. Quantum sensing: a technology that can see around bends and a whole host of futuristic applications.
  9. Green hydrogen: the ability to generate this potent fuel in a very efficient manner, in contrast to grey and blue hydrogen, which apparently use fossil fuels to generate fuel. I didn’t know hydrogen came in such an array of colors!
  10. Whole-genome synthesis: Gene technology is progressing rapidly and has the potential for not only creating new vaccines but curing a whole host of genetic maladies.

Glancing at the above list makes me feel quite optimistic about the future. What’s more, the researchers had to cull the above list from 150 promising technologies! There are many more technologies that are sure to play a significant role in our lives.


For both of the articles above, I am grateful to my long-time, half-a-century old friends – Chandy and Sadashiv.

I am always looking for feedback and if you would like me to cover a story, please let me know. “See something, say something!” Leave me a comment below or ask a question on my blogger profile page.

V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD, is Director of Research for 3M M*Modal and is an AI Evangelist with four decades of experience in AI and Computer Science research.