Robot Microscopes, AI Bias Among IBM’s 5 ‘Life in 2023’ Predictions

IBM Research predicts that tiny AI-powered microscopes will be able to monitor plankton in the world's oceans. Credit: IBM Research

March 19, 2018      

Predictions around artificial intelligence and robotics are two of the five innovations that IBM Research today announced at its inaugural THINK conference in Las Vegas. IBM said its annual “5 in 5” predictions, such as robot microscopes, are “five technologies that we believe have the potential to change the way people work, live, and interact during the next five years.”

In the AI and robotics space, IBM has predicted two innovations:

  • “Our oceans are dirty. AI-powered robot microscopes may save them: Small autonomous AI microscopes, networked in the cloud and deployed around the world, will continually monitor in real time the health of one of Earth’s most important and threatened resource: water.”
  • “AI bias will explode. But only unbiased AI will survive: Our AI systems are only as good as the data they’re trained on. While biased data can inspire unfair results, IBM believes AI actually holds the key to helping us identify the prejudices hiding in our data – so we can build better systems, and become better humans. IBM researchers are already progressing a testing system to get us there.”
IBM AI autonomous microscope

IBM researcher and Master Inventor Tom Zimmerman with his invention, an autonomous AI microscope. Credit: Tony Avelar/Feature Photo Service for IBM

The company’s three other predictions were around cryptographic anchors and blockchain, lattice cryptography, and quantum computers leaving the lab and becoming mainstream.

Robot microscopes save the seas

For its prediction around AI-powered robot microscopes, IBM said its researchers are building “small, autonomous microscopes that can be placed in bodies of water to monitor plankton in situ, identifying different species and tracking their movement in three dimensions.”

The microscopes rely on an imager chip that captures the shadow of the plankton as it swims over the chip, “generating a digital sample of its health, without the need for focusing (since there’s no lens),” IBM said.

In addition, high-performance, low-powered AI technology could analyze and interpret the data locally, “reporting any abnormalities in real-time so they could be acted upon immediately.”

Purging AI of bias

In its other AI prediction, this one around AI bias, the company stated that “AI systems are only as good as the data we put into them. Bad data can contain implicit racial, gender, or ideological biases.”

IBM said it believes that bias can be tamed, and those systems that can tackle bias will be the most successful.

IBM says its researchers have devised a methodology to test AI systems, “even when the training data is not available,” proposing an independent bias rating system that determines the fairness of an AI system.

“As AI systems find, understand, and point out human inconsistencies in decision making, they could also reveal ways in which we are partial, parochial, and cognitively biased, leading us to adopt more impartial or egalitarian views,” IBM said.

The THINK conference runs from today through Thursday, March 22. IBM is live-streaming many of the sessions, including additional content around AI, the Internet of Things, and deep learning.