When AI Conquers Emotion

09.01.18
R.Farrell/ITU
Health + Tech /01 Sep 2018
09.01.18

When AI Conquers Emotion

While AI is doing some incredibly impressive things, we humans remain superior to machines because of our ability to empathize with others. This is what makes us great nurses, teachers, friends and colleagues.

The biggest hurdle for artificial intelligence – and probably the main reason we aren’t absolutely terrified of being completely taken over by robots – is emotion. Humans and robots continue to remain separated by emotional intelligence; it’s the last unconquered corner for developers.

But the emotional gaps between humans and artificial intelligence are closing in, thanks to AI investors such as Tej Kohli Ventures, backed by the billionaire philanthropist, and experts predict it will only be a few decades before robots can recognise different emotions. AI can already recognise faces and speech, for example. And in China, where there’s an increasing prevalence of entrepreneurs, the country’s largest smartphone engineer is working on an AI machine right now that can read human emotions.

Huawei, who launched a voice assistant in China in 2013 and has 100 million users every day, is looking at intelligent voice assistants, and how conversations between assistants and users can become more emotionally interactive, according to reports. At the moment, we use voice assistants like Alexa and Cortana in a completely functional way, such as asking what the weather is going to be like, or whether our favorite brunch restaurant is open.

But one of the experts behind Huawei’s latest venture recently told CBNC that the company wants to provide people with emotional interactions, and the first step is to give the voice assistant a high IQ, before working on giving it a high emotional “EQ.”

It will need to be able to respond appropriately to people, first. For example, if a user is angry, the voice assistant would know not to play angry music and make the person feel worse. However, the company hasn’t specified how soon it will be before such technology is available.

But the development of AI to reach emotional capabilities similar to humans raises some questions. First, some experts argue that humans aren’t always very emotionally intelligent themselves. We’ve all said the wrong thing and put our foot in it more than once. Another criticism levelled at the concept is that the developers of such technology should, and might not have, a sophisticated understanding of human emotion and all its complexities.

The question remains how programmers will develop AI systems that interact with and react to humans fairly and responsibly based on diversity. For example, in February 2018 MIT’s researchers accidentally designed a facial recognition system that couldn’t recognise an African American woman because its team of white male coders had not been trained to do so.

This also suggests that Huawei’s emotional voice assistant technology would need to be adapted in other parts of the world, where people behave, express emotions and interact differently, and where social and cultural norms differ.

So there’s still a long way to go, and a lot to consider, but developers and interested parties like Tej Kohli Investments are on their way to tackling emotional intelligence, the last hurdle of AI.

How algorithms are helping develop medical implants

AI is at the forefront of medical and surgical advancement – making operations more efficient, and fulfilling work humans just can’t do alone. And this is an area investors such as Tej Kohli Ventures, backed by the billionaire philanthropist, are very interested in. One area of rapid advancement is 3D printing, and using algorithms to design and build medical objects that would otherwise take years to complete.

Spinal implants are usually made from plastic, because the material is porous and less rigid than metal. And one of the biggest problems in this area of medicine is achieving fusion between the bone and the implant. If this doesn’t happen, it can lead to the patient requiring further surgeries.

A California medical company, NuVasive, has come up with a solution to these problems by inventing a titanium spinal implant that fits between two vertebrae, mimicking the porous texture of bone, as well as its stiffness. It will help overcome the problems of bone and implant fusions.

The implant can help accelerate bone growth after back surgery, and NuVasive has proved through its own research that its design is stronger than plastic. It wasn’t an easy task making the implant porous and strong, so the team turned to an algorithm to help.

NuVasive set up certain guidelines, such as the weight and porousness of the implant, into a Dreamcatcher programme that then produced solutions of how it can be done. A designer picked the best model, and then NuVasie produced it with the help of a 3D printer, which used titanium.

Titanium fitted the brief perfectly because of its strength, light weight and it shows up easily on X-rays. The lattice, asymmetric design of the implant also lent itself well to titanium. The implant only comes in one size, but the developers will soon be able to make designs to fit individual patients that will match their specific needs and bone density.

NuVasive aren’t the only ones using 3D printing algorithms for medical advancement. Francis Bitonti, 3D-printing expert, has used algorithms to design a scoliosis brace containing 75% less material than conventional alternatives, and which can also be tailored to individual patients. Scoliosis, the abnormal twisting of the spine, often requires surgery, but this brace, which can be worn for several hours a day, could help prevent that.

And it’s not only the finished result; 3D printing is also revolutionising prototyping medical devices. It typically takes months and years to design, test and engineer prototypes, but with 3D printing, the process can be much faster. Product designers can see their designs in a matter of hours which means that this is a lucrative industry for investors like Tej Kohli Investments. This reduces costs, as well as the turnaround time for making and testing improvements.

With implants and prosthetic limbs, as well as medical equipment and models of anatomical areas to show patients before a surgery or teach medical students – the world of 3D printing is rapidly improving and becoming more prevalent and personalised, both in the West, and in the East, where there’s an increasing prevalence of entrepreneurs.

When healthcare becomes the next Amazon

As technology evolves and the internet becomes more prevalent, we’ll have virtual reality GP appointments and AI health checks around the home, for a start.

And while the behemoth Amazon has become the internet’s retail model, healthcare has started to look to the online seller for inspiration, too. Though we’ve long been buying books online, we might soon be purchasing medical services, too – with start-ups attracting the attention of investors such as Tej Kohli Ventures, backed by the billionaire philanthropist.

Tech start-up Lavanya Plus is offering just this through its platform WeMa Life, which aims to be the “Amazon of care.” The east London company Lavanya, meaning “with grace,” brings together health and wellbeing providers into one place for patients to search, book and pay easily from the comfort of their homes.

The company was founded in 2016 by 52-year-old CEO Rohit, his wife and CFO Rajal Patni and their son Vivek, after Rajal had difficulties finding care for her elderly father when he fell ill. They found there to be a lack of coordination, and they wanted to improve the experience for other people.

The app offers a place for the 800,000 employees working in the care industry, most of whom won’t have sophisticated automated digital platforms, according to Rohit, who brings 30 years’ experience of working in IT and the payments market. His wife Rajal has spent more than two decades working in construction, technology and outsourcing, while son Vivek, CCO, has a degree in biomedical sciences.

They started with 12 months of market research, surveying 2,000 adults, and found that 15% were informal care takers who spent an average of 13 hours per week caring, cleaning, cooking and doing other care-related duties. Of these, almost half said it was difficult to find a reputable healthcare provider when they needed one, and two thirds would like to see an online solution to make looking for services easier.

They found that people were finding it difficult to source the right service from the right provider at a reasonable price, and, according to Rohit, the NHS is pushing more people towards managing their own care.

They launched the online marketplace WeMa, short for ‘wellness management,’ in April last year. Customers can search, book and pay for services including social and personal care, domestic help, nursing, nutritionists, massages, yoga, personal trainers, physiotherapists and more, and can use the website or download the app, which syncs to their calendar. They can book one-off or ongoing sessions, as well as multiple services from different providers in the same transaction.

Customers pay via Stripe or Sum Up, and their payment is only released after the appointment is over, with WeMa’s commission taken. After being vetted, providers pay to be listed on the platform, and can decide to either charge a cancellation fee or increase their charges to offset the cost of using WeMa. Both the customer and the provider will rate each other after the appointment.

Now, the company is hoping to expand its staff numbers, as well as increase its customers and service providers. With such low overheads and high promises, it’s start-ups like this that are rapidly gaining the attention of investors, including Tej Kohli Investments.

But it’s not just private healthcare going digital – last year NHS England launched a platform to help developers create digital healthcare products, as well as having its own library of digital health apps, to help give people better access to health information and tools.

It might not be the online marketplace that private healthcare is offering – but it’s another signal that healthcare in general is becoming increasingly digital, and there’s demand from all sides to make it as easy as possible for patients.

The German start-up producing supermarket bug burgers

The global population is set to hit nine billion by 2050, which means food production needs to double. Scientists, governments and others like investors including Tej Kohli Ventures, backed by the billionaire philanthropist himself – are keen to solve this is by changing the reputation of insects from slimy menaces to delicious food sources. Two billion people eat insects every day; the problem is, none of these people live in the West.

Incorporating insects into Western diets makes sense. They’re full of protein, which is essential to prevent muscle loss as we age, as well as calcium, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids – and they’re sustainable. Insects require much less feed than cattle, and emit far fewer greenhouse gases. Farmed animals eat 30% of the earth’s resources and consume 8% of all water usage mediated by humans.

We face further food shortages as populations grow and climate change causes more droughts and arid land. Insects can provide a sustainable solution for the future, and start-ups around the world, and increasingly in the east, are looking at how to solve this.

The only problem is making insects more palatable, particularly for westerners. There’s a lot of research and development going into how we can dial down the disgust when it comes to bug gastronomy – but so far, novelty pop-up restaurants seem to be as close as we can get to introducing creepy crawlies onto our plates.

But now, one German start-up has just made a massive step towards doing just that. After its founders spent four years working on the concept, Bugfoundation has produced a protein-packed burger patty made with vegetables and the larvae of buffalo bugs bred in the Netherlands, and they are sold in western Germany. The founders say they got their idea after traveling around south-east Asia, where eating insects is more culturally acceptable.

A local supermarket in Aachen now sells the slimy specialty, which allegedly tastes a bit like sunflower seeds, but looks just like a normal burger. The burger, the founders say, is full of highly valuable protein, and is densely packed with micronutrients, as well as being eco-friendly. And the founders say it was important not to have any bugs poking out of the food, so that we can slowly become accustomed to eating insects without being reminded of them with every bite.

But this isn’t the first time a supermarket has stepped out of its comfort zone and sold food made of insects. Last year, Switzerland’s second-largest supermarket chain, Coop, offered products made from a protein-rich mealworm produced by Swiss start-up Essento, across the country. The Insect Balls were made with rice, carrots, celery, leek, chilli and mealworms.

The race to make insects edible has begun, with more and more developers and chefs taking on the challenge, and catching the interest of investors like Tej Kohli Investments. And there are more than 1,000 known species of edible insects with varying flavours and textures, so it’s a tempting culinary challenge and for insect farmers, breeding insects is quick, efficient, and takes far fewer resources than cattle.

Virtual nursing assistants: the future of care

AI is revolutionising healthcare in a number of ways, and attracting more and more interest from investors such as Tej Kohli Ventures. One of those is the development of virtual nursing assistants to help reduce the number of unnecessary hospital visits, which put a massive strain on health services across the world.

AI virtual nurse assistants can offer patients 24-hour access to support, monitoring, and help patients get rapid responses to questions they have about their health and medications. It isn’t about replacing staff, but helping professionals to do their jobs more efficiently.

Some assistants have already been developed, and are working with patients across the world. Sense.ly is a virtual nurse assistant based in San Francisco, and has $8m behind it to be deployed to clinics and patients, with the aim of preventing hospital readmissions, while keeping communication between patients and care providers ongoing. Its founder Adam Odessky has described the assistant as a cross between Whatsapp and Siri.

The nurse avatar offers a five-minute “check in” with patients once, or several, times a day, on their smartphone. Patients can go through these checks and reply to the app just by talking, without having to type anything. This information, along with data derived from various wearables and hardware the patient uses, goes into a medical record that authorised health professionals can access.

But it doesn’t just look at vitals such as blood pressure, blood sugar and temperature. Like a human nurse, the app also monitors the patient’s mood. The developers aimed to make the assistant sound empathetic, too – because a patient talking about their health concerns requires a friendly voice to put them at ease, not a cold, robotic one.

Sense.ly has written its algorithms around common medical protocols for diagnosing and managing diseases, such as diabetes and heart failure, and updates constantly to cover more issues for a wider demographic. It has also worked with providers including the NHS, as well as some hospitals and clinics in the US.

Then there’s Angel, whose analytics will raise the attention of care teams when there’s cause for concern in a patients’ vitals, and promises to increase clinical capacity 24-fold without any increase to the cost of labour. Care Angel, the company behind Angel, say this frees up care managers’ and care teams’ time to spend with more at-risk patients, and offer them a higher quality of care.

They say Angel “listens and learns,” and offers personalised, conversational health monitoring, responding to changes in patients’ needs over time. And its developers say it leads to a 63% reduction in readmission rates.

As ageing populations continue to increase around the world, including rural populations in China, the surging number of start-ups are helping the cause, using technology to manage large amounts of data, while helping patients feel reassured and cared for, is one way AI and the investors behind it, like Tej Kohli Investments, is making real impact in helping secure the future sustainability of healthcare.

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