What we can do to improve our AI skills at work

4 months ago 291

Like most of us, Jousef Murad’s knowledge of artificial intelligence (AI) was, for a time, dependent on the sci-fi films he watched growing up.

Unlike a lot of us, Murad has since expanded his knowledge, and now he dedicates his time to improving the AI knowledge of others. He creates easy-to-follow content about AI, engineering and technology on his YouTube channel and on his podcast, which is called The Engineered Mind.

He also publishes a regular newsletter and makes book recommendations to his followers so they, too, can keep up-to-date with an industry that is evolving faster than we know.

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When Siliconrepublic.com asks Murad for his thoughts on reducing the skills gap that continues to affect the industry, he clarifies that he is by no means an AI expert. His interest in the field is very much one of continuous development.

“I wouldn’t call myself an expert, because the problem is that it’s such a fast moving field, that it’s very, very hard to be an expert unless you are in the field for 10 years or 15 years. Then you maybe can call yourself an expert,” Murad says, adding that even these experts have to constantly keep on top of new developments so the industry doesn’t end up leaving them behind.

For those who are new to AI, the technology can appear daunting. Murad says our lack of fluency with AI as a society became apparent during the pandemic when businesses scrambled to learn new technologies under pressure.

AI adoption in the workplace seems to be increasing, however. According to McKinsey’s 2021 global survey of AI adoption in businesses, more and more companies are using cloud and machine learning technologies.

“One of the big problems is that people have to catch up with AI technology. It’s fast moving. It’s technology, and it doesn’t stop for you. So, if you’re not learning about AI you’re basically missing out. Especially when we talk about the skills gaps in AI.

“I’ve also seen for my friends and colleagues, that once you’ve missed an opportunity, or try to learn more about AI, you basically miss out.”

Another problem Murad identifies is the lack of courses and simple, beginner resources for those coming to the tech for the first time. According to Murad, if we as a society were more cognisant of what exactly artificial intelligence can and cannot do we would be better positioned to take full advantage of it.

He points out that what we currently is artificial narrow intelligence, which is very specific. “So, when we talk about object recognition, and things like that. It’s not something we see from the movies,” Murad says, referencing the 2014 sci-fi film Ex Machina that brought a dramatised version of AI to mainstream audiences.

“The big misconception is that AI can do everything, whereas it’s very, very specific and very niche,” he explains. Murad would like to see the field democratised and accessible for everyone, not just prodigies and university graduates.

“When you learn from university, it’s at a very high level and very complex and it goes into mathematical details. Nobody would ever understand that. Like, for example, if you’re a secretary, and you’re afraid that AI will take over your job and [you] want to learn more about this thing called AI… If you show them slides from university they’ll be like, okay, whatever,” Murad shrugs.

Is it any wonder so many misconceptions about AI exist when not many of us know what it is? Murad says he thinks people are “scared” of it thanks to its heightened depictions in popular culture and the lack of workaday exposure to its more practical aspects.

“When I first got in touch with AI, basically, when I was a kid, watching movies like Ex Machina, and you see the robots who feel like humans, eat like humans, and you’re like, oh, man, they are probably going to take my job!”

“But the thing is, as I said, like artificial narrow intelligence is very, very specific. You can tackle repetitive tasks. As for now, they [robots] cannot feel like humans. But really we’ll have to see how AI moves in the next 10 to 15 years.”

Professionally, people can be afraid to tackle AI, Murad thinks. Just because you’re not a whizz at programming doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of AI in your job. Here, he has a book recommendation: ‘AI Superpowers’ by Kai-Fu Lee, which deals with the issue of artificial intelligence in the workplace and why robots will never replace human empathy.

Murad has a lot of recommendations for people who want to learn more about the industry. He advises them to pick a niche, however, as the scene is so vast.  “I think Twitter is a good place to keep up to date with the latest AI research, whether you follow big companies such as like Google and the Google Brain team… Archive is a good place to find good papers and articles, and maybe platforms like Coursera. Udacity is a good place to learn about AI.”

For his own content, Murad likes to use the Feynman technique. The learning method is named after Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. Its philosophy is simple explanations for even the most complex topics. Murad aims to make his videos and podcasts understandable for a 12-year-old kid, he says. He is currently working on a basic introduction to AI which will provide subscribers to his YouTube channel with tutorials and an overview of the industry.

His podcast is also successful. Its biggest audience is people aged between 12 and 30-years old, but listeners are often older. The gender breakdown is 90pc male and 10pc female, but Murad says this is good as usually there would be “way less” women listening. Most listeners are from the UK, US, India and Germany, where Murad is based.

He leaves us with a final nugget of wisdom on the constantly changing AI sector that may or may not placate those who are concerned about tech taking their jobs. “Well, 15 years ago, nobody would saw that something like a Twitch streamer would be a job. But now it’s actually a job and we don’t know what’s coming in the next 15 years. Right? Some doors may close; other doors open.”

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