AI researchers should have their own CERN

Companies and AI researchers should and could work together, but is it possible when all the data is owned by the companies such as Amazon and Facebook?

Reetta Räty, 20.08.2018

Henry Tirri, Executive Residence at Aalto University School of Business, has become familiar with collaboration between the business world and the academia, and its problems. The success or failure of collaboration mainly depends on attitudes, he says.

“Academics may find the problems of the business world intellectually not very interesting, or somehow ’mechanical’. Again, if companies regard universities only as additional units of product development, everyone will be disappointed.”

Finding short-term solutions is not a task for the universities, nor is it within their field of expertise.”

“Still, companies are facing basic, big problems that cannot be solved, or that are constantly solved ad hoc. In situations like these, the expertise of the academia is helpful.”

For scientists, it is sensible to examine problems that will not be solved in a year, or even three. If the goal is something like ”the incremental speeding-up of a process,” this is a problem that companies should solve themselves. “Issues to be solved in universities are more general by nature. Finding short-term solutions is not a task for the universities, nor is it within their field of expertise.”

Right now, there is tremendous interest in all artificial intelligence-based research projects, Dr. Tirri says. He refers to an AI research problem related to the role of companies and universities in the industry.

The reference point is theoretical physics. Experiments in physics are verified in CERN, the joint European research organization for particle physics. CERN provides research groups access to experimental infrastructure such as particle accelerators that are too large and expensive for any single country to maintain. The research equipment of the CERN laboratory is available for use of some 6 000 researchers of particle physics from over 80 countries and 500 universities.

Researchers and data owners may have different opinions on which research questions are interesting or relevant.”

As regards artificial intelligence, the situation is different. If researchers want data to be used for verification of machine learning methods, they will be faced with the fact that the platforms that own the data are businesses: Amazon, Baidu, game companies, Facebook… The goals of the owners relate to solving their own problems, not necessarily to the academic questions that researchers are interested in.

”This is a structural issue that leads to tensions. Researchers and data owners may have different opinions on which research questions are interesting or relevant. In that case, companies tend to develop their own know-how without collaboration. Correspondingly, university research focuses on its own areas without a close link to data sources important for research projects.”

“Unfortunately, there is no publicly funded CERN available for artificial intelligence research. In some matters, quite arbitrarily, research is intensified, while it remains too shallow in other areas”, Dr. Tirri says.

In addition, Tirri shares his views on the changing power of digitalization that spares no one in his story: "If people can sleep in a self-driving car, what happens to the hotel business?"

Henry Tirri is an Executive Resindence at Aalto University School of Business. He was one of the speakers in Aalto EE's Digital Summit which also includes an online course. Aalto EE's digitalization programs help executives to discover which emerging technologies will have an impact on their particular business environment and how the digital transformation can be managed. Aalto PRO's Business Digitalization programs support professionals and managers and update their knowledge of the latest digitalization tools and principles.

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