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Panel looks at AI's impact on Long Island businesses

Steven Skiena, center, director of AI-Driven Discovery and

Steven Skiena, center, director of AI-Driven Discovery and Innovation at Stony Brook University, at an LIA breakfast on the future of artificial intelligence in Melville on Tuesday. Credit: Barry Sloan

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are already beginning to infiltrate Long Islanders' lives, from delivering cute cat videos on the web to inspecting joints on the 30-megawatt Deepwater Wind turbine installation off Block Island, experts said Tuesday.

Speaking at a Long Island Association event in Melville, Ali Asmari, a program manager at Hauppauge-based ULC Robotics Inc., said that the five turbine towers of the Deepwater Wind installation require frequent inspection for defects.

His company's drones have taken about 2,000 pictures of welds and other structural features. Asmari said that volume of photos would take humans about 60 hours to process, while a machine learning system needed only about a half-hour.

The 90-person company also is developing systems using drones and cameras mounted on a van to map and inspect utility poles. 

Panelists at the LIA event said the terms "machine learning" and "artificial intelligence" are used interchangeably, but are different.

Kerstin Kleese van Dam, director of the Computational Science Initiative at Brookhaven National Laboratory, said machine learning lets computers learn from data, while artificial intelligence lets computers learn from data and make decisions based on what they've learned. 

"What we're trying to do is take inspiration from how humans make decisions," she said.

Van Dam said that a little-understood aspect of machine learning is that it can be labor intensive.

For instance, she said, in order for internet companies to deliver cute cat videos, humans must first teach the software to recognize cats: "This is a cat, this is a dog." 

The event was moderated by Kevin S. Law, president and CEO of the LIA, who asked panelists which industries and jobs were likely to be disrupted by the new technologies.

Krishnan Pillaipakkamnatt, a computer science professor at Hofstra University, said that the discovery process in legal cases where voluminous amounts of evidence are shared is "likely to be impacted" by these technologies.

Another panelist, Steven Skiena, director of the Institute for AI-Driven Discovery and Innovation at Stony Brook University, cautioned that everyone should stay agile and be mindful of change.

"We're in a world where everyone's got to wear their tennis shoes," he said.

Pillaipakkamnatt said that the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning will create a "tension" between society's needs for data and the individual's need for privacy. And he added that the many "free" online services such as news and web browsing really have a cost.

"You're paying for all these things with your privacy," he said.

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