The benefits and risks of artificial intelligence took center stage during a panel discussion at a regional technology forum last week at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland.
During the Maryland Tech Council Chesapeake Regional Chapter’s Emerging Industries Forum on Wednesday, panelists expressed bullish enthusiasm on how AI might become a new powerful economic engine for our region. But there was also a great deal of concern about the nature of the technology itself.
Historically, a rule of thumb of high technology was Moore’s Law, which is the observation that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every two years.
“AI has blown Moore’s law out of the water,” said Anne Balduzzi, Managing Director of Entrepreneur and Ecosystem Empowerment at TEDCO in Columbia. “The pace at which this change is occurring – the researchers in the AI space are even blown away by it. We’ve got to keep pace with this in some way, shape, or form. Right now we are not keeping pace. We actually don’t even know what’s going on inside the ‘black box’ (AI core).”
One benefit of AI in business could be the technology’s potential to level the playing field in competition between small and large organizations.
“I think there is this leapfrog thing we can do for small businesses,” said Ahmed Masud, CEO of Saf.ai in Bethesda.”There’s so much information that any startup can leverage now to leapfrog into a multimillion dollar, multibillion dollar entity that operates globally. I think that’s where there’s massive opportunity.”
“The tools available now to pretty much any employee, any business leader, are pretty mind-blowing,” said Balduzzi. ”You don’t have to speak multiple languages and be a translator to translate all your marketing materials in multiple languages. Pretty soon, you won’t even have to be a programmer to program. This is where this movement is headed.”
Balduzzi said the technology is changing the landscape and bringing enormous opportunities to both small and large businesses in our area. Investors are starting to recognize that it may take only a fraction of the staff and funding to build thriving enterprises, she said.
“I think the opportunities for Maryland lie at the intersection of cyber and biotech,” she explained. “Those are both having massive innovation as the result of AI.”
The executive described data as being the conduit for any employee who is a subject matter expert becoming a successful entrepreneur on their own. With the help of AI and access to data sets, they could become a leader in their niche of expertise.
She indicated that AI innovators who served a larger number of industry needs may likely have a more robust business model.
“I think the better solutions are going to be solutions that blend in several different types of AI,” she said.
Panelist Zach Casper, vice president of engineering at Columbia-based BigBear.ai, said he went to a recent industry expo in Washington D.C. and “AI was everywhere.”
“I think Maryland’s ripe for a large array of opportunities beyond just cyber and biotech,” he said.
Maryland State Sen. Katie Fry Hester, serving Howard and Montgomery counties, said opportunities to deploy AI may exist in the government sector too.
“If you look at the amount the state spends on Medicaid, which is probably our largest spend, and if you could save just one to two percent of that spend, it would be a huge amount you could invest in other (areas). Let me be clear, I think AI is going to affect every single part of our
She said, considering where the Baltimore metro area is situated outside of Washington D.C., our area is positioned well to take advantage of the emerging AI industry.
“There’s an amazing amount of national assets and defense contractors,” she said.
But the powerful potential of the technology carries risks, too.
“If you think about our electric grid, our water supply, our agriculture – this is what keeps me up at night – is having some kind of attack that’s driven by cyber AI…that’s catastrophic and hurts people, ” Hester said.
“That’s every leader, in every municipality, in every city, but we have expertise here,” Masseuse said, rebutting Hester’s concern. “Merge it into neural nets and send it out. We have the best defense system in the world. We don’t have enough, but we can offer it.”
Balduzzi brought up another looming AI threat: election interference.
“We’re in an election year,” she said. “Right now, someone with very little knowledge of AI can go use any of these tools out there, take a few seconds of anyone’s voice, and a few seconds of their (image), and create a video of somebody saying something they (never said). We need some really strict regulations in place around that. That’s an area I think should be immediately tackled.”
“This is keeping us up at night,” Hester said. “What do we do about political deep fakes?”
“I think there needs to be greater thought leadership statewide around these issues,” she concluded at the end of the forum. “We really want to balance the risks and opportunities.”