AI or not AI – that is the question

David Kennedy
Director of Eurescom

Recently, along with thousands of others around Europe, I went through the process of writing Project proposals for projects to be submitted for evaluation for funding. As part of this process, I had the thought if I could use AI to help me. I’m sure I was not the only one. However, I am aware that Students papers can be checked for use of AI and, in their case, it is considered negative as they should prove their own analyses and creative thinking when doing their assignments. But when making proposals is it allowed to use AI – will it help you to succeed? Actually, how will AI help me in real life?

What is AI?

AI is actually a generic term for a computer and software that mimics human intelligence. So, it has to go through the same principles as us in it has to learn – from lots and lots of data and many algorithms that teach the machine how to process the data. It then has to take the next step of working out which algorithms it should use to solve challenges and problems. The next phase is where, through repeated use and ever more data, the machine can refine and even correct (improve?) its own algorithms. To the most complete stage where it has so much experience of data and algorithms that it observes patterns that enable it to make accurate predictions or actually to be creative and create new test, images, and even ideas on request.

How can I use it?

Most of you don’t realise it but you are most likely already using AI tools. In the recent period the most dramatic developments in the use of AI have been in the ability of machines to understand natural language. So when you ask Google, Alexa, Siri, or any of our voice-based friends for help they are using AI algorithms to understand what you want. What has particularly changed in the last couple of years is that they have learned to understand what we want from the context of the question as much as the words used. Google maps will now tell you that your destination will be closed by the time you arrive as the system thinks this is important for you to know. The upsetting thing is it’s right – it can accurately assess what is relevant for my trip.

What is not so nice is that the level of monitoring of my online existence is also fed into AI tools to profile me and offer me as a target for advertising campaigns tailored for people with profiles similar to mine. While you can confuse the system occasionally by doing things out of character, it is worrying how ads are mostly relevant and how much the system knows about me.

Back to business

I was asking if you can use AI to generate new project proposals – obviously yes you can – but I did not. You need to be careful about what you ask an AI tool to do. If you make a question too generic the AI tool will give you answers that can be too random. Even now, I think, AI systems, like many small children, will give you an answer it thinks you will like – even if it has assembled it by just grouping data it thinks relevant into normal sounding sentences. It could give you an answer that fits the algorithm but is not true. My advice is that if you ask an AI system to advise you on the 5 most important aspects of doing your project – you should, like the students, use your own reasoning and creativity to integrate the answers into your work.

Will AI be my Friend?

There are now many tools available as apps to allow you to create your own virtual friend. Over time this AI friend could learn to talk to you in a very natural way and would actually resemble you if you are the only data source he/she has to learn from. The bigger question is when will you allow your AI-Friend to represent you, to go shopping for you, or to select the colour paint for your bedroom. Don’t get me wrong – this will happen.

We will all have our digital friends at some point in the future, they may be basic at first as we see already smart phones reminding us about all aspects of our life such as the steps taken, the appointments scheduled and even how we slept.


The limitation factor for now is that AI systems require huge amounts of data to learn from, lots of processing to work with the data and lots of energy to keep the system going. But as time goes on AI will teach itself to be more efficient and learnings will be shared between machines to the point where our smart devices will be quite the little personalities, helping us to live our lives. I just hope they don’t learn to nag me about my driving.

P.S. No AI was used in the generation of this ­article.