Harnessing the Power of Data for the Greater Good

By: Greg Ball, VP Engineering, Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning at Relativity

The term artificial intelligence (AI) may lead some to conjure their worst fears. Through sci-fi movies and pop culture, many of us have been misled to believe that AI is synonymous with evil robots that will one day take our jobs and take over the world. While AI is one of the most intriguing and promising emerging technologies, it’s also the most feared. People tend to think of it as ominous and futuristic. Most are unaware of the positive impact it can have and just how much we already rely on AI in our everyday lives. 

In fact, AI has actually been in use for decades and its applications are more common than you might think. We use AI and machine learning (ML) to help us with menial tasks every day, like checking on the ETA of our UberEats delivery, asking Siri a question and finding a new show to watch on Netflix. If we can apply AI and ML to sort through copious amounts of data to help us discover a new movie or song we might like – then why not use this incredible innovation to tackle larger, more complex problems like sorting through data to help public-health case workers prioritize the right cases, or helping educators identify which school programs are most effective at minimizing dropouts?

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Anything that’s data-driven can benefit immensely from AI and ML. Advances in AI and ML present an opportunity to build better tools and solutions to tackle today’s most pressing challenges and deliver positive social impact. We should not just be thinking about what we can do, but what we should do with this powerful technology. However, AI can’t accomplish meaningful social impact by itself. AI only does what it is asked to do, and typically companies are in the driver’s seat for deciding how AI is implemented, which is why when we think of AI, we tend to think of how for-profit organizations are using it for monetary gain. 

AI is increasingly integrated into business practices and we’re seeing the rate of AI adoption across all sectors surge, particularly in the past year. COVID-19 has put an emphasis on urgency and efficiency. Analytics, widely recognized for its problem-solving and predictive prowess, has become an essential navigational tool during a time when we’re all in uncharted territory. According to statista, AI is growing approximately 54% annually and will be “one of the next great technological shifts, like the advent of the computer age or the smartphone revolution.”

As AI becomes more embedded in business practices, organizations not only have an obligation to ensure they’re applying AI ethics throughout the design and implementation process, but to also iterate on ways they can use their technology, expertise and resources to solve the complex challenges facing our world today. I’m optimistic that in the near future companies will play a vital role in developing AI algorithms that serve a greater purpose outside of business needs. 

At Relativity, our software manages large volumes of data to quickly identify key issues during litigation and internal investigations. When COVID-19 hit, we seized on an opportunity to answer a call to action from the White House to use AI and ML to help with public researchers’ efforts. One of the biggest benefits of AI is its ability to sift through massive amounts of data in record time, helping researchers pinpoint areas of focus. This is exactly what the White House was looking for data scientists all over the world to do. Relativity employed several of our technology tools to help medical researchers more quickly review data sets of journal articles and medical literature with the goal of better equipping them to battle COVID-19.

Our analytics features identify relevant concepts and patterns in the data. One area that we found we could provide value was by eliminating duplicate and redundant information. Duplicate information is not a rare phenomenon in data sets. A researcher may have their article published in many journals. There is no natural identifier marking that article as identical to the same article in another journal. This results in the publishing of duplicates.

If an article appears 50 times in a data set, its weight is 50 times greater than another article that only appears once. The 50 duplicates could drown out the information in the articles that appear less frequently and suppress information that public health experts need. For the CORD-19 project, we used Relativity Analytics to identify upwards of 4,000 duplicate articles and repeated phrases. This may not appear as the most revolutionary application of analytics. But it was important. Researchers could make better insights as they worked toward resolving the pandemic.

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You can learn more about the project in our On the Merits documentary titled Pandemic which features insight from data scientists from around the world, The Allen Institute of AI and a physician who specializes in AI who is known as the first intergalactic doctor. In addition to highlighting the potential of analytics to solve unknown challenges in real time, the documentary also touches on broader AI trends, including the future of AI and the role it has the potential to play in dismantling inequities and eliminating biases in data.

We’ve seen firsthand from COVID-19 that the challenges facing our world today have grown in complexity and increasingly require large, coordinated efforts. The CORD-19 project is exemplary of how when we all come together and work towards a common goal, we can achieve major milestones more efficiently and accurately than we could separately. While AI is not a silver bullet, it has the potential to help tackle some of the world’s most challenging social problems. AI doesn’t replace human intellect, but it gives us the ability to replace more tedious and manual tasks allowing us to focus on more complex areas of thought—which can make all the difference in times of crisis. 

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