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QF expert talks about AI’s even bigger role amidst uncertainties

QF expert talks about AI’s even bigger role amidst uncertainties

Ailyn Agonia
DOHA
The latest book discussion of Qatar Foundation’s ‘Qatar Reads’ featured “Dark Pools: The Rise of Artificially Intelligent Trading Machines and the Looming Threat to Wall Street” written by American financial journalist Scott Patterson.
QF expert, Dr Alexis
Antoniades, Associate Professor and Director of International Economics at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q), led the discussion of Patterson’s entertaining narrative on the rise of artificially intelligent systems and how computers came to replace people in finance trading.
The book was released in 2012 and has received so much attention. Since then, artificial intelligence (AI) has dramatically evolved and transformed our lifestyle. And today, AI takes the center stage in the war against the pandemic not only in public health but in other key areas that have been badly affected including education.
In an interview with Qatar Tribune, Dr Antoniades further talked about the evolving role and impact of AI in healthcare, finance and education. He also weighed in on the current landscape of global economy as societies and individuals grapple with uncertainty and fear with no clear end in sight.
Excerpts:
Q: It has been a whirlwind
period for the global economy. How would you assess the current landscape?
A: Indeed. From growing geopolitical risks, to the trade tensions between the US and China, and now COVID-19, the past few months have been challenging for markets.
I think we are now entering a very turbulent period as many countries across the globe go through a second wave of the pandemic. I expect the impact of this wave on societies and economies to be more significant than before for a few reasons: First, in the western hemisphere, the second wave will coincide with the flu season. Second, this time around, governments, firms, and households are not as well off as they were in the beginning of the pandemic. Third, society fatigue and tensions are on the rise, so any decision to lock down economies will come at a huge cost, both in terms of economic, but also in terms of social and humanitarian aspects. At the same time, the decision not to lock down, will also be devastating. This means policymakers
across the globe will be facing limited options and limited time to act in the absence of an effective vaccine.
What also concerns me is that markets seem to underestimate this risk which can potentially lead to a rise in asset price volatility and potentially a crash, which would further destabilise economies and add more burden.
How relevant is Patterson’s “Dark Pools” during this time?
Scott Patterson’s “Dark Pools” talks about the rise of high frequency, algorithmic trading and offers examples when these algos can go haywire. In the current landscape, one may question how well these algorithms will behave or misbehave. And because these algorithms read each other in nanoseconds and take decisions that affect markets, one may worry that without a market-wide circuit breaker, a move by one algorithm can create a chain of events in a split second that can send the markets down crashing (similar to what markets experienced during the Flash Crash of May 6 2010).
The financial sector is one of the first domains to drive interest in using artificial intelligence. How do you foresee this crisis affecting AI and its impact on the financial services?
AI is always evolving. And the financial sector is one where AI has been widely utilised starting from the 80s. The current pandemic will not stop the spread of AI in finance. It will probably bring more scrutiny and regulation on the use of AI and high frequency trading, but it will not slow down its prevalence in finance.
At the same time, I anticipate an increase in the use of AI outside of the financial sector as companies try to cut costs, big data are becoming widely available, and the skills to analyse such data are becoming more common.
How effective are the AI algorithms during a disease outbreak or for that matter a pandemic? What are the significant and emerging applications of AI for COVID-19 pandemic?
Big data and AI have the potential to assist both the early detection of outbreaks but also the faster discovery of vaccines. When used appropriately, big data and AI can benefit humanity greatly. In fact, there are several entities and projects in Qatar that have made significant contribution in this direction. While it would be impossible to discuss these projects here due to brevity, Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) and Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) are excelling in AI work. My own work on big data aims at helping policy makers, economists, and investors better identify moves in economic activity in real time and to accurately measure changes in prices and inflation by exploiting the availability of such data.
What have been the highlights of the role and impact of AI on education? Can AI and technology bridge the widening education gap and other long lasting impact of the pandemic to education sector?
I think AI can play a big role in education, and a role that is perhaps not well understood. Universities should update their curriculums to offer students better training in AI and big data analytics. In fact, Qatar is in a great position to be a global leader for an obvious reason: it has gathered in one city (1) some of the best institutions globally that specialise in areas where big data has become so important (such as engineering, business, politics, economics, and health); (2) many large, established industries that rely on AI and big data (such as oil and gas, health care, sports, transportation, telecommunication, broadcasting); and (3) centres of excellence that apply AI and big data analytics. So AI not only has the power to transform education, but in our case, it has the power to transform Qatar and create a global competency that can help our diversification efforts. In other words, I strongly think that Qatar has a strong advantage in becoming a centre for AI and big data analytics that will help attract students and researchers from all corners of the world, will bring in revenue, and will strengthen the image of the country abroad.
As the economic fallout from COVID-19 may continue for months, which sector of the economy are likely to recover the fastest and the slowest? How can AI further contribute to business recoveries?
If an efficient vaccine does not become available within the next six to nine months, I expect to see a correction in prices of technology stock. With economic burden and suffering across the globe rising, it is hard to imagine subscriptions to Netflix, or purchases of the latest iPhone or a Tesla car increasing.
At the same time, I expect the importance of technologies and industries that accommodate remote learning, work, and interaction to rise. So cloud-based services, AI technologies, and in general technologies that improve the processing of data and transactions are all worth looking at.
Of course, if there are positive developments in the chase for an effective vaccine, most asset prices will rise, and those of hospitality, tourism and transportation will rise faster.QF believes that reading is indivisible from knowledge, from education, from exploration, from creative thinking – and from the process of unlocking human potential. Through Qatar Reads, QF aims to ensure the eyes and minds of Qatar’s population are opened up to the possibilities that reading creates. To learn more visit https://qatarreads.qa/ and follow Qatar Reads on Instagram @qatarreads.

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