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Why developers are key to unlocking the art of the possible with AI

Today, every company is a technology company, with an ever shorter go-to-market cycle. Every professional role that is now touched by technology will soon be collaborating with an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system or –  as we prefer –  an ‘Augmented Intelligence’ system. It will be the people, not only the technology, that will drive widespread AI adoption, so it’s essential to democratise AI capability for the benefit of all roles, from marketing and legal to HR and operations.

A new report on New Zealand’s AI future highlights the critical importance of developers in particular. Artificial Intelligence: Shaping a Future New Zealand is an in-depth study by the AI Forum exploring the opportunities and impacts of AI in New Zealand. It’s the first major initiative of the AI Forum of New Zealand, an industry collective formed in 2017 to connect AI innovators, regulators, researchers and businesses. The report compares New Zealand’s progress and position to that of other countries. It delves into the economic benefits and societal implications of AI, as well as the opportunities of and challenges to AI adoption.

According to the report, AI has the potential to increase New Zealand’s GDP by up to $54 billion by 2035, and the number of ICT jobs is expected to quadruple to more than 300,000 by 2055. That’s why one of the key recommendations of the report is to build the capacity of local developers to address the increasing supply shortage of AI specialists.

While the role of technical skills in this new economy has been widely acknowledged, the developer’s influence is now transcending the traditional tech sector, and the use of AI is redefining the developer’s role. Code is already the currency of the app and API economy. In ten years, everyone will be a developer or a software engineer – the language of the world will be code. Developers are the new decision maker; they shape product and user experiences. They decide what technology a business will use and deploy to build applications and products. Developers are the lifeblood of the technology industry.

Check out this podcast with Tanmay Bakshi and Dr Joanna Batstone on working with IBM’s Watson:

As a result, executives have a renewed focus on putting developers front and centre in their talent strategy. As the AI Forum report says, we should urgently attract AI talent – from mathematicians to computer scientists and data scientists, and create specialised AI qualifications. Growing our AI talent pool will take combined effort from government, industry, universities and businesses to support the education and rapid skill development required for these highly skilled jobs.

Developing the right AI skills and talent is one of the most important actions that New Zealand must undertake and define how we can differentiate ourselves internationally to attract and develop a sustainable pipeline of world class talent.

– Artificial Intelligence: Shaping a Future New Zealand report

We will need AI-fluent talent from a rich diversity of backgrounds to avoid unintended bias being introduced into our algorithms. Those working in AI must reflect our own cultural norms and society. AI education will have to reach remote towns and marae, and include people familiar with traditional export sectors, such as agriculture and tourism, who can help those industries embrace AI.

That’s why IBM is supporting a number of different in-classroom and online learning initiatives, from AI education programmes with tertiary providers right here in New Zealand like Unitec, to international partnerships like P-TECH for high school students and Laureate University, where we’re helping design a state-of-the-art data science curriculum. Online learning give us the scale and speed to take advantage of AI opportunities, and developers and technology enthusiasts can demonstrate their knowledge and capabilities through “micro-credentials”, such IBM Digital Badges.

I get asked all the time how people can grow their skills, build on their current expertise and start experimenting, developing and certifying on IBM Watson technologies. I usually point them to Cognitive Class, a learning platform which offers more than 40,000 learning opportunities for data scientists and AI developers around the world, from building their first chatbot to designing complex AI systems.

IBM puts Watson APIs (Application Programming Interface) into the hands of developers to create, test and deploy the next generation of AI apps. We’ve carefully crafted our open platform to embolden developers with a “self-service” approach that’s easy to navigate, create apps and launch them. Our AI and cloud platforms offer free tiers for students or startups – so they can learn with the same tools that Fortune 500 companies would use. Innovation teams within enterprise organisations that are experimenting with AI can make use of these same tiers to prototype capability. Cloud computing drastically impacts how quickly our developers in New Zealand can build software, collaborate and take advantage of existing APIs and tools as they create New Zealand-specific AI solutions.

As the report suggests, this work on developing our developers is critical to ensuring New Zealand leads the AI race, or else we risk becoming merely a downstream consumer of AI from elsewhere. With these kinds of industry programmes plus a greater focus from within the education system, we may just have the key to unlock New Zealand’s successful AI future.

You can download the Shaping a Future NZ Report from www.aiforum.org.nz.

Isuru Fernando is AI & Analytics Leader for IBM New Zealand, and a member of the AI Forum of New Zealand Executive Council. He is on Twitter @wizzy.
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