The Malta Independent 18 June 2024, Tuesday
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Unicorns, AI and the quest for new vaccines

George M Mangion Tuesday, 16 February 2021, 09:44 Last update: about 4 years ago

Let us for a moment take a break from the dull news endlessly telling us about ravages caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The good news is that one can reflect for a moment and contemplate the blessing that humanity will reap from the benign qualities of AI.

This resource can be of great value, especially in biotech, molecular experiments and its accessory components of ubiquitous data, high-speed connections and design of autonomous robots. Continuing on the medical front, apart from help in developing vaccines, AI also contributes towards intelligent robots that can help accelerate trade in a post-Covid recovery.


When it comes to the use of artificial intelligence in powering complex robotics, there is no escaping the fact that this technology reduces the cost of manufacturing. One may ask who is funding such expensive research?

The answer is a cohort of venture capitalists who are constantly poised to look out for talented persons in their ongoing recruiting outreach. It isn't uncommon for research firms to headhunt top notch university graduates who show leadership potential.

Readers appreciate this disruptive technology has a noble purpose and is helping to link various civilizations, improve crop yields, scan persons for traces of infection in airports, schools etc. and speed up progress in complex human Genome classification.

AI in a remote mode, can even perform medical assessments during epidemics when over-worked doctors are busy tending the sick or inoculating the masses. One may ask how can AI help humanity fight the scourges of the latest pandemic? The answer is that using AI facilities boosts the ability of researchers to analyse large volumes of scientific data involved in their quest to combat the Covid-19 strain (and its new variants).

In passing, one may feel that the disruptive path of this new technology is constantly looking for champions with aggressive investment appetite to handle risk associated with digital gambles. With the news of Covid-19 showing no signs of slowing the curse with its relatively high mortality rate (relative to other viral illnesses such as influenza), it is essential to develop stronger vaccines and antiviral medications.

Undoubtedly, AI is fast becoming a major technological tool for prescriptive analytics in medicine, harnessing the way that helps us determine how to implement and/or optimise optimal decisions. Other attributes in business applications include its power to quantify future risks, measure probabilities and in so doing, give us insights how entrepreneurs improve market penetration, customer satisfaction, security analysis, trade execution, fraud detection and prevention.

Needless to say, its success in enhancing land and air traffic control, national security and robotics is becoming mainstream. This is not to mention a host of healthcare applications such as patient-specific treatments for infectious diseases and illnesses.

In his original essay, Dr Vinge suggested that the point in time at which automation attained superhuman intelligence would happen sometime between 2005 and 2030. To mention an example, one may start by mentioning SoftBank group. This Group has invested heavily in start-ups which incorporated AI into a range of business models thus reshaping value creation and fundamentally redefining all such industries.

The expansion of markets and the creation of new industries through the utilisation of AI brings huge opportunities. To ensure that it exploits opportunities, the SoftBank group is investing to build a cluster of leading AI companies that are building innovative services and business models. These efforts are based on the "Cluster of No. 1 AI Strategy", which will sustain its growth going forward.

In implementing this strategy, the SoftBank Vision Fund plays a leading role by enabling large-scale investment activities over the long-term. For the record, Masayoshi Son is the Japanese founder who created Softbank (now with version 2) which he wants to mimic a "virtual Silicon Valley", meaning a platform on which unicorns (start-ups that succeeded to become a billion dollar marvel) can offer each other contacts and advice, buy goods and services from each other and even join forces.

Son, who founded SoftBank in the 1980s, had grand visions of what technological advancements the future holds. He told CNBC that people should brace themselves for the proliferation of artificial intelligence as it will change the way we live within three decades. SoftBank's subsidiaries are pushing the frontiers of technology in areas such as the "Internet of Things" artificial intelligence and deep learning. SoftBank is synonymous with its charismatic founder that is reshaping global tech with its colossal treasure chest. It is shaking up the cosy world of Silicon Valley venture capital.

For this purpose, the Vision Fund is aggressively competing with traditional technology investors in Silicon Valley in a no-holds barred fight for talent. Son believes he has a unique ability to predict future technology trends and gallantly professes he is ready for the gamble.

As can be expected, the global slowdown caused by the pandemic has not spared SoftBank. The company's recent losses were slightly higher than its estimates and the Vision Fund reported a substantial loss of $17.7bn. Because of the virus, it remains difficult to forecast the future-term impact on the company's business and financial results.

The dismal results were driven largely by SoftBank's big bets on a series of technology-related companies that had once been the darlings of the start-up world. These included WeWork, the office space company and Uber, as well as poor showings by other companies that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

On a positive note, imagine how in the near future, there will be robots, efficient and devoid of emotions quietly supervising hundreds of complex factory operations, possibly during the temporary absence of workers cordoned off under an extended quarantine mandated during pandemics.

Though the situation may appear grim, it is important to draw attention towards a future horizon when the masses attain herd immunisation and the world starts a new dawn of blue skies and unmasked crowds breathing fresh air. 


George Mangion is a senior partner of an audit and consultancy firm and has over 25 years' experience in accounting, taxation, financial and consultancy services. His efforts have seen PKF instrumental in establishing many companies in Malta and placed PKF in the forefront as professional financial service providers on the Island. George can be contacted at [email protected] or on +356 2148 4373

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