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Practical AI tools to make life easier

In this article, Dr Harry Brown explores some of the ways AI can enhance our lives. From individualised search engine results to video editing and the creation of images using text descriptions, Dr Brown says AI could have a similar effect on our lives comparable to the rise of the internet and smartphone.

In this article, Dr Harry Brown explores some of the ways AI can enhance our lives. From individualised search engine results to video editing and the creation of images using text descriptions, Dr Brown says AI could have a similar effect on our lives comparable to the rise of the internet and smartphone.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) certainly has become the tech craze of 2023, with new technologies such as ChatGPT taking the world by storm. However, governments across the globe are becoming increasingly concerned about its potential to cause harm.

An example of AI getting up to no good is when a chatbot gives bad medical advice. Recently, for example, one bot reportedly gave diet advice to people seeking help from an eating disorder group. That being said, human healthcare professionals have been known to give bad advice as well.

In part one of this article series, I explained how AI can be beneficial to patients. It has a unique ability to provide more personalised care for patients by storing information about individual patients and providing relevant information and answering questions in real-time. This could help to reduce pressure on doctors and address the shortage of suitably qualified healthcare professionals.

AI therefore has the potential to threaten jobs, but equally, it can make us – as individuals and as a society – potentially more productive.

Regulating AI? The need to strike a happy medium

AI has turbocharged the share prices of some tech companies, and the potential widespread use of AI will throw up many conundrums and issues for regulators, governments and the general public. However, humanity survived and prospered from the industrial revolution, the introduction of motorised vehicles, and the birth and growth of the internet. Why should the growth of AI be any different?

Admittedly, AI will require some regulation and it is up to government and international bodies to get the level of regulation just right. Over-regulating AI could strangle its growth whilst under-regulating AI could lead to a wild west of AI where anything goes. There is a happy medium to be struck and this is an important issue to solve.

Below are some of the principles and implications of AI, but in order to understand the impact and even the current power of this new technology, we need to look at some examples of its current capability.

AI now has the ability to offer us personalised search engine results

The tech giant Microsoft has moved quickly to embrace this fast moving technology and has sunk a lot of money into AI via the company that owns ChatGPT.

Until recently, Microsoft’s search engine Bing was often playing second fiddle to the search beast in the jungle, Google. However, Bing has now been enhanced by AI (Powered by ChatGPT) and this new and enhanced offering of the Bing search engine is quite impressive.

The responses from a query given to the AI-powered Bing search engine are more conversational in nature. Unlike a conventional search engine, such Google, you don’t get a list of hits, but a text-based response to your query.

It is well worth reading the FAQs of this new AI enhanced Bing service, as it offers a different way of obtaining a search result that you would expect from search engines such as Google. Talking of Google, it may not come as a surprise that Google is also getting in on the act, and they have recently launched Bard, an experimental “creative and helpful collaborator” designed to supercharge your imagination, boost productivity, and bring ideas to life.

This is a very fast-moving field, and these two internet giants will battle it out for control of the lucrative search market, and expect huge improvements in their offerings.

This has the potential to change the way that people use online search facilities. In my opinion, the day that many of us will be using AI powered search engines as their primary source is fast approaching.

These will deliver a personalised result rather than a batch of results, which involves having to manually trawl through the targets found in the search.

Using AI to edit videos and create images

Recently, there has been a shift towards video related content on social media. However, it takes a fair amount of skill and time to edit the video, export it and make it appear more professional. Often, the software required can be expensive and difficult to use (although there are free offerings available).

Microsoft now has an excellent, free video editor, Clipchamp, which is relatively simple to use. This video editing tool has also has jumped onto the AI bandwagon in order to make video editing easier, and simpler.

Using the power of AI, the software transforms simple videos taken on a smartphone into a relatively impressive end result. This has clear benefits for personal and commercial use.

AI powered software now also allows you to generate pictures from descriptive text using AI. Dall-E2 is a well-known AI system with these capabilities (which you have to buy credits to use), while Bing Image Creator (which is produced by Microsoft and powered by Dall-E) offers a free alternative.

The results are truly staggering. You can ask the software to create nearly any image you would like and within 30 seconds or so, you will get to choose between multiple images which best suit your requirements. See below for some examples.

Figure 1. AI generated image: 'Doctor breaking bad news to patient in the style of Van Gogh'
Figure 1. AI generated image: ‘Doctor breaking bad news to patient in the style of Van Gogh’

I think this is a pretty good result for free software that took less than a minute to generate. These images could be used for illustrating a talk or an article.

I would strongly recommend trying this out this software so you can witness first-hand the power of AI generating images from a simple text description. I found this process breath-taking and illustrative as to the incredible power of AI.

Instead of obtaining new images, you can also touch up existing images you own by using AI. A good example is Hotpot, which offers is free for non-commercial use (for some but not all functions). For example, I was able to colourise an old family black and white family picture within minutes.

I also tried out the software with another old, damaged picture, and Hotpot was able to clean it up and colourise it. For added functions (such as commercial use and object remover) you will need to buy credits, as of course, these services need some revenue stream to fund it.

Furthermore, there are now AI services that, for a fee, will produce an impressive head shot from one of your photos (such as a selfie for a social media site). Social media presences are important, so a punchy, high-quality and well-produced headshot can be quite impactful. For a relatively small fee, AI can help you attain that aim, so for some, this could be a useful and relatively cheap service.

Figure 2. 'Doctor breaking bad news to patient'
Figure 2. AI generated image: ‘Doctor breaking bad news to patient’

Of course, we cannot discuss new AI tools without covering ChatGPT. Needless to say, it is the one service that everyone is talking about. It seems to have been the starting pistol in the race for the AI goldrush. It is brilliant and breath-taking and already has a number of uses. However, as we have discussed, it is not the only AI service on the block that is free or very cheap to use.

The arrival of AI could change the world just as the internet did

I have covered just a fraction of what is available here from the burgeoning AI industry. If you are tempted to try AI services more, then check out this recent article.

This is a dramatically changing field and there will be a plethora of new arrivals and some services that will fall by the wayside. I don’t think these kinds of AI services are a fad, and I believe they will be revolutionary in changing how business is done and the way society is organised. This technology has the potential to permeate every aspect of our lives.

I suspect AI could have a similar effect on our lives comparable to the rise of the internet and smartphone. There are well publicised risks of welcoming AI tools into our life, but there is no stopping it now, and we may as well embrace it, while sensibly regulating its use.

In the meantime, try out some of the tools mentioned in this article and see what is available. I suspect many of you will be taken aback and impressed by the offerings of this new technology. Welcome to the future!

Dr Harry Brown is a retired GP, Leeds

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