<–Preface Data and data processing–>

As it often happens in research, a technology that had attracted the interest of researchers decades ago and stayed at that level for a long time, suddenly comes into focus. This is the case of the collection of different technologies called Artificial Intelligence (AI). Although this moniker might suggest that machines are able to replicate the main human trait, in practice such techniques boil down to algorithmically sophisticated pattern matching enabled by training on large collections of input data. In this book we will consider Machine Learning (ML) as part of AI. Embedded today in a range of applications, AI has started affecting the life of millions of people and is expected to do so even more in the future.

AI provides tools to “get inside” the meaning of data to an extent not reached by previous technologies. In this book we use the word “data” to indicate anything that represents information in digital form ranging from the US Library of Congress to a sequenced DNA, to the output of a video camera or an array of microphones, to the data generated by a company. Through AI, the number of bits required to represent information can be reduced, “anomalies” in the data discovered, and a machine can spot patterns that might not be immediately evident to humans.

AI is already among us doing useful things. There is keen commercial interest in implementing more AI-centric processes unleashing its full potential. Unfortunately, the way a technology leaves the initial narrow scientific scope to become mainstream and pervasive for products, services and applications is usually not linear nor fast. However, exceptions exist. Looking back to the history of MPEG, we can see digital media standards not only accelerated the mass availability of products enabled by new technologies, but also generated new products never thought of before.

In fact, the MPEG phenomenon was revolutionary because its standards were conceived to be industry neutral, and the process unfolded successfully because it had been designed around this feature. The revolution, however, was kind of “limited” because MPEG was confined to “media” (even though it tried to escape from that walled garden).

This book concerns itself with AI-centric data coding standards, which do not have such limitations. AI tools are flexible and can reasonably be adapted to any type of data. Therefore, as digital media standards have positively influenced industry and billions of people, so AI-based data coding standards are expected to have a similar, if not stronger impact. Research shows that AI-based data coding is generally more efficient than existing technologies for, e.g., data compression and description.

These considerations have led a group of companies and institutions to establish the Moving Picture, Audio and Data Coding by AI – MPAI – as an international, unaffiliated not-for-profit Standards Developing Organisation (SDO).

However, standards are useful to people and industry if they enable open markets. Still, the industry might invest hundreds of millions into the development of a standard, only to find that it is not practically usable or it is only accessible to a lucky few. In this case rather than enabling markets, the standard itself causes market distortion. This is a rather new situation for official standards, caused by the industry’s recent inability to cope with tectonic changes induced by technology and market. As a result, developing a standard today may appear like a laudable goal, but the current process can actually turn into a disappointment for industry. A standards development paradigm more attuned to the current situation is needed.

For this reason, the MPAI scope of activity goes beyond the development of standards for a technology area. It includes Intellectual Property Rights guidelines to compensate for some standards organisations’ shortcomings in their handling of patents.

While in the rest of the book there will be opportunities to go more in depth into the nature of AI, it is appropriate for this introduction to briefly compare how the incumbent Data Processing (DP) technology and AI work. When they apply DP, humans study the nature of the data and design a priori methods to process it. When they apply AI, prior understanding of the data is not paramount – a suitably “prepared” machine is subjected to many possible inputs so that it can “learn” from the actual data what the data “means”.

In a sense, the results of bad training are similar in humans and machines. As an education with “bad” examples can make “bad” humans, a “bad”, i.e., insufficient, sectorial, biased etc. education makes machines do a “bad” job. The conclusion is that, when designing a standard for an AI-based application, the technical specification is not sufficient. So, MPAI’s stated goal to make AI applications interoperable and hence pervasive through standards is laudable, but the result is possibly perverse if ungoverned “bad” AI applications pollute a society relying on them.

For these reasons, MPAI has been designed to operate beyond the typical remit of a standards-developing organisation – albeit it fulfills this mission quite effectively, with five full-fledged standards developed in 15 months of operation. An essential part of the MPAI mission consists of providing the users with quantitative means to make informed decisions about which implementations should be preferred for a given task.

In conclusion, this book will talk about AI, what it is, which tools it offers, which applications it makes possible and how MPAI delivers AI-based standards. Thanks to MPAI, implementers have available standards that can be used to provide trustworthy products, applications and services, and users can make informed decisions as to which one is best suited to their needs. This will result in a more widespread acceptance of AI-based technology, paving the way for its benefits to be fully reaped by the society.

The book is organised in three sections:

Section 1 – “AI opportunities” describes the current state of the fields in which MPAI currently plays a role. It contains the following chapters:

Data and data processing Introduces the notions of information, data, DP and AI.
AI-potential and drawbacks Describes the wide used of AI and some issues arising from it.
Machine Learning and Neural Networks Gives basic AI and ML notions referenced by the book.
Speaking humans and machines –       Visual humans and machines
Visual humans and machines –       Humans conversing with machines
Humans conversing with machines –       Conversing with machines
Audio for humans –       Audio for humans
Video for humans and machines –       Visual for humans
Data for machines –       Non-media data
Towards a responsible AI Introduces regulation trends in AI

Section 2 – “Using AI for the better” describes how standards allow us to get the benefits of AI and avoid its pitfalls. It contains the following chapters:

Divide and conquer Introduces the notion of and benefits from an AI framework.
Some MPAI data coding standards Describes the first MPAI data coding standards developed.
Structure of MPAI standards Presents components and structure of MPAI standards.
Some technologies from the MPAI repository Illustrates some technologies specified in MPAI standards.

Section 3 – “AI needs more than standards” reiterates the need to complement AI standards with additional measure. It contains the following chapters:

MPAI mission and organisation Describes MPAI’s mission and organisation.
The governance of the MPAI ecosystem Introduces the governance of the MPAI ecosystem.
A renewed life for the patent system Advocates a renewed life for the patent system.
Plans for the future Describes the standards being developed.

The authors of this book thank the MPAI members and the community for making the MPAI mission real, Philip Merrill for his assistance editing and improving the way this book conveys the value of MPAI and Renato Valentini for his unstinting support.

<–Preface Data and data processing–>