17 December 2017

The rise of a 5G Networked AI with humans-in-the-loop

The programmability, flexibility and high levels of automation of 5G operations will reduce costs (e.g., OPEX) and create new service paradigms which might be even beyond our imagination. Some examples concern the applications of the Internet of Things, Tactile Internet, advanced Robotics, Immersive Communications and, in general, the X-as-a-Service paradigm.

Let us consider some examples. Cloud Robotics and 5G-controlled robotics will have huge impacts in several sectors, such as industrial and agricultural automation, in smart cities and in many domestic applications. In agriculture, autonomous machines will be used for tasks like crop inspection, the targeted use of water and pesticides, and for other actions and monitoring activities that will assist farmers, as well as in data gathering, exchange and processing for process optimization. Interestingly, Cloud Robotics and 5G APIs can be opened to end-users and third-parties to develop, program and provide any type of related service or application for pursuing specific tasks. In industry, this will pave the way to process automation, data exchange and robotics manufacturing technologies (e.g., Industry 4.0). It is likely that we will soon see robotic applications in the domestic environment: it is estimated that by 2050-2060 one third of European people will be over 65. The cost of the combined pension and health care system could be close to 29% of the European GDP. Remotely controlled and operated robots will enable remote medical/supportive care and open up a new world of domestic applications which may also be incorporated by the entire population (e.g. cleaning, cooking, playing, communicating, etc.).

5G will have a big impact also on the automotive and transportation markets. Nevertheless there are still open issues. In fact, even if significant progresses have been made in developing self-driving/autonomous machines, equipped with sensors, actuators and ICT capabilities, the achievement of very low reaction times still represent an open challenge. As a matter of fact, the autonomous driving in real traffic is a very challenging problem: reaction time in units of milliseconds, or even less, are needed for safety reasons to avoid sudden and unpredictable obstacles. This means that a considerable amount of computing and storage power must be always available through ultra-low latency links. Today, the amount of computing and storage power that can be equipped locally in a machine/vehicle is not enough (for several reasons, e.g., space, dissipation limits, costs restraints, etc.) to cope with these requirements. Huge amounts of data needs to be stored and accessed and the AI methods have to be executed very quickly to exploit such levels of reactive autonomy. An ultra-low latency 5G network will allow exploiting the best balance of resources in the Cloud and Edge Computing systems, thus offering trade-offs between a local vs global cognition execution, essential to minimize reaction times.

In a similar direction, images/video real-time processing, for example for recognizing forms, faces or even emotions in photos or live-streamed video, represents another challenging case study or AI in 5G infrastructures. In fact, this could be radically improved from the distributed execution of deep learning solutions in a 5G infrastructure capable of providing ultra-low latency connectivity links.  Also in this case, performances will be improved by the flexibility of 5G in dynamically allocating/moving either huge data sets and software tasks/service where/when it is more effective to have them.

Another example is Immersive Communications, which refers to a paradigm going beyond the “commoditization” of current communication means (e.g., voice, messaging, social media, etc.). Immersive Communications will be enabled by new advanced technologies of social communication interactions, for example through artificially intelligent avatars, cognitive robot-human interfaces, etc. Eventually, the term X-as-a-Service will refer to the possibility of providing (anytime and anywhere) wider and wider sets of 5G services by means of anything from machines to smart things, from robots to toys, etc. If today we are already linking our minds with laptops, tablets, smartphones, wearable devices, and avatars, in the future we will see enhanced forms of interactions between humans, intelligent machines and software processes.

Current socio-economic drivers and ICT trends are already bringing to a convergence Computer Science, Telecommunications and AI.

In this profound transformation, mathematics will be the language, computation will be about running that language (coded in software), storage will be about saving this encoded information, and, eventually, the network will be creating relationships – at almost zero latency -- between these sets of functions. This trend will also see the rise of the so-called Networked AI with humans-in-the-loop. Today there are already some examples, such as analyst-in-the-loop security systems, which combine human experts’ intuition with machine learning capable of predicting infrastructure cyber-attacks.

Although security and privacy are out of the scope of this work (focusing on 5G enabling capabilities), these two strategic areas deserve some further considerations. On one side 5G could provide the means for improving security, for example as information will be available everywhere and the context needed to detect anomalous behavior will be more easily provided; nevertheless on the other side, enabling technologies such as SDN and NFV have the potential to create situations where all primary personal data and information is held and controlled at a global level, even outside the national jurisdiction of individual citizens. It has been mentioned, as an example, the real-time processing of several thousands of images per second and live-streamed video: this will have wide-ranging, but also controversial applications: from predicting crimes, terrorist acts and social upheaval to law enforcement and psychological analysis. Eventually, in the long term, this might transform everything from policing to the way people interact every day with banks, stores, and transportation services: this will have huge security and privacy implications.

Reasonably privacy and security concerns should be considered by-design, with  systemic solutions capable of operating at different levels in future 5G infrastructures: for example, such design will need to consider issues such as automated mutual authentication, isolation, data access and management of multiple virtual network slices coexisting onto the same 5G infrastructure.