In October last year, Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong gave a speech criticizing the political left and young people. He used a lot of buzzwords in his lecture.
Words like “Hybrid Warfare,” “Huángdì Syndrome” and “Big Data Analytics.”
Here is an excerpt of how he used the last one:
“When I asked them [young people], they said they never heard of it [the burning down of town halls in 2010.] These images [of burning town halls] have been repeatedly buried by Big Data Analytics systems, until the facts have disappeared from the system. You cannot easily search for them anymore.”
You can ask anyone who actually works in Big Data Analytics, they will tell you what he said doesn’t make any sense. But the practice of throwing around fancy tech words during interviews and announcements in order to sound knowledgeable and relevant is nothing new.
The latest buzzword
When the Finance Ministry first unveiled the No One Left Behind program, the fancy tech buzzword was Artificial Intelligence (AI).
But we all know what happened. Farmers? Taxi drivers? AI couldn’t tell the difference.
The Finance Ministry is not “technically” wrong when they say they’re using AI. One of the definitions of AI is as simple as a machine following a set of pre-programmed tasks.
But most computer scientists would agree that the minimum requirement for something to be “AI” is having an ability to take external information, process it and take actions based on what it’s programmed to do.
The AI behind No One Left Behind can be classified as the most basic form. It takes applicants’ data and makes decisions based on a limited set of information available.
The basics of AI
Ten years ago, when you went to the government office to renew your passport, you would fill out a form. Then you would wait three to four days.
During your wait, an official would check the form to see if everything is in order. If everything is checked out, then you may pick up your new passport.
The AI behind No One Left Behind? Same Concept.
Except, at least in theory, you don’t have to wait three or four days. There’s no living, breathing person to check your information. You just fill in the form on the website, the AI would do the rest.
Check and crosscheck. Verifying information. Disqualifying those who do not meet the criteria. 27 million forms? No problem. Everything can be stored in a virtual filing cabinet called the databases.
Here’s the problem
The team who designed the AI system was supposed to create a program to match the applicants’ input with the database of all the ineligible people such as students, civil servants and people within the social security system.
If there’s a match, the application would be marked as invalid.
The program would also have to check for any error in the applicants’ input, such as incorrect ID card number, misspelled names, bank account name that doesn’t match the applicant’s name, etc.
Then, the program would notify the applicants so they may correct their information. Failing that, an applicant may appeal, which would involve a living, breathing person to consider the case.
The system had to be set up quickly and wasn’t intended to be sophisticated. It was supposed to be a basic screening program to weed out invalid applicants. But everyone was excited about the buzzword, AI.
The Finance Ministry spoke so highly of No One Left Behind’s AI, but when it couldn’t differentiate even between a taxi driver and a farmer, it blew up in their face.
So of course, they blame AI.