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Shaping the AI Future: Key Trends and Insights from the AI & Big Data Expo’24

The AI and Big Data Expo Conference, held annually in Santa Clara, California, has become a landmark event in the industry, drawing professionals from diverse sectors to explore the latest...

 Toggel Table of Contents

The AI and Big Data Expo Conference, held annually in Santa Clara, California, has become a landmark event in the industry, drawing professionals from diverse sectors to explore the latest advancements in artificial intelligence and big data. This year's conference, which took place on June 05-06, 2024, was the second one I attended, and I was eager to witness the evolution and progress that had occurred since the 2023 edition. While engaging in various keynote addresses, panel discussions, roundtable conversations, and behind-the-scenes chats, I took quick notes to capture and organize the most meaningful trends and insights, and here are the key points I discovered. 

Big Players and Their Cutting-Edge Innovations

The event attracted sponsorship from tech giants like Google, IBM, and Oracle, each presenting their latest advancements and innovative tools. 

Google introduced "Gemini for Google Cloud", an AI-powered platform designed to enhance productivity and collaboration within the Google Cloud ecosystem. This platform integrates seamlessly with various Google Workspace applications, including Gmail, Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Meet. Leveraging advanced natural language processing and machine learning models, Gemini assists users by providing real-time suggestions, automating repetitive tasks, and generating creative content.

IBM took the stage to unveil "Watsonx," an AI and data platform aimed at helping businesses scale and accelerate their AI initiatives. Watsonx provides core components and a suite of AI assistants, enabling organizations to use AI and trusted data effectively to tackle complex business challenges.

I’ll also share Oracle’s innovations with you further in the article, but, notably, nowadays nearly every corporation provides solutions for software developers to augment their workflows through automated source code and test generation, documentation, debugging, and problem-solving suggestions. 

Each of these industry leaders demonstrated significant progress they have made since the previous year, offering their own ecosystems to streamline various aspects of AI and data management.

Main AI and Big Data Trends You Should Know in 2024

AI is rapidly evolving and reshaping how businesses operate and compete today. As this transformative technology integrates deeper into various industries it brings in both innovation and challenges driving the progress forward. The new trends in AI development are changing the game and the AI & Big Data Expo’24 has shown how far we’ve come. Let's have a look at the freshest insights from this event.


Current AI and big data trends


The Power of Edge Computing

The importance of edge computing for AI adoption in various industries is becoming increasingly clear. By processing data locally, edge computing addresses critical AI challenges such as privacy concerns and the demand for low latency, reducing the amount of sensitive information transmitted over networks and thus minimizing data breach risks. Furthermore, edge computing improves the security of AI systems by offering a more protected environment for data processing and storage.

Another significant advantage is its ability to reduce latency—the time it takes for data to travel from a source to its destination. Local data processing by edge computing devices drastically decreases latency, which is crucial for real-time decision-making applications. In the automotive industry, for instance, edge computing enables autonomous vehicles to make split-second decisions that could save lives. Even in everyday interactions with common AI-powered chatbots, users now expect meaningful responses within an average of 3 seconds.

The synergy between AI and edge computing has catalyzed innovation, resulting in new solutions that capitalize on the unique capabilities of both technologies. The conference highlighted the growing number of edge-computing-enabled solutions entering the market, designed to address various use cases and offering significant benefits.

Challenges and Innovations in AI Adoption for Sensitive Data

Organizations handling sensitive data, such as banks and healthcare providers, still face considerable challenges in fully embracing AI. Strict compliance requirements and regulations call for solid data protection measures, making it impractical to send data to the cloud or carelessly utilize public AI models. Consequently, these organizations must always implement additional layers of data access control, cleaning, filtering, and response verification before delivering results, even to internal end-users.

At the conference, PNC Bank effectively illustrated these challenges and their solutions related to regulatory compliance in the AI landscape. They demonstrated one of the ways to handle complex data protection requirements while making the most of AI's capabilities. Through a rigorous data governance approach, PNC ensures that all AI-driven processes adhere to legal and security standards. This includes advanced techniques for document loading and parsing and mechanisms for removing sensitive data before storage.

The PNC’s solution primarily operates on-premise, allowing them to send only contextual prompts containing non-sensitive data to large language models (LLMs) in the cloud. This hybrid approach safeguards sensitive information while leveraging the computational power of cloud-based AI.

Building a prototype of such a system can take just days, although developing a mature platform encompassing various use cases and success criteria typically spans months. This timeline was echoed by numerous experts at the conference, suggesting that hybrid solutions balancing regulatory compliance with cutting-edge AI capabilities will become more prevalent.

The Shift Towards "AI-First" Documentation

As more companies recognize the value of their data as a real asset, an interesting question arises about the format and structure of documents. Historically, documents have been created by humans for human consumption, often without consideration for machine readability or data extraction. However, in the age of AI, this mindset is shifting. Just as websites evolved towards a "mobile-first" design to accommodate the increasing use of smartphones, documents now need to adopt an "AI-first" approach to meet the demands of intelligent systems.

Creating "AI-first" documents means designing them to facilitate easy data chunking while preserving context and semantics. This structured approach ensures documents are not only easy for humans to read and understand but also optimized for AI processing. Properly formatted documents enable better data extraction and conversion into high-quality vectors, essential for consumption by LLMs.

The benefits of this shift include more reliable insights, improved decision-making, and a higher return on investment for AI initiatives. As this trend continues to grow, we may see new standards in document creation that seamlessly bridge human understanding and machine efficiency.

Oracle's Vector Support in Database 23ai

Since we have already touched on the topic of data vectorization, I’d like to share some insights from Oracle's keynote presentation on their latest release. Oracle has finally integrated vector support into their renowned Oracle Database 23ai. While PostgreSQL introduced the more or less useful version of “pgvector” extension back in 2022, Oracle has continuously innovated to meet the evolving demands of the AI era. Their latest version introduces AI Vector Search, a technology designed to take advantage of a new generation of AI models to generate and store vectors.

These vectors, often called embeddings, are multi-dimensional representations of various data types, including documents, images, videos, and audio. Encoding these objects as vectors allows for advanced similarity searches using mathematical calculations to identify patterns and correlations. The true power of Oracle Database 23ai lies in its capability to seamlessly combine similarity searches with traditional business data queries using simple SQL commands.

This integration means anyone with a basic understanding of SQL can craft powerful statements that marry similarity searches with other search criteria, providing LLMs with enhanced context. To support this functionality, Oracle has introduced a new data type, advanced vector indexes, and extensions to the SQL language.

These innovations make it incredibly simple to query vectors alongside business data, leveraging Oracle Database capabilities. This advancement not only streamlines complex data queries but also opens up new avenues for integrating AI into everyday business operations, setting a new industry standard in the databases world.

The Growing Popularity of Retrieval-Augmented Generation (RAG)

Compared to the last year, it became evident that solutions employing the Retrieval-Augmented Generation (RAG) approach have become significantly more widespread than those relying on model fine-tuning. While fine-tuning a pre-trained LLM on domain-specific data, such as financial documents, can enhance its expertise in that particular area, this method has notable drawbacks. Fine-tuned models often “forget” capabilities from their pre-trained state, heavily depend on the quality and quantity of domain-specific data (which can be very costly to gather), lack real-world knowledge beyond their training data, and require expensive retraining for updates.

In contrast, RAG systems maintain the LLM's pre-trained capabilities by not altering the model itself. They augment LLMs with customizable external knowledge sources like databases, allow for adding new knowledge sources without needing retraining, and have lower data requirements. As a result, RAG systems typically offer superior performance and retain the LLM's original competencies, making them a more efficient and versatile solution.

This growing trend suggests that RAG will continue to flourish, offering a scalable and adaptable approach to integrating AI and big data into various industries.

Emerging Tools for Enhanced AI Model Testing

The last topic I’d like to touch on is the rigorous testing of AI models. While building and testing a proof-of-concept with sample data is relatively straightforward, transforming it into a production system presents significant challenges. In production environments, data sources frequently change, the data itself is continually updated, and evolving business logic dictates the creation of different prompt templates. It’s getting increasingly difficult to ensure your system continues to generate valid and meaningful responses under these dynamic conditions.

A critical aspect of production-level AI model testing is addressing and mitigating AI bias. AI models can inadvertently amplify existing biases in the training data, leading to unfair or skewed outcomes. Continuous monitoring and testing are essential to guarantee the model produces unbiased and equitable results, maintaining ethical standards and regulatory compliance.

Moreover, discovering "unknown unknowns"—potential issues or errors previously unidentified—requires thorough and systematic testing procedures. These hidden problems can only be detected through extensive and continuous evaluation, often by simulating a wide range of scenarios and edge cases. This iterative process helps the model adapt to new data and changing requirements without compromising performance or reliability.

It’s encouraging to see more tools and platforms entering the market to support these testing and validation efforts. This influx of specialized solutions is a positive sign, indicating that the industry is increasingly aware of the complexities involved in deploying AI systems at scale. These tools not only facilitate comprehensive testing but also enhance the overall reliability and trustworthiness of AI applications, paving the way for broader adoption across various sectors.

Looking Ahead

This year's AI and Big Data Expo Conference showcased many advancements and trends, highlighting the industry's continual innovation and adaptation. From the growing prevalence of edge computing and the shift towards "AI-first" documentation to innovative solutions for handling sensitive data and the growth of the RAG-powered systems, the conference provided invaluable insights into the future of AI and big data. Looking ahead to next year's event, I am eager to see how these trends will evolve and what breakthroughs will emerge. The rapid pace of innovation promises to bring even more exciting developments and transformative solutions that will continue to shape the future of AI.

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