- And now… a network that speaks your language
- Nokia’s system enables the reconfiguration and reallocation of network resources by voice or text
- Natural Language Networks will supposedly “eliminate the complexity of managing networks”
- And will “deliver and maintain the ideal network configuration for any customer the moment it is requested”
- But what about controls and regulation?
As day one of the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s AI Safety Summit gets underway at Bletchley Park, the English country house that was the centre of Allied code-breaking efforts and activities during World War II, Nokia is claiming a major breakthrough in “natural-language networks” that has artificial intelligence at its heart.
The giant Finnish vendor has unveiled an AI-based network management system that, it claimed, will ultimately be able to “understand the intention of users and have the intelligence to act upon them autonomously” by independently reconfiguring networks and reallocating the resources on the fly. It added the system “continuously learns from its actions, further optimising the network with each successive request… as its knowledge increases, the natural-language network anticipates service and application needs and self-adapts to them without any human intervention.”
What’s more, the process doesn’t require teams of coders and days or weeks of work to make the changes: Inputs to change network elements and reconfigure them into a new layout and patterns can be applied, instantly, by the human voice in plain speech or even via text prompts! Nokia says this is a hugely important step towards the automation of telco and data network management.
Researchers at Nokia Bell Labs, which holds 26,000 patents and is home to 11 Nobel Prizes (to date), have unveiled a natural-language networking proof of concept that exhibits massive potential for the future of data communications. It was demonstrated at the Brooklyn 6G Summit in the US, an annual event sponsored by Nokia and the Wireless Research Center at the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University. The summit was inaugurated in 2014 and, this year, the theme for its 10th anniversary, which began with a Halloween gathering last night and runs through until 2 November, is “Creating the foundation for 6G”.
Nokia says natural language networks will “eliminate the complexity of managing networks, while enabling much more responsiveness to end user’s needs. By leveraging AI, these networks will allow service providers to deliver and maintain the ideal network configuration for any customer the moment it is requested.” In essence, natural language processing and AI/ML models interpret orders made in simple speech to text automatically to determine and allocate the right combination of network resources necessary to meet the demands made.
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Natural language networking is a component of UNEXT, the Nokia Bell Labs research initiative that has set the goal of redefining network software and systems and developing solutions whereby networks will understand the intention of users and have the intelligence to act upon them autonomously.
Natural language processing is a subset of AI designed to allow computers to handle and understand voice or text inputs. The machines can decipher spoken or printed language and “learn” their structures via logical models, which reduce the languages to their component parts, such as morphological, syntactic, semantic, discourse, and pragmatic, via segmentation and other parameters. Models are being created that can separate and comprehend details from natural language specific to a particular domain, such as the nomenclature of telecoms, both in the form of text and speech. As a result, natural language processing enables the user to be understood by the computer without them having to adapt or curtail the way they normally talk. (Not so sure about text though!)
Commenting on the breakthrough, Csaba Vulkan, network systems automation research leader at Nokia Bell Labs (and a man hopefully destined to live long and prosper), stated: “Operators won’t need to explore technical catalogues or complex API [application programmable interface] descriptions when they configure networks. Instead, a simple statement like ‘Optimise the network at X location for Y service’ will work. Those requests could be used to configure a wireless network in a factory for robot automation or optimise networks at a concert for a barrage of social media uploads.”
It is somewhat ironic that such a potentially important AI breakthrough has been announced on the opening morning of the AI Safety Summit, which is seeking to define some basic rules to regulate and police AI. The notion that networks may, in the future, ultimately be able to change their configurations without having to be told to do so will be heralded as fantastic innovation by some but could well be regarded by others as a nightmare scenario.
However, it’s best not to get too excited at this stage as there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip. What has been demonstrated is a proof of concept, and if I had a British pound for every next-best-thing-since-sliced-bread PoC I have seen and that then turned out to be a nine-day wonder (if that), I’d probably be able to afford to buy a railway ticket from London to Watford. Demos are always tightly controlled, but as we see every day, real life isn’t.
By the way, the derivation of UNEXT is UNIX, the legendary operating system (OS) that was, of course, invented by Bell Labs. The plan is for UNEXT to make the process of securely integrating anything with the network into a simple task by evolving the network itself into an OS. Genius… we wait with bated breath for the occasion on which a UNEXT system responds to a complex instruction to perform a particularly urgent and complex domain network configuration change with a simple “UWOT?”
- Martyn Warwick, Editor in Chief, TelecomTV
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