Silicon Valley’s hottest buzzword, Artificial Intelligence (AI), is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, i.e., the ability of machines to think and learn like humans. AI is developing at every turn, and it can foster tremendous improvements on most areas of our lives. For instance, AI is learning how to read mammograms, and may outperform humans at interpreting images that suggest the presence of cancer. Yet, there are also possible perils of AI getting out of hand, as sci-fi likes to portray – just ask fans of the hit TV series “Westworld” what can happen when machines take revenge on their creators. So, should we be excited by the potential AI affords us or worried?
Here are three reasons to be weary of AI’s continued growth, and three reasons AI is paving the way towards a brighter future.
Artificial? No Thanks.
What we don’t know about AI can hurt us
Advancements in AI are rapidly developing, perhaps much faster than the public can appreciate or keep up with. Elon Musk, a purveyor of ingenuity and no stranger to forward-thinking, often speaks out against AI for this reason. For example, he has said that while Google’s AI and robotics efforts are well-intentioned, the company could end up accidentally building “a fleet of artificial-intelligence-robots capable of destroying mankind.” And while this may sound too Matrix-esque to be taken seriously, it carries faint echoes of the time Facebook’s AI bots began communicating with one another in a language that humans couldn’t understand, puzzling their creators. Similar confusion ensued when Amazon’s Alexa devices began spontaneously laughing at their owners’ requests. AI complex algorithms may result in outcomes that surpass human understanding. If that happens, no one will be able to predict its next move.
Unregulated = dangerous
Similar to the cryptocurrency market, AI isn’t regulated yet – thus posing potentially incredible risks to the population. Plus, maintaining privacy is virtually impossible with the advance of AI. More concerning than that, though, is the leg up AI gives to criminals; look no further than the “Methbot,” which was used by Russian cybercriminals to embezzle $3 to $5 million in video ad revenue – per day – from premium publishers. And, according to a report put out by Oxford, Stanford and Cambridge Universities, AI can be used to automate financial hacking, perpetuate phishing scams, and make weapons more destructive, among other things. Until policymakers get on top of AI-related security problems, the technology can be harmful in the wrong hands.
No one is indispensable
An AI-based world will likely throw job security into question. Machines are more efficient than humans, don’t need breaks, and can learn at a speed with which we simply cannot compete. We can already see it happening: Some cashiers in the UK have been replaced by self-service checkout; one Chinese factory in Dongguan City, in China’s central Guandong Province, has traded 90% of their workers for robots (increasing its productivity). Research shows that adding one more robot in a commuting zone (i.e., areas used for economic analysis) cuts employment by six workers in that area. Autonomous machines will continue to lower the employment-to-population ratio in the next few years.
While professions like artists, chefs and writers will never be eliminated, AI could replace the jobs of those in weaker parts of the demography. For example, the at-home kitchen robot may subsume the need for food industry workers. Content-creating algorithms may put various freelancers out of business. Even programmers and engineers aren’t be untouchable, as innovations in machine learning now allow AI to learn without human help. AI technology is already a major contributor to the growing divide, and it stands to bolster inequality even more than it already has.
Life of convenience
As AI continues to progress, our daily lives are only going to get easier. Self-driving cars are on the brink of becoming normalized, due to AI-powered technology that allows these cars to keep their passengers safe. Personalized dining experiences are coming to your home kitchens, by virtue of robots eager to learn your culinary preferences and allergies. Google Search is being transformed by machine learning, leading us to access answers from anywhere, including our smart homes and cars. News and market reports will be tailored to our interests, and our needs will be met by AI-driven virtual assistants who will know what we want before we request it.
A new economy at the right time
AI is the change the global economy needs. As of now, we’ve maxed out many of our resources and we are scrambling desperately to find new ways of industrial growth. The world would be at a stalemate, were it not for AI. According to a recent study by Accenture, AI is poised to double our economic growth within the next 20 years. In fact, the Brookings Institute asserts that whoever leads in AI over the next decade will rule the world until 2100!
A software-driven economy – i.e. an economy of abundance – will cause production costs to go down to zero and allow people to make more efficient use of their time. Also, capital and labor will no longer revolve around resource scarcity. We can already see this taking effect; Uber, for example, is the biggest taxi company in the world, yet has no cars. Etsy, a retail giant, owns no products. And let’s not forget about Shopify, an online merchant that handles all of Kylie Jenner’s multi-billion-dollar cosmetics sales and fulfillment. It has now introduced an AI-powered fulfillment network. AI is the capability necessary to revolutionize the economy; all we have to do is let it happen.
Collaborate, not replace
AI won’t just make life easier, it will also help mankind to better tackle our most basic needs, like health and security. The AI of today serves to “augment” our future selves, which the medical world is already substantially benefiting from; AI is joining the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and robotic surgeons have produced better results on the operating table than some humans can. While Facebook just announced that it is shutting down its AI-based facial recognition system, the technology itself may become the new credit card and driver’s license in the future. Such changes are an innovative way of tightening security and will help prevent credit card and identity theft. AI is the way of the future, and past social ills – like the ease with which one could steal an identity – only show us how big of an improvement AI will be on our lives. In simple terms, AI is here to lift us up – not take us down.
Bottom line: AI will certainly improve our standards of living, but the improvements may not be worth our venturing into the risky unknown. What do you think? Do you want AI to play a significant part in your life? Do we even have a choice?