Does Artificial Intelligence benefit the Common Good?
The invention of the steam engine triggered revolutionary societal changes. Machines replaced physical work. They produced goods cheaper, faster and more effectively. In the end everyone profited from that through more prosperity. A similar development is becoming apparent today: in many areas artificial intelligence is replacing processes which require human thinking. Will we also all benefit from this?
The Potential of Artificial Intelligence
What can artificial intelligence do? In theory AI systems can undertake all processes which require human thought. And that is exactly the idea behind AI: to imitate human thinking as far as possible. But do these capabilities for a new programming style provide advantages for everyone?
The initial successes are impressive: AI creates new business models and advances the economy in doing so. It enables for example innovative solutions for e-commerce and helps to reduce greenhouse emissions via intelligently guided traffic flow. The principle behind it is convincing: AI frees up human resources by having machines assume repetitive communication and design processes.
- The potential of talented employees is better used. Creativity receives more freedom.
- The precise work of AI-controlled robots ensures flawless results. Society benefits from this, for example through less harm due to defective products.
- Robots with AI software take over human activities in dangerous situations.
This list could go on and on. However, it is already obvious that economic development profits from artificial intelligence. Companies that miss the AI boat have no future.
Big Data for Health
A specific aspect of artificial intelligence aiding the common good becomes apparent in the healthcare system. AI makes faster and more reliable diagnoses possible. In theory it can take over all standardizable processes, which highly educated medical specialists must handle today. In this way machine learning is utilized for the efficient deployment of expert knowledge.
What’s more, big data comes into play too. An ever-increasing amount of information on specific disease progressions could significantly improve diagnostics and pave the way for therapy forms to move from standardized to largely individualized.
That data privacy aspects must also be taken into consideration here is another matter entirely. Sooner or later the medical successes will push the legal concerns into the background. But the employment of AI systems for improved data privacy protection is also possible.
AI and the Environment – No Contradiction
The question concerning the societal benefits of artificial intelligence of course also touches on issues of our long-term future. Regarding the future of humanity, the discussion especially revolves around ecological foundations. Can climate change still be halted without society having to accept sensitive prosperity losses? Here too there are impressive initial developments:
- Offshore wind farms adapt to changing environmental conditions and processes in energy supply networks. The German Federal Ministry for Education and Research supports this development.
- AI lowers greenhouse emissions as smooth flowing traffic regulated by an intelligent system is environmentally friendly. Traffic lights then only turn red when it is truly necessary.
- Smart homes not only create safety and comfort within your own four walls but can also aid in the efficient use of heating energy and electricity. Artificial intelligence plays a decisive role here.
And so, AI is becoming a relevant factor in the energy consumption turnaround and the careful handling of limited resources. Artificial intelligence and the environment therefore do not stand in opposition to each other. While digitalization is gaining a hold on more and more areas of life, at the same time machine learning is making the energy required for that environmentally friendly and efficient to generate.
Modern Era – Industrialization – Digitalization
Is artificial intelligence of use to the general public? A look at history uncovers some parallels. In the development of human society there have been advances and regression while technical discoveries were often the catalyst for societal upheavals.
- With the invention of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg heralded the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern era. The basis for that was the unparalleled quick dissemination of information via printed paper. With that change society’s knowledge increased by leaps and bounds.
- The appearance of the steam engine at the end of the 18th century accelerated the production of goods, and with that increased material wealth. More and more products could be manufactured in less and less time.
And the digital revolution that began at the end of the 20th century is still changing a growing number of life aspects today:
- Communication processes take place at the speed of light. Machines already communicate with each other at an ever-increasing number of places.
- With the assistance of artificial intelligence these communications processes are being continuously optimized.
- As a consequence of this, the sector is growing in which digital systems make more intelligent and effective decisions than humans.
The future of artificial intelligence will be decided on that last point: to what extent will society allow that decisions are being made by algorithms? The answer to that is obvious: every algorithm is only as good as the principles that stand behind its programming. A knife can be used to kill a person, but only a knife makes it possible for a person to slice bread too – it is the intention that matters.
In the end the question “AI or human” will not decide things. Rather the choice of the ethical foundations for AI algorithms will be the crucial factor. But the fact remains that AI is coming.
Artificial intelligence is the steam locomotive of the 21st century. It will serve as the engine for the advancement of society. Positive effects can already be seen: increased productivity, efficiency gains through automation and especially more latitude for innovation and creativity. But where this journey will take us in the end we don’t know yet, just like the people in 1800 wouldn’t have been able to imagine trains, airplanes, gramophones and electric light. It is up to all of us to use the opportunities of artificial intelligence to benefit the common good.