Artificial Intelligence or AI is rapidly gaining momentum around the world. While AI is often portrayed in film and television as a precursor to the end of the world, in reality, it is quite a bit more benign. AI, as we know it currently, is relatively innocuous.
Known as narrow or weak AI, it is only able to perform relatively simple tasks. Things like responding to your search requests on Google or facial recognition on the photos on Facebook are areas where weak AI can excel. A great example of a weak AI that we are all familiar with is the digital assistants we use in our daily lives.
Millions utilize Alexa, Siri, and Google’s digital assistant on smartphones and smart speakers worldwide for information and assistance. However, the goal is to eventually create general AI (also known as strong AI) that is capable of acting more autonomously.
Are we Opening Pandora’s Box?
Weak AI is extremely capable. It can find information and collate data looking for trends in a fraction of the time it takes a human to do the same. However, it is only powerful in a very narrow and specialized area. Strong AI, however, would be more capable than us in almost any cognitive endeavor.
There is a mix of opinion worldwide about the future of AI. Are we creating a competitor to humans as portrayed through the eyes of Science Fiction or will AI actually help catapult human civilizations to new pinnacles of growth and success? The simple fact is that we do not really know.
There are many examples throughout history of decisions made for all the right reasons that led to unforeseen consequences. Looking back on history we know that the industrial revolution was absolutely necessary to help us advance and grow. While it was in progress, it was a tumultuous time. The mass migrations of people from farms and villages to urban towns and cities brought with them disease and pollution, not to mention the poor working and living conditions and child labor. However, without that transformation, we would not be where we are today.
Benefits of AI
AI is helping to completely transform the way business is run and is undoubtedly one of the most disruptive technologies of our generation. In fact, the changes that AI will bring can be compared to the transformation the internet itself caused in just over two decades. AI has already transformed the way we work and live and will only continue to transform society in a myriad of different ways.
AI is exceptional at performing simple, repetitive tasks efficiently. While humans would get bored and lose attention, this is not a problem with AI and AI-powered machines. In this context, companies no longer have to worry about “human error” as humans have been removed from the equation.
Perhaps more importantly for businesses, AI tools and systems can work 24x7x365. AI-powered chatbots, for example, can provide real-time customer responses day or night, helping companies to improve the service they provide to customers. In addition to service and support, chatbots have also started to guide and direct customers to information, helping improve a companies bottom line.
Improved Decision Making
AI systems and algorithms can be “taught” to look for specific patterns and information. Once they have this knowledge, they can find it faster than we can. More importantly, however, AI decision making is impartial and unbiased and is not influenced by emotion. This technology is useful in facial recognition software and also with image recognition.
AI systems have proven extremely beneficial in the medical field in several different ways. They have improved doctors’ abilities to diagnose issues by analyzing patient symptoms and reviewing against a database of illnesses. They have also helped improve doctors’ skills by providing doctors with the ability to train on artificial simulators. AI systems can improve patient knowledge about side effects, and with the advent of AI wearables, can improve the alerting available to medical professionals.
Our day-to-day lives continue to grow ever more complex. Using a digital assistant is almost a necessity today and will only become more necessary in the future. Siri, Alexa, and the Google Assistant are only beginning to make inroads in this area. As they become more powerful and useful, we will grow even more dependent on them in our daily lives.
The Risks of AI
However, while there are benefits to AI in terms of the economy and our day-to-day lives, there are also concerns about where AI could go.
Impact to Jobs
Many people fear that AI and AI systems will negatively impact the job market. The fact is that AI systems can do simple and repetitive tasks better than we can. The benefits to businesses from the use of machines cannot be discounted. However, on the flip side, by removing this requirement from the workforce, humans are better able to fulfill the more complex tasks that machines are incapable of.
Perhaps the most common fear is that of a super-intelligent AI. An AI that determines it can better determine our fate and chooses to take either benevolent or malevolent action appropriately. Fortunately, experts believe that this is a fear, unlikely to come to pass. They do, however, posit two scenarios that are still somewhat frightening.
A Benevolent AI Uses Destructive Methods – If unclear instructions are provided, an AI could perform the requested action while still causing harm. In this scenario, a car could be asked to go from point A to point B as fast as possible. The autonomous vehicle could do so while ignoring other pedestrians and cars on the road to complete its goal.
AI Weapons That Cannot Be Shut Down – AI systems still need to be programmed by humans, and as AI continues to become more ingrained in our society, there is a risk that it can become weaponized. Autonomous weapons will have no other purpose aside from causing harm. As the technology continues to advance, a real chance of an AI arms race exists with a high likelihood of systems being built that are difficult to “turn off.” If humanity loses control in this scenario, a massive loss of life could occur.
Both of these scenarios could be considered doomsday scenarios, and in both instances, the issue is not the AI itself but rather the competence of the programmer. Strong AI systems will be extremely competent at achieving the goals they have been programmed for. If those goals do not align with our own, then we will have problems.
What Can We Expect?
The benefits of AI cannot be discounted, and while there are admittedly some risks in the job market, in reality, we have seen AI systems act more as a supplement to workers rather than a replacement for them. Regardless of how AI continues to change and grow, the truth is that human beings will decide on its eventual future and its true potential.
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