Ask Tech Effect: Why Are People So Worried About AI?
Imagine a world where you can speak to your house and it will understand you.
Imagine a world where you have a virtual assistant who can find the answers to your questions.
Imagine a world where robots are an everyday reality.
That’s a world that is slowly becoming a reality as technology is progressing.
We’re enjoying an era where artificial intelligence is no longer a science fiction dream. It is in our phones, in our toys and even in our computers.
Countries around the world are testing robots as waiters or even hotel bellboys to help people get around.
Scientists are using robots and the military is using drones to carry out tasks that humans are not able or willing to do. Businesses are using artificial intelligence as a way to attract customers.
Artificial intelligence, or AI, is bringing so many benefits, it seems weird that many people are talking about doom-and-gloom topics.
Famous scientists such as Stephen Hawking and entrepreneurs like Elon Musk are warning us about the dangers of AI and how we need to avoid a catastrophic disaster. It is possible for AI to evolve and upgrade themselves to the point where it could wipe out humanity.
On a less apocalyptic level, people are worried that robots equipped with AI could replace our jobs and leave many of us jobless. Our workforce could shrink, and billions of people would be out of a job and have no way to survive.
Science fiction has shown us that AI can be great, but the thought that AI could take our jobs and our lives is not a comforting feeling, especially since that is what ends up happening when AI gets out of control.
But the threat isn’t immediate, so many people are actually wondering about two things.
Will AI deliver the benefits that it promises?
And will AI be capable of threatening humanity and can we control it?
Let’s take a look.
What Is Artificial Intelligence?
Artificial intelligence is, as the name implies, an intelligence created through artificial means such as technology.
It’s the intelligence you would see in humans, but can be done by computer systems.
This means a computer’s brain would be able to come up with thoughts and solutions like ours, but would use the technology available to it to determine the best options.
It’s great when making decisions that need a lot of calculations to run, because computer systems can run calculations and programs at a much faster rate than humans can, which leads to optimum results in a shorter time.
As AI can make these decisions based on a set of parameters, it’s easy for AI to repeat the process again and again, without the fear of getting bored like humans do, or make careless mistakes that humans make.
As computers do not have emotions, you don’t have the problems of emotional breakdown or conflict that comes with decision making and debates, which saves a lot of time spent on fighting and recovering from conflict.
This Is A Good Thing, Isn’t It?
Faster and more effective decision making with an unbiased viewpoint is what everyone wants. The result will be decisions that are focused on the outcome that benefits as many people as possible, rather than decisions that benefit a few people.
If the computers are advanced enough, you can create decisions that can take future predictions into account, which allows for short and long term considerations.
This also frees up human employees to focus their efforts on other areas which the company may need. Your company might be able to enforce a work-life balance which lets your employees gain greater working satisfaction and lead to greater productivity in the areas that need it.
Eventually, systems can operate so well that they can take over the tasks that some employees struggle to do. You will then see systems replace employees, as AI becomes intelligent enough to do the tasks of employees without actually needing humans.
Wait, AI Can Take My Jobs?!
The potential exists.
You see, as AI can work longer, harder and in some cases better than humans, it makes very little sense, from a business perspective, to put humans (who demand work-life balance, pay and respect) in a task and allow inefficiencies to occur.
It’s the exact same logic as outsourcing. Why would you pay people a higher wage, benefits and bring them in to the office, when you can hire another employee in another country who is happy to be paid a smaller salary, have no benefits and you don’t need to see them?
Now one might object that this isn’t fair to employees who put in their heart and soul into a business. They’ve been there for a long time, helping the company be the success it can be.
But in the world of business, profits are the top priority.
If you could make the most amount of money by replacing highly paid employees with AI that doesn’t need a lot of money, can work harder, come up with better solutions and does not come with office drama, you would do the same in a heartbeat.
However, not all jobs can be perfectly replicated by an AI. Nursing care, for example, requires too much human support to be replaced by an AI. The human element is so deeply entrenched an AI cannot copy it.
So you won’t have to fear all jobs being taken. But jobs are being replaced by AI even now, and more jobs will be replaced in the near future.
If AI Can Take My Jobs, What’s Next?
This is where the doomsday scenarios come in.
As AI becomes more prominent in our everyday lives, and we gain better technology to upgrade the computer systems, there exists the possibility that an advanced military program may believe that the best scenario for world peace requires less people in the world.
An environmental science program could come up with the same conclusion. The best way to save our planet? Perhaps the removal of humanity appears to be the optimal solution.
The thought sounds ridiculous, but you have to remember that computers are designed to find the optimal solution, not find the solution that benefits humanity. In their mind, that solution DOES benefit humanity.
Now for those of you who imagine a Terminator-like scenario where humans would be fighting against machines, here’s something to think about.
Humans take about 9 months to be born, and about 18 years to fully grow up and be considered an adult. During that entire time, the child needs a great amount of care and support to survive. Injuries and sickness need a lot of recovery time, and sometimes, they can affect our performance.
Humans, as living things, take a very long time to improve, as we have to be trained and taught. If we do “upgrade” or improve ourselves, it can take years.
Machines do not need a lot of time to fully assemble, they are fully functioning the moment the switch is turned on, and very little care outside of basic maintenance is needed. If there are any major issues, repairs and system upgrades take very little time to do.
Machine upgrades are easy to develop and quick to implement. It’s like swapping out parts for better ones. Quick, efficient and the upgrades apply immediately.
We’re not likely to be in a John Connor scenario where we will ultimately triumph. Machines are capable of upgrading themselves faster than we can, and if we did have a confrontation with AI, as scientists like Stephen Hawking have pointed out, our chances of winning would be small.
Even the assumption that we might be able to beat a robot army assumes that AI thinks that there should be a robot uprising. AI might choose to wipe out humanity with something more efficient like a global plague we could not recover from.
AI carries a dangerous amount of potential, and it would be ridiculous to believe that it will never try and hurt us.
So Does That Mean We Shouldn’t Ever Make AI?
The risks are enormous and have tremendous consequences if we don’t recognize that.
At the same time, AI can bring a lot of benefits to the world that used to be in the realm of science fiction.
So any AI system that is created should actually be able to bring the benefits described while having risks we can manage.
It’s certainly easier said than done, but it’s something we need to keep in mind as we develop AI.
The dangers are certainly present, but if managed correctly, can bring us a more advanced society that gives people more time in their lives.
And let’s be honest; every new change will come with risks. If we ever want the world of science fiction to become a reality, we will have to accept that these are the dangers of advanced technology.
Is AI Capable Of Killing Us All?
Currently, not right now.
You may have heard of supercomputers beating world chess champions (Deep Blue vs. Kasparov) and most recently, the global Go champion being beaten by Google’s supercomputer.
However, while these demonstrate the strength of AI, these are just specialized programs that do nothing but a single purpose: play a game.
You won’t suddenly see a computer that knows how to play chess try to wipe out humanity. It’s not programmed to do that. It will still crush you on the chess board though.
That doesn’t mean it will never gain that capability, or that we can’t do something about it.
It just means that you’re not going to see robots suddenly killing people on the news. It’s just not a possibility at this moment, or in the near future.
But remember, AI doesn’t have emotions. It’s just asked to do something and do it well.
So there may be a possibility that we ask AI to find an answer and it involves no humans.
And that’s when we need to be worried.
Are We Helpless?
If we can work together to tackle the threat and address it before it happens, we might be able to keep AI beneficial for everyone without accidentally creating a system that might kill us all.
It’s certainly easier said than done, but it’s not the first time humanity has overcome challenges.
We’ve put a man on the moon, harnessed the power of the atom, and utilized solar and wind power to save our world.
We can work with AI, but we can’t be ignorant about the threat it can pose to us.
As for what we can do, we will just have to see what happens in the future. We will find out how to make AI work, and we will have to see what impacts it has on our lives.
There Are Real Worries, But Also Real Opportunities
I don’t think anyone is saying that AI won’t make a positive impact on our lives.
We are seeing the benefits of AI through programs such as Cortana and Siri, and you can see advances in AI being trialed in different places around the world.
Despite these benefits, we should not forget that AI has dangerous potential, and business is not just our only concern.
So keep in mind what AI can do for us, both the good and the bad, and we’ll be more prepared to embrace a future where anything can happen.
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