Since artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving faster than ever, it is not surprising why some say it spells out our demise. However, the development of AI and its potential applications are fascinating. Looking closer, both sides seem to have a point.
By using neural networks, deep learning is what makes AI today so powerful. This is because AI no longer refers to unintelligent robots that fulfil repetitive tasks, but algorithms that can learn and improve - similar to how humans do. An interesting example is an AI that learned how to play Mario. While starting off not even knowing the controls, the AI ends up learning how to play extremely well.
When the first mechanical computer was being created in the 19th century, its purpose was to compensate for what humans lacked - computational power . As computers have evolved, they have been able to do more than just mathematical computations. AI not only allows for the automation of repetitive tasks, but also as it develops, it will be able to do even more jobs that humans currently do. This does not mean that robots will take over the world, as they do not understand fully what they are doing. Thus, humans are still required for robots to fulfil their purpose. Furthermore, robots can learn how to do certain tasks better than humans can, which is what makes them so exciting yet terrifying.
Google Duplex has brought the possibilities of human-like AI to life. In the demo at Google I/O 2018, the AI personal assistant is shown to make a phone call to schedule an appointment. Although it is important to understand that, this is just a demo and most likely cherry-picked from an array of bad trials, it shows how much technology has developed and what is now possible. With deep learning, Google Duplex is expected to improve as it learns more about speech patterns - becoming more and more convincing.
Using AI can enhance our way of living, but what happens when we are no longer in control? This is what many are scared of as warned by sci-fi films like Terminator and Space Odyssey. With the rapid evolution of AI, this fear may not be misplaced.
"You'll be at the superhuman level almost as soon as that algorithm is implanted, in silicon"
Although the advantages are tremendous, so are the dangers. By using a computer to think the way we do, it is hard to stop at just the human level. Some may argue that it is solely a benefit for an entity far more intelligent than humans to exist. However, it is also the reason that people like Elon Musk say, "artificial intelligence is our biggest existential threat" . Humans are already reliant on technology. From our smartphones to home Assistants, the threat of a robot invasion may not be so ridiculous. As AI develops to possibly gain self-awareness, there is the potential threat that we may no longer be able to control it.
AI and Jobs
As AI becomes more dominant, it also leaves concerns in the job market. As more and more jobs are being taken by automation, companies are becoming more efficient but at the cost of unemployment. Although this will likely open more jobs in other sectors, these will require higher-level skill sets that often cannot be filled by the people displaced.
Technological unemployment is not a new phenomenon, but the expected calibre of the impact from AI is unprecedented. Throughout history, technological advances have been shown to cause unemployment. Notably, Luddites in the 19th century show that our concern towards technology has always existed .
Jobs are expected to decrease over the decade including in the information sector, which was anticipated to lose about 65,000 jobs in 2016. By increasing productivity, we are risking unemployment . As a result of the job market overhaul, AI is predicted to create a new economy, which we will certainly have to prepare for. One possible idea that is often brought up as a solution is a universal basic income. This would entail that even if a person were unemployed, they would still receive a basic income . Although this might help to ease the burn of a job market that people do not have the skills to enter, this might hinder the motivation of workers who see others receiving free money.
"Our education system is in need of an overhaul"
A more pragmatic approach is to develop the skills of the new generation so they are prepared for the new jobs that will inevitably be created by robots. The new generation will be growing up in a society where learning simple skills like following instructions will not be enough to get a job since repetitive blue-collar tasks can be fulfilled more efficiently by a robot. For this reason, people like Andrew McAfee believe we need to rethink the way our education system works.
There are several impediments before AI that can be used commercially. However, great innovations are already being developed right here in Waterloo. With the launch of the Waterloo Artificial Intelligence Institute in April 2018, Waterloo has shown its commitment to advancing AI. To learn more about Waterloo AI including the research underway check out the Waterloo Artificial Intelligence Institute website.
AI has the possibility to increase the standard of living for everyone. At the same time, it is growing so fast it would not be surprising if we soon loose control of AI technology. Nevertheless, whether robots take over the world or whether we are able to effectively harness the power of AI, we will just have to wait to find out.
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 Ontario Basic Income Pilot. (2017, April 24). Retrieved from https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontario-basic-income-pilot
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