By Ray Tellili
We hear about it all the time; machine learning, deep learning, big data, neural networks — the nomenclature goes on, but exactly how in concrete terms will this change our lives? Artificial Intelligence (AI) imitates human intelligence to help us perform simple or complex tasks. Intelligence is broadly defined by the Oxford Languages Dictionary as, ‘the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills’. AI is already here. It’s pervasive. It’s being used in every field imaginable. Machines that can build our houses from scratch, and that can grow our food more efficiently. Soon, sensor-loaded driverless trucks guided by software that reduce road accidents ‘significantly’ will deliver avocados from Mexico to Canada without ever stopping.
From robots that can work 24/7 with next to no supervision and no complaints, in factories where no lighting or heating is required to do the job, to space probes that can conduct missions on Mars where remote-control access is not currently possible due to distance, AI is everywhere. If you woke up this morning and checked the weather, your phone, social media, saw ads, used a navigation map, Uber, or received a YouTube video, podcast, or Netflix suggestion or used a bank card, you were using AI. It will not only disrupt, it will displace— it ‘is’ displacing.
Even in fields where a high level of expertise and experience has been acquired over years (even decades), Robotic surgeons will be able to perform with laser precision in remote regions. Holistic, proactive, robotic doctors (well beyond tele-medicine) that work without fatigue, without error, and that are highly specialized in multiple medical fields will operate, administer and examine tests right on the spot with genomic diagnostics. Robotic lawyers that can provide legal advice and make highly accurate predictions on the outcome of any case, for a fraction of the price of a real lawyer, are already here (in the form of software). The list of uses and applications is endless.
The more data that AI has the better it can perform. And with big data and 5G, and the Internet of Things or IOT as it’s called, which allows all our gadgets to ‘talk’ to one another, AI will become far more sophisticated and pervasive.
According to the ‘the New Scientist’, an Oxford and Yale University survey conducted with over 350 AI researchers concluded that, “there is a 50 per cent chance that machines will outperform humans in all tasks within 45 years. AI will master many activities a lot sooner, though. Machines are predicted to be better than us at translating languages by 2024, writing high-school essays by 2026, driving a truck by 2027, working in retail by 2031, writing a bestselling book by 2049 and surgery by 2053. In fact, all human jobs will be automated within the next 120 years, say respondents.”
It’s highly likely that machines and robots will be taxed, but will there be any work left for us to do? If machines can grow our food, make our clothes, build our houses, and improve our infrastructures, find cures and treatments, and arrange for our transport – and be taxed, what work will be left for us to do? Could be good news for the large number of people who don’t like their jobs or are just plain not engaged. Will this necessitate a Universal basic income?
If AI can help us figure out exactly what profession we’d be happiest and best suited for, will we be able to focus on our passions and innate skills instead; be they sculpture, sports, or sleeping or drinking? Will a whole new category of jobs and professions open up? One wonders if the change we are about to undergo is as profound as was the switch from hunting and gathering to farming in the ancient near east with all the good and bad that switch entailed.
If AI combined with quantum computing and massive data can resolve everything from the problem of plastic pollution in the oceans to eliminating warfare, what does that mean for the nation state?It’s perhaps the trickiest of all the ethics questions: AI and government. What are the very far-reaching implications of having an AI run government? Can democracy be assured? Will we need human politicians at all? Can democracy based on the will of the people turn into mob rule or the tyranny of the masses if decisions on important issues are left to super-efficient referendums?
Could AI or an AI-run world government subsume the nation state? Of course the very idea of a world government worries a lot of people – sane and insane, but an AI-run world government might not care what you think. It might conclude that global governance is the best way to tackle any number of problems. It may for example eliminate all the world’s armies and instead opt to use all those resources to create an earth-and-space based defensive system, to shield the earth against a mass extinction type event like a meteor strike that it has been tracking. Perhaps it might successfully propose a 10-year fishing ban on all the world’s oceans to allow sea life to recover. Like a parent with a child, it may make decisions for us that it deems are in our best interest, despite our kicking and screaming.
Mass surveillance states have far more big data at their disposal giving them an advantage over open and democratic societies that safeguard their data and privacy. The race is underway for AI Supremacy and quantum computing. The 2 heavy weight contenders are the United States and China. They’re not the only one’s of course. Russian President Putin stated that, “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind… Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”
Of course, AI has been weaponized and so the battlefield will now be fielded by, autonomous weapons and killer robotic auxiliaries that can carry equipment, resupply and make split second decisions. Commanders will have increasingly unparalleled access to real time data to better assess and act upon any decision – assuming the commanders will even be human.
As if swarm drones are not enough to worry about, a recent report by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence in the US identifies, ‘Mentally and physically augmented adversaries’ and ‘AI engineered pathogens’ among a few of the multiple adversarial AI threats. This brings us to gene editing and the rise of the super humans. Humans with enhanced cognitive and physical abilities will emerge. At first, gene editing will eliminate troublesome genes and ailments or hereditary genetic diseases for patients, but it won’t be long before it’s used to augment humans to create super humans – at least for those that who can afford it.
Is Artificial Intelligence a threat to the human species? Most people believe it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, many believe it can save humanity or at least dramatically improve our lives; and on the other, many believe it could destroy us or even dominate or enslave us. Many fear that if we create superior AI machines/beings and they imitate us; that is, they treat us the way we treat other species, then we’re in trouble! Certainly, when some of the greatest minds tell us that we are playing with fire and that we should tread very carefully, we should probably pay attention.
Here is what Stephen Hawking had to say: “It will either be the best thing that’s ever happened to us, or it will be the worst thing. If we’re not careful, it very well may be the last thing…Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all…media often misrepresent what is actually said. The real risk with AI isn’t malice but competence. A super intelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren’t aligned with ours, we’re in trouble. You’re probably not an evil ant-hater who steps on ants out of malice, but if you’re in charge of a hydroelectric green energy project and there’s an anthill in the region to be flooded, too bad for the ants. Let’s not place humanity in the position of those ants…we may face an intelligence explosion that ultimately results in machines whose intelligence exceeds ours by more than ours exceeds that of snails.”
Here is what Elon Musk had to say: “I have exposure to the most cutting edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned by it…AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.” Among some of Musk’s amazing projects; Neuralink project is certainly worth paying attention to. It aims to develop symbiotic technology, a type of computer interface connected to the brain, so that ultimately, if we can’t beat them, we can join them.
There are so many questions and so many unknowns as this is such a complex and fast moving field. No one seems to have the answers of how AI will shape the future. We can probably all agree that the only certainty is that Artificial Intelligence is about to change our world dramatically.