Did you ever imagine yourself talking to a machine and actually getting replies when you initially saw movies like Terminator and Age of Ultron? No? Well, neither did I, but this is the new normal. Alexa and Siri are a way of life for so many now. Frankly, this new wave of artificial intelligence has us completely drowned with its applications and is very inspiring to say the least. It’s also intimidating for people like me because, my wild imagination didn’t take a lot of time to conceive an Almighty AI taking over the world. Here, I’ll try elaborating on this concept without sounding inherently cataclysmic.
Everything Artificially Intelligent
Let’s start from the basics.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the ability of machines to perform certain tasks which require the intelligence showcased by humans and animals. The idea first came to prominence in 1950 when the British computer scientist Alan Turing suggested an “Imitation Game”, to assess whether a computer could fool humans into believing that they were actually communicating with another human.
Ever since, the exponential growth of AI has time and again demonstrated its potential as practical and profitable. Today, we are surrounded with devices using AI, like Alexa, email spam filters, Netflix recommendations, the 2021 Spotify wrap, self-driving cars and the list goes on. AI processes gigantic amounts of data which underpins fields including astronomy, weather forecasts, identifying signs of disease in medical imaging etc. Very often we understand AI to be a product, when in reality it is an enabler for most products and technologies we use. Many also consider it to be the most disruptive technology because of what it might or already is evolving to be.
Before 2020, AI was another tool to run businesses smoothly, organise and present data effectively, however it wasn’t really a driving force. Now that we’ve been wrecked by this major crisis-inducing pandemic, which has changed the way we live, work and socialize, we are starting to realize how self-teaching algorithms and smart machines will be a technological innovator of emerging ideas like big data, robotics and IoT. It is, in fact, being developed to fight the ongoing viral outbreak and prevent any such in the future. Start-ups based in AI technologies have not only become a part of the ecosystem, their revenues have skyrocketed.
AI Getting the Knack of Geopolitics
Investment in the development of AI has also indirectly become an indicator of how prosperous an economy is. As nations vie for leadership, the amount of research output is increasing rapidly. The 2019 AI Index Report, published by the Stanford Institute for Human-Centred Artificial Intelligence in California, estimates investments in AI amounting to US$70 billion. The USA, China and Europe visibly took the lead, however Israel, Singapore and Iceland were found to invest more heavily in per capita terms. The IDC expects AI induced global revenues to surpass $300 billion by 2024. Now, although the USA has been bossing around the AI playgrounds since its inception, China is the one that has achieved the fastest growth in terms of output, followed by the UK, and India happens to be the third most productive location for its research.
Many countries also view AI to provide a competitive edge not only economically, but militarily as well. Consider the example of the 2021 Space Race in the US and everything that’s been done to make it possible; it has set the American technological ecosystem decades ahead of all others. Similarly, if a country invests heavily, they’ll yield military technologies with unparalleled capabilities, which may also cause unprecedented destruction.
Is AI The Way To Go?
This brings me to a rather crucial part of this article. AI isn’t a bed full of roses though. It has its fair share of criticism as well. The late physicist, Stephen Hawking, told an audience in Portugal that AI’s impact could be cataclysmic unless its rapid development is strictly and ethically controlled. There’s always the existential threat to humanity which tops the list, however, before I get to the cherry on top, let’s first devour the sundae beneath.
The first concern which comes to mind is Job Automation. The question now isn’t if AI will replace and reduce jobs for humans, it is more on the lines of to what degree will it do so. Moreover, it isn’t just the mundane and mechanic jobs that will be lost, it’s also the white-collar jobs which are at risk. The entire fleet of aviation jobs might get eliminated because of automated aircrafts. The fields of law and accounting are also being told to keep a lookout, for once these self-learning machines learn to make sense of the reams of data to make automatic decisions based on computational interpretation, humans might as well start looking for alternate job opportunities.
The malicious use of AI will also adversely affect privacy and security, physically and online. All the digital data we provide and that which will be procured by other means will leave absolutely no information sacred, as is happening today with all the information protection laws that are being introduced. Where is all this data going? The government sure seems to keep its hand full infringing on our privacy by exploiting the fine print. Where will the line be drawn in terms of an authoritarian or a democratic government?
AI generated videos, called ‘deepfakes’, are one of the other irksome applications. These aren’t only becoming more popular but also extremely convincing. By exploiting voices and images adequately, one could create videos to spew hatred, incite others and do unwanted harm. In this situation, how do we figure out what’s real and what isn’t.
The Possibility of a Bleak AI Future
Another very real threat is autonomous weapons and a possible AI arms race. What if AI learns how to launch nukes, or an enemy begins to manipulate our home database without human intervention? Both disastrous yet extremely possible opportunities. Once developed, how difficult will it really be to control its popularity? Such weapons can be used to commit genocide, destabilize nations, assassinate leaders or create a potential battlefield. If I sound all doomsday, it’s not because I want to create a scare, rather, I want to create awareness about the risks of so readily embracing AI.
For, will these machines actually be able to contemplate from their heads and think from their hearts, or will they just make cold-calculated decisions sans empathy? Machines emoting like humans is one the poignant goals of present research.
The usage of AI in a regulated manner can make our lives extremely comfortable and even benefit the globe, socially, economically and politically. However, the massive threat that it poses, in case machines do learn to program themselves is one we just cannot take lightly. It’s imperative, we continue our research and expand our horizons with regard to knowledge. Let’s ponder over possibilities of what can be but let’s wait before we make it catastrophic just yet. Why not wait for another biohazard to strike the world and also my conviction by the humour committee.