The Fear of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
When Stephen Hawking says that AI could be the end of humanity, people tend to take notice.
Throw in Elon Musk and Bill Gates adding their two cents, and a full-blown fear or AI can take hold.
Yet, even in voicing their AI concerns, all three are actively involved in the AI community. They all see the huge upside of this technology.
The quote from Hawking that drew so much notice implicitly states this, as he said AI will be “either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity.”
So, why all the concern?
The Fear of Emotion in AI
From 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Terminator to The Matrix and HBO’s Westworld, some of our most popular and culturally significant films and shows are built upon the premise of AI creatures developing not just higher intelligence, but also human emotion.
HAL 9000 may have sounded robotic, but when Bowman is shutting him down, HAL expresses fear.
Emotions are what makes us human, and it’s impossible for us humans not to project our emotions onto things, even inanimate objects. Build-a-Bear stores can be found in every mall for a reason.
In film, this began with the simple emotions of compassion and fear.
Do we like or dislike this robot? Does it seem to like us? Compassion.
Does it want to destroy us? FEAR!
Now, we don’t just project every emotion onto our robot main characters – BB-8, C-3PO, and half the characters of Battlestar Galactica – they express the full range of human emotion themselves. They are, in essence, human.
This is even adapted to the voice of Siri and Google Maps – something pleasant sounding that conveys warmth and helpfulness.
This is where the fear of AI developing emotions comes in. If it can feel, it can make emotional decisions.
Combine this with high intelligence, and it’s easy to visualize robots wanting to take us out.
Humans can be smart, but also incredibly stupid, another fact Hawking is privy to.
We tend to like to kill each other in big wars and trash our habitats.
If a being comes into our existence with much higher intelligence and a full range of emotion, we can quickly see (and empathize) with a sentient robot who might decide, “You know, you humans are more trouble than you’re worth.”
The Real Fear of AI
There is a lot of truth to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first Terminator portrayal – that of an indiscriminate killing machine. Autonomous weapons seem to be quickly on the horizon, with only legal matters holding back their development.
This is definitely a legitimate fear, but even in this this field, the AI is “thinking” for itself only based on variables it’s programmed to take into consideration. It has no emotion.
While still frightful, it is human controlled, or at least human enabled, meaning that a human being is still responsible for the AI’s action.
The AI is not choosing to be a killing machine on its own.
If you’re looking for a more practical fear for AI, look at employment.
Artificial Intelligence a threat to our jobs?
We’ve been witnessing it since the 1980s, and it was a big topic in this year’s election – the loss of manufacturing jobs throughout our country.
However, the real state of things is that most manufacturing jobs haven’t been lost overseas.
They’ve been lost to automation. This is especially true in the coal and mining industries.
For menial tasks, a computer is a lot more efficient and less costly than a person.
As AI continues to grow and get smarter, having computers do the work will continue to move up the job ladder, taking over highly-skilled positions.
According to the University of Oxford, about 47% of total U.S. employment is at risk to computerization.
Bill Gates has said that “once computers and robots get to a level of capability where seeing and moving is easy for them, then they will be used extensively.”
Gates can envision a world where robots pick fruit and move hospital patients between departments.
Self-driving cars are already a reality and may signal the end of human taxi, limousine, and Uber drivers, or at least limit human drivers to a niche, “exclusive” market.
Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes that we are rapidly moving towards the time of a labor-light economy.
This means that labor jobs, for the most part, will be out the proverbial window.
However, Mr. McAfee also sees the job growth that can be created with AI.
The workforce and job demands have only increased with each technological leap in society, from the Industrial Revolution to the Information Age.
The leading source of cognitive computing can also shed some light on how AI will be integrated into the workforce, without directly replacing jobs.
IBM Watson as an Integral Force in Business
In all these instances, Watson isn’t replacing jobs. It’s augmenting them.
The cognitive capabilities of Watson support the creative process, target market segments, and diagnose disease by crunching large amounts of data and formulating likely scenarios based on analytics.
For example, a doctor has their training and research to base opinions on.
Add in Watson’s capabilities, and that doctor now has the insight of thousands of research papers in which to base their diagnosis or decision.
Watson brings more information to the table in an easily digestible form.
AI isn’t going to take over all human functions. As with Watson, it will augment them. If history is an accurate indicator, AI will create entirely new job categories.
If we think of AI in terms of weaponry (as defense contractors have already done), there is a very scary space AI can occupy.
However, even DARPA wants AI to deliver an explanation for proposed actions.
But when we look at AI’s most altruistic applications, it’s hard not to see how AI will be the next giant leap forward in the evolution of society.