Entering a World of AI: Progress or Dystopia?

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Upon hearing the phrase “Rise of the Machines,” many people’s first instinct would be to think of a sci-fi apocalyptic movie, using the common trope of AI taking over the world as we know it. It’s an overwhelming idea, to say the least, but the truth of the matter is that we truly are in the age of machines! The question is, are we ready to tackle all the issues that come hand in hand with progress and innovation? As with any kind of technological advancement developing at exponential rates, we have to try to stay one step ahead of the game, which is becoming increasingly difficult. There is a lot that we stand to gain from the usage of Big Data and AI, but at what cost? These are some of the topics that will be touched upon during the thematic panel discussion at WCIT 2019. 

Where is AI heading?

A general definition of what Artificial Intelligence (AI) is will tell you that it is a machine simulation of human intelligence processes, that is, the process of computer systems sensing their environment, thinking, and sometimes even learning and taking actions based on what they have sensed. In recent years, the use of AI technology has become staggeringly mainstream, in the form of digital assistants for example. It has already been established through different studies that AI will become much better at making predictions than humans are and all of this Machine Learning is based on Big Data. We are in an age where data is the new oil. Just because AIs are better predictors, however, doesn’t mean that we are totally ready to let them take over. There’s always something that holds us back...our trust in (often flawed) human judgment.   

Economy

There are no questions about how Big Data, AI and robotics are extremely useful to us in terms of offering us new freedoms, safety, and conveniences. These technologies are helping us to work more efficiently across all sectors. What’s more, is that AI is a rapidly growing market. Revenues are expected to reach $50 billion by 2020 alone! Public attitudes towards AI are also much more optimistic than the dystopian worlds shown on Hollywood screens would like us to believe. According to a PwC report conducted in 2017, “63% of consumers agree that AI will help to solve complex problems that plague modern society, such as closing the education gap, establishing cures for cancer and other diseases, and even gender inequality challenges.”

It’s been estimated that thanks to the impact of AI our global GDP could become up to 13.8% higher in 2030. As for the efficiency of AI, they beat us hands down. AI cuts costs and significantly reduces the risk of human error. This is especially true for the production of capital. We wouldn’t be limited to hard labor for production, in fact, with the use of AI, we would be able to increase the quality of output while simultaneously minimizing error. Studies continuously point to AI leading to improved efficiency, quality and therefore, capital. This leads to a better economy. It’s even getting to the point that not taking up these innovative opportunities could be detrimental to future businesses and organizations. Soon, these very advancements will become key to their survival in the modern world market. 

Security

AI also allows us to protect human safety when it comes to carrying out unsafe tasks or working in unsafe environments such as offshore oil rigs and coal mines. It is at the core of the technology behind self-driving automobiles, which are expected to save thousands of lives per year by reducing the number of accidents. Object detection technology can be used by the visually impaired to navigate their surrounding environment and identify various obstacles in their path. From aiding in early-stage diagnosis to predicting and monitoring disease outbreaks, the technology used for AI can serve many noble purposes both now and in the future. That being the case, where does our hesitation lie? Are there legitimate risks to be afraid of, or are critical stances more about fearmongering than anything else?

What are the challenges that come with AI?

Well, there are a number of areas of concern when it comes to the use and sometimes the misuse of AI. One particular concern is how AI automation will affect our workforce. Job elimination, as well as creation and our ability to adjust to the digital age, are worth giving serious attention to. It has been estimated that 326m jobs will be impacted by AI in 2030! We need to start training people with the skills necessary for entering into a digital age of AI, as fewer than 10,000 people have the skills needed for handling serious AI issues. We are embarking on a journey towards an age where humans and AI will be working side by side in the workforce. This suggests a hybrid system whereby AI will create the foundation systems of efficiency and convenience, while humans will emphasize their skills of creativity, emotional intelligence, leadership and judgment to oversee final decisions. Another can of worms entirely is when we enter the threshold of what we would do, ethically speaking when AI themselves gain a moral status. 

Another detail we should address is the usage of data. AI runs on data, so data privacy will undoubtedly become a critical point worth considering. Today, we are constantly wrestling with controversy regarding data privacy. Policies are being placed worldwide with the intent of protecting data and its usage. If this matter is a point of unease now, it will only become more vital in the future where everything will depend on Big Data. There are a number of unintended consequences that can come to pass with the widespread adoption of AI which simply cannot be ignored. Many current-day societal issues can become amplified, for example, the widening of the economic gaps in the future may affect not only individuals or sectors but also countries. 

Not least of our concerns should be those regarding the burning concepts of ethics, morality, and compassion. Despite the advantages of working with AI, despite the efficiency, we need to understand how much we are willing to give up in exchange. How much power are we willing to hand to machines in the name of progress? We are still far from the stage of AI being able to tackle general problems in the same way that humans can. While there is progress, AI is still better suited for using machine-learning techniques to solve narrow and specific problems. But when the day comes, will we be willing to give that amount of authority to AI? How will we ensure that AIs which are more intelligent than humans will use their intelligence for good and not evil? If we are unable to understand the intricate workings of a system as complex as AI, how will we be able to maintain control? 

What do we need to do as we enter the age of AI?

Finding a balance between optimism and caution is key, as the potential benefits of AI to not only business and economy, but also in solving various societal challenges, is undeniable. In moving forward, as business leaders and policymakers begin to embrace AI, we should remain conscientious of the challenges including impact on the workforce as well as social concerns. It is time to start having these important discussions about how we will maintain public trust in terms of privacy violations, malicious abuse of power and deepening of inequality. It is time to come together and establish the principles for the beneficial and safe use of AI. It is important to have these discussions now, preemptively, proactively and not as an afterthought. That’s why WCIT 2019 will be opening up the floor to start thinking about these issues and the future world affected by AI. 

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