For some time now, artificial intelligence has been revolutionizing the way we see banking, fintech, retail, education and even the medical system. At this point, it is clear for everyone that whatever future we might have, AI will definitely be part of it. The thing we don't seem to agree on is how good will such technology be for humanity. On the one hand, a lot of experts believe that AI advancements will bring much value and will help humans improve their existence over the next decades. And on the other hand, we have those who worry that, in time, we might start to change our idea of what it means to be human.
In the summer of 2018, a group of technology pioneers, innovators, developers, business leaders and policy makers have debated on the exact topic and reached an unanimous conclusion. They predicted that artificial intelligence will augment human effectiveness, but also threaten human autonomy and capabilities. They also discussed the possibility of systems becoming so smart that they could actually be better than humans even at what is now impossible for AI to do: complex decision-making, reasoning and learning.
In a recent interview, Bill Gates has also declared that "artificial intelligence is both promising and dangerous, like nuclear weapons and nuclear energy". However, Microsoft's co-founder believes that medicine and education can and should be the main areas that benefit from what AI can bring to the table.
The elephant in the room
The matter of whether humans will be replaced or not by machines haunts most of our dreams since AI has become almost ubiquitous in our lives. Nowadays, there's almost no industry that has not deployed artificial intelligence technology. Banks are using it to detect fraudulent transactions and make predictions, retailers save a lot of time and money by adding AI capabilities for inventory and shelving and there are even hospitals that adopt it to help doctors identify certain diseases. Furthermore, data shows that more than a third of US hospitals actually have at least one robot that can perform surgeries.
With the possibility of machines someday really thinking and acting like (or even better than) us, everything seems to point towards humans becoming obsolete. How not to worry?
First 'takeover' we need to tackle - AI and unemployment
Job security has always been one of people's main worries over the years. And with AI disrupting so many domains, our replacement has become more of a fact than a possibility. Apart from the repetitive and predictable tasks, there are also a number of white collar jobs that might be done (better) in the future by an AI system. Lawyers, doctors, writers or journalists are also at risk of being replaced by machines.
But such technological development will bring so many other changes and innovations that we will not be able to address at once, which means new skills and capabilities will be required from humans. This will lead to new jobs being created, thus adding different opportunities for individuals. The hypothesis of AI creating more jobs than it replaces is also confirmed by a Gartner study, which predicts that in 2020, AI will create 2.3 million new jobs while eliminating 1.8 million traditional jobs.
What next? Are humans to be removed altogether?
For starters, we need to keep the AI discussion as realistic as possible, and a great way to do that is by letting go of the gun-toting Terminator-like scenario that some of us view as possible. The chaos that is generated in AI vs. humans debates mostly comes from irrational fears and silly assumptions based on movies or sci-fi books. To understand where AI is heading, we also need to know where it is now and how it's progressing. There are three stages when it comes to AI development: narrow AI, general AI and super AI.
Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), also known as weak artificial intelligence refers to systems that can only address specific tasks. The reason they are not able to perform any other tasks than the ones they are particularly programmed to do is because they can only retrieve information from a determined data-set. Narrow AI is the stage that exists in our world at this moment and it can be seen in the form of Siri, Google Assistant and Google Translate, Netflix or Amazon recommendations, robots playing chess and self-driving cars. Even though these systems are major breakthroughs, they cannot be considered as having human-like intelligence. However, despite its "limitations", narrow AI has proven to be quite beneficial to the society, allowing many of us to improve productivity, efficiency and to increase customer satisfaction as well as speed up the decision-making process.
The next step would be the development of general AI (Artificial General Intelligence - AGI) or strong AI, that is able to take knowledge from one domain and transfer it to another domain. Technically, this means that such systems can perform almost any intellectual task that a human being can. AGI is expected to solve more complex problems, deal with uncertainty, learn and integrate prior knowledge in the decision-making progress.
Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) is the third and final step in AI advancement. Super AIs are expected to be smarter than people - and this is what scares us the most. The exponential growth of artificial intelligence and the digitization of all human behavior can surely make us believe that such great leap forward is not that difficult to accomplish.
The first ultra-intelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control. Irving J. Good, 1965
But the rise of the machines does not necessarily have to reflect in the downfall of humanity. We, as humans, have yet to evolve and transform ourselves and the world we live in. Scientists, brain researchers and neurologists conduct numerous studies that prove the brain is really malleable and has a great potential for further development. Before we wake up in a machine-governed world, we still have a lot to learn about being human.
Nonetheless, no one can say that AI cannot be the means that helps us reach our next stage and vice-versa. Scenarios in which man and machine co-exist have been exhaustively treated by many experts and the idea does not seem so far fetched.
Just like any other technology, artificial intelligence systems, be it weak, strong or super, can be created and used with the right or wrong intentions. Since we haven't found a way to remove bias, it is safe to assume that we also haven't identified any solutions for the possibility of AI demonstrating undesirable behaviour. But the risk of such a scenario actually happening is dependent of humans' behaviour. So, whatever the case might be, it is possible that it is us that hold the key to AI's future. As Max Tegmark continues to state, now is the time to join the most important conversation humanity could ever have.