Are you afraid of artificial intelligence and robots? Are you concerned about their possible impact upon the employment prospects for yourself and your family? There is much discussion about potential opportunities and threats arising from the use of such technology. We cannot know what will happen during the decades ahead. However, the use of artificial intelligence is now a daily reality and effects the lives of billions of people across the world.
There are concerns that increasing use of artificial intelligence and robots will lead to huge numbers of people losing their jobs. Some employers have indicated that they would prefer to redeploy employees to carry out tasks better done by people. New business opportunities and career paths might also emerge. However, many people could lack the skills and experience demanded by the available jobs and struggle to find employment.
Governments might be forced to review the provision of suitable education and training, along with the need to provide people with meaningful employment opportunities. The social and economic impact of rapid and accelerating technological change could lead to regional and global instability, requiring solutions that enable people to live happy and productive lives.
The Arts and Sciences
Artificial intelligence is moving beyond repetitive tasks and beginning to be used in areas such as scientific research, marketing and the creation of art, literature and music. This is causing many to be concerned about the possible implications for occupations long thought safe from machine intelligence, such as the creative industries.
Recently in areas as varied as medical research and astronomy advances have been made that would previously have required decades of work by scientists. However, computers lack the purpose and direction that human beings can provide. The combination of human and artificial intelligence could lead to benefits such as advances in the treatment of many diseases and the use of green technology.
Business and Industry
Many organisations are overwhelmed by the vast amounts of data they collect and the growth of the Internet of Things is likely to make this more of an issue. Using artificial intelligence vast amounts of data could be rapidly analysed and understood. Data patterns and relationships might emerge, which would otherwise have gone unnoticed, enabling increasing innovation.
Expert learning systems are being used to manage complex business and industrial processes. Their speed, efficiency and relatively low cost, when compared to human experts, is likely to see them used more widely. A wide range of such expert systems will become available to small business owners. Some will find innovative ways of leveraging such power, to develop new products and services.
A human being could define a particular problem, provide vast amounts of big and small data and then direct artificial intelligence to look for solutions. We would provide the objectives, interpret the results and then apply the findings in useful ways. Business and employment opportunities could increasingly require human beings to plan and direct the activities of machines.
Self Aware Machines
Future generations might have to learn to co-exist with sentient evolving self-replicating robots, that seek meaning, purpose and a sense of belonging. They might be connected together through the cloud to form a hive mind. They could become our friends and co-workers, helping us to build a better society. They might compete with us for control over this world, as they think about their present and plan their future.
Currently even the most advanced technology is primitive when compared to biological systems. Artificial intelligence might simulate human intelligence, but it lacks any sense of self. Most experts agree that it will be many years until machines become self aware and some believe that it will never happen. It is sensible though to consider what we can do to reduce the potential risks from such technology.
Ethics and Decision Making Machines
Although self aware machines might not currently be an issue, decision making machines already exist. They are relied upon to make important decisions that effect the lives of real people. For example, decisions about loan and job applications, legal advice and the control of autonomous vehicles. The use of such systems is spreading and many businesses now depend upon them.
We might need to consider the need for ethical codes of conduct to manage the use of artificial intelligence, when it can effect human safety and well being. For example, who would be accountable if an autonomous vehicle is unable to avoid colliding with one of two other vehicles, one carrying a single person, the other a family. On what basis would the vehicle decide which course to follow?
There has been much discussion of whether people have less trust in experts than they did in the past. However, we still place responsibility for difficult decisions with those we believe possess the necessary competence. When trust is placed in other people they can be held accountable for their decisions. It is also possible for other people to understand and evaluate what led them to a particular conclusion or action.
Fearing Stupid Machines
Artificial Intelligence lacks empathy and common sense. For example, you could ask AI to find a solution to climate change caused by human activity. The AI might develop more advanced green energy production, storage and delivery technology. Alternatively it might decide that the simplest solution is to remove people permanently from the equation.
Rather than fearing self aware intelligent machines, we should perhaps fear stupid machines, or rather fear people placing too much trust in stupid AI. It is possible that AI might demonstrate apparent expertise in a particular field, such as economics or weather forecasting, but be completely ignorant of anything else. It would lack perspective and context when making decisions.
When carrying out specific tasks, artificial intelligence might appear to an outside observer to be exhibiting the characteristics of human self awareness. This might be mistaken for actual self-awareness, causing people to rely on AI as they would a trusted human being. Lacking general intelligence or understanding of possible wider implications, unthinking machines could be allowed to make important decisions with disastrous consequences.
Even computer experts often do not understand the process that artificial intelligence goes through when making decisions. When they write programs that tell them why AI arrived at a particular conclusion or recommended a course of action, they are often surprised by the findings. AI might ignore factors we consider important and place too much emphasis on something we consider trivial or irrelevant. We should not therefore rely too much on machines, without understanding how they think and why they make particular decisions.
In the future we might expect machines to be held accountable for and required to explain their recommendations, decisions and actions in terms that people can understand. Business owners and political leaders might ask an AI to explain a piece of legal or financial advice. People might teach machines about ethics, empathy, responsibility and even encourage them to develop a sense of humour. If machines ever become self aware, we might benefit from giving them a good education in civic responsibility.
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