How Afraid Should We Really Be of Artificial Intelligence?

A few years ago, and sometimes even nowadays, when someone mentions Artificial Intelligence (AI) many people probably immediately make an association with robots and other very complex machines. This is the effect that the movie industry and films such as Minority Report, Ex-Machine and others have given us, where AI is often portrayed as robots. In reality, it’s a little simpler than that, AI is everywhere, anything from spam filters to plagiarism checkers like Turnitin to online shopping recommendations and personal assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa. AI doesn’t have to be a fully human look-alike robot with special functions. Many of us use some kind of AI on a regular basis in our everyday lives.

What is AI?

The basic premise behind AI is creating machines, systems, programs that “think” like humans and use some sort of “intelligence” which a human would need to use to complete a certain task or tasks. Systems can this way perform tasks that require intelligence without an actual human being present. It is a sort of imitation of human intelligence. There are also many different subsets of AI, to name a few: machine learning, robotics, speech recognition. These subsets are historically changing how some, especially tech industries work, through the use of advanced robotics which is becoming more and more used as well as machine learning. Machine learning enables systems to learn from previous inputs so the machine does not have to always be programmed specifically for a certain task, this way it can learn from past experiences.

Privacy risks?

As with every type of technology, there are always privacy risks. Surely you have read or heard of how the voice assistant Alexa is listening to you all the time, even when it hasn’t been “awaken” by you. AI and especially machine learning, for a system to work and operate in the requested way, it has to consume enormous amounts of data. Most recently, voice and facial recognition have become increasingly used across multiple industries as well as simple, at-home use. But you have to keep in mind that everything you say to your Alexa or the way you unlock your phone with facial recognition, all of that is stored and becomes part of Big Data. All of this creates less and less anonymity for people in today’s world.

Another feature of AI is its predictive capabilities where even from the way you type a search into a browser, AI can detect and acquire sensitive information about an individual. Finding and detecting patterns and through that, making predictions that could include sensitive information. This information is then used by companies and marketers to for example, offer different recommendations for purchasing, etc. It is really a great tool for targeted advertising but it, of course, comes at the cost of people’s privacy. As machine learning and overall AI becomes more sophisticated and advanced, the amount of information that could be gathered on someone just by a simple command on their laptop or smartphone, or their appearance on a satellite camera could be immensely valuable.

Benefits of AI

Nonetheless, artificial intelligence has also brought us so many amazing and helpful opportunities such as machine automation where AI can perform intense labor or tedious tasks that people no longer have to do. There is also less chance of an error happening with AI like there could be if a person was performing a task. Whatever anyone says, there will always be human error but at the same time, that’s what makes us humans and distinguishes us from these machines and AI, right? AI has also provided us with smart weather forecasting, faster and rationalized decision making based on Big Data, incredible application in healthcare with the use of surgical robots or finding links between genetic codes or fast and efficient diagnosis. There are a hundred other ways that AI has helped humanity but how will this continue?

AI in the future?

There is no doubt that artificial intelligence has disrupted the world around us. Even though it allows for machine automation for jobs that might not be too desired, this leads to unemployment and the more sophisticated machines become, the more difficult and challenging tasks they can perform, leading to taking more of people’s jobs. AI will undoubtedly continue improving and starting to become more and more human-like as the research will continue.

In futuristic movies, people are always worried that machines will become too smart and we will no longer be able to control them, but how is that realistic when we created them. The technology was created by humans and therefore, it can also be destroyed by humans. AI itself should not pose a threat but the way that people use it and program it could. As I said, people make mistakes, and people can make mistakes while programming AI systems, or inputting data that they shouldn’t have, or entering the wrong aims and goals because they are not sure what they want. An example of AI going wrong due to human error is when in 2018, YouTube wanted to maximize viewing time and the site started recommending radical and conspiratorial content as well as spreading disinformation to people based on their previous views. This probably wasn’t the aim of the company, to suggest such radical videos, but coders and engineers are also humans and they don’t and possibly can’t understand absolutely everything and predict all possible consequences that an algorithm can cause.

In my opinion…

Overall, I think that technology is of course incredibly useful and most of us could not imagine a world without it, but at the same time the same way it is useful it is also very harmful. Who knows how the world will look like in 20 or 30 years from now. When I think about the generation of my parents, they grew up without having phones or computers, within 30 years the tech industry has evolved so much that one can only fantasize about what the tech industry will reveal in the future. We will probably grow more and more dependent on technology, and different AI fields, like machine learning, will continue making our lives easier but perhaps at the same time more unsafe. Humans dominate this world so it is really all up to the tech giants and their innovations which will determine how far AI will go in the future.

Thank you!