May 16, 2018
Artificial Intelligence and its Implications on the Future of Humanity
Though some may think of robots taking over the world when they envision AI, artificial intelligence is a very broad term that includes things from Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, to, more recently, more complex things like autonomous vehicles and robotics with the ability to interact and adjust appropriately to their environment in order to complete small tasks. It is growing in importance every year, with new forms and uses constantly being dreamt up and brought to life. This is a highly sophisticated area of modern science and gaining a better understanding of how it works will lead to a better understanding of how it may affect our lives as humans the more it expands. We know that AI could be an incredible tool once we master it, but what areas will it affect the most and what significant changes will it bring to life as we know it today? I believe that AI will have massive implications in more areas than one and will one day be an extremely relevant topic in the human scientific and intellectual realm. Artificial intelligence is very important because it may one day completely change the face of society with an impact on the job scene and theoretically endless other areas. AI’s development has skyrocketed in the past decade, and is more prominent today than it has ever been. As this technology gets increasingly refined, perfected and applied in more areas, the implications could be drastic for the human race, with humans effectively being replaced by machines in some ways.
It is easy to see why one would be uncomfortable or off-put by the idea of artificial intelligence becoming a staple in everyday life, as there is a negative stigma attached to it in media and popular culture. It is painted as some kind of enemy that we should fear and try to supress. These notions are largely unfounded, however, and many experts agree that anything like what we’ve seen in movies like the Terminator franchise or 2001: A Space Odyssey are far off in the future and essentially a different beast altogether from what we have been able to develop thus far. The technology seen in these films is what is known as “true AI” which is far more advanced than anything the current state of society has to or can experience today. Popular culture has done its best to tarnish the image of artificial intelligence in the public eye. TV, movies, media, and books depict a darker side of robots and artificial intelligence that casts a negative shadow on them. It would make sense that the race to produce true AI might slow with all of this media teetering between horror and sci-fi on the subject of AI circling the globe. But yet, the acceleration of the field has only increased. A great deal of people find AI somewhat unsettling, and rightfully so. The idea that something can get so close to being a human, but only consist of wires, metal and code, is a disturbing thought. They can certainly be categorized as a candidate for falling in the uncanny valley. Super computers have the ability to recall and analyze more data and gather information faster than any one human could. Robots, depending on the purpose they serve, can be hundreds of times physically stronger than a human. Combine the two in one creation, along with the ability to learn and think for itself, and just the thought of what it might be capable of is terrifying. Despite all of this, though, the field of AI continues to grow, with new advances being made all the time. However, we are still in the early stages of developing artificial intelligence, and the invention of anything seen in a movie like Ex Machina, where an inventor creates a truly artificially intelligent, sentient robot that can manipulate humans to reach a desired outcome for itself, is still likely decades away. Adam Coates, director of the Baidu Research Silicon Valley AI Lab, believes this to be so: “I think that sometimes we get carried away and think about ‘sentient machines’ that are going to understand everything the way we do and totally interact with us. These things are pretty far away… A lot of the scaremongering of AI taking over the world or getting out of our control are a little bit overwrought.” Much of the fear surrounding AI comes from overestimating the advancement and power of this technology and conjuring up mainly overhyped ideas of the eventual implications it will have on the human race. The mainstream media and popular culture have given a bad reputation to artificial intelligence, making it seem like more of a force that will eventually harm humans, or even be the ultimate demise of humanity as a whole. It has an almost apocalyptic stigma attached to it that leaves the public to wonder not what potential benefits and positive implications AI could have, but whether the finished product will be deadly or not. Experts who research, work with, and use it on a day to day basis agree that the overwhelming majority of fears and apprehensions people have about AI and where it is headed are mainly unfounded.
Now that we have established what it is that makes people so afraid of AI, we can dive deeper into this subject as it pertains to the shared future of this technology and mankind. True artificial intelligence, or “strong AI” is achieved when a system can take information from the outside world, learn by itself and build an awareness similar or superior to that of a human. Some scientists refer to the artificially intelligent systems we have today as “weak AI” since it can only operate once given a set of rules or algorithms from the creator to follow. For example, Apple’s Siri technology is not sentient in any way. It simply takes user input and gives a calculated response based on the rules and code it was given by Apple. It does not learn or think consciously. A true AI could interact with and learn about things in its environment through observation or trial and error and generate a conscience on its own. Some theorize that what makes humans “human” is the ability to reason. A true AI would be able to mimic this trait. This is where humans begin to get apprehensive about whether or not we are headed in a safe direction pursuing the advancement of this technology. Even some of humanity’s most brilliant minds have expressed their concerns when it comes to this subject. In an interview, Elon Musk, CEO and founder of both SpaceX and Tesla, had this to say concerning AI: “We should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that… Scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon.” He finishes the demon metaphor by saying that in movies and stories there is the exorcist or medium (humans) that claims to have the demon (AI) under control and it typically does not work out as planned. Elon Musk is a man at the forefront of state-of-the-art technology, and yet he has his concerns and goes as far as to liken the future of AI to summoning a demon. Hearing this come from such a prominent intellectual figure in this day and age is sure to discourage some from supporting AI. Even Stephen Hawking chimed in on the debate of whether or not AI could be detrimental to humanity: “The primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have have proved very useful. But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” And yet, this field has shown no signs of slowing down its development. So why is that? What uses do we have planned for AI that will eventually help humans? What are the downsides to these applications? Well, it is possible that a good chunk of jobs currently held by us could be run instead by machines in the near future.
Of all the possible ways AI could change our society, the most drastic is easily how it could affect the job scene. Theoretically, AI or robots could replace almost any job a human can do. Robots can simply be programmed to do easy jobs that currently use a human workforce, and artificial intelligence can perform slightly more advanced tasks that require more than simple straightforward inputs. An increasing number of people feel that their ability to make a living will be threatened by artificial workers in the near future. However, this all depends on what job you have, and how long you have had it. The relative job security of older generations is in part due to the senior positions they hold within their companies. After all, it’s easier to replace somebody in the beginning of their career rather than replace entire established branches of management or leadership. On top of this, it’s typically these more established employees who will be in charge of decisions surrounding the implementation of AI in the first place, and they’re unlikely to want to replace themselves. For the foreseeable future, only low-level, repetitive tasks will be automated, and those with more nuanced and difficult jobs will likely be safe. This means that younger people with developed and adaptable problem-solving and decision-making skills can exclude themselves from the immediate threat of being replaced, and aim to work alongside AI in more senior positions in the long term. On the other hand, widespread job-redundancy is inevitable and will bring in a new philosophy regarding the role of human work in society. If machines and robots are going to be able to perform cognitive functions that were once too difficult to automate, very few jobs are safe. Theorists suggest a universal basic income as a solution, whereby governments provide their citizens with a living wage to combat their inability to secure employment. This is a scary proposition, and could cause backlash from the public on the issue of moving forward with this movement from manned jobs to an automated workforce. This, however, may not actually be such a bad thing when you listen to the other side.
A study of 1,000 companies revealed that AI systems created new jobs in 80% of the organizations they were implemented in. In fact, a 2017 report by Gartner predicts that AI will create 2.3 million jobs while eliminating only 1.8 million by the year 2020, creating a much more diverse workforce of creative and high-skilled individuals, and a net gain of over 500 thousand jobs. As the global economy gears up for the widespread adoption of AI solutions, competition grows fierce for employees with the scarce skills required to implement, manage and work alongside this new technology. Developing these skills is therefore vital for any young professional wishing to retain job-security in an increasingly automated workplace. And as this skilled workforce drives the AI industry forward at an accelerated pace, the demand for even more highly trained professionals will grow with it. This will result in a workplace comprising of adaptable people – according to Gartner – whose jobs are reimagined, enriched or facilitated by the technology they work alongside. While it’s true that many low-skill jobs will fall by the wayside, replaced by the sophisticated automation AI enables, new careers and industries will emerge that haven’t been invented yet. Just as our parents struggled to predict the emergence of fields like social media or blogging, so, too, are we incapable of comprehending the jobs AI will create for the time being. Artificial Intelligence is still in its infancy, and is yet to reach the point of mass adoption. As such it’s difficult to predict the extent to which it will redefine the workplace or the jobs of the young professionals within it. The most likely scenario, however, is a combination of both the optimistic and pessimistic views. An economy that prizes highly-skilled, well-trained, and adaptable employees who work alongside very smart machines. And a large segment of low-skilled workers whose skills are made redundant at an alarming rate. While we can appeal to the better nature of organizations to nurture and prepare their staff for an inevitable technological transition, millennials should heed the warning signs, take initiative, and equip themselves with the skills needed to survive a potentially tumultuous economic evolution.
In conclusion, it can be said with certainty that within the next 5-10 years, due to the increasing implementation of artificial intelligence in everyday life, modern society will look very different than it does now. This change will most likely not occur in the same apocalyptic manner that some fear it may, but it will nonetheless be a drastic change for better or worse. As the field of AI expands and improves, more applications will arise and more pieces of how our society currently operates will become affected. The global economy and workplace will see drastic changes if these speculations and estimations are correct, and we could see millions of jobs worldwide formerly performed by human workers be replaced with robots and AI. As stated, those who have held their positions for a greater amount of time and cemented themselves as senior staff members and employees at their position will be at a lower risk of having their job taken by an artificially intelligent system than a new member of the job scene whose career is still in its early stages. On the bright side, these aspects of society will almost certainly recover from the blow that was the various applications of AI to different companies, markets, and industries. The advent of new uses for AI will create new jobs that may not even exist today, and we will have a more skilled and effective workforce because of it. With the majority of simple tasks being taken over by robots, new opportunities will open up for humanity. It will interesting to see what kinds of changes unfold as the years pass, and what sorts of breakthroughs will occur sooner or later than we imagine possible. But the same holds true no matter what: things will likely never again be as they are today.
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