AI in Tomorrow’s World: Pros and Cons
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a term that’s becoming a common part of our everyday lives, from the smartphones we use to the cars we drive. These days, it’s second nature for us to ask Siri or Alexa a question, rather than typing it into a search engine ourselves. As research into this field continues, we find more and more uses for this technology, which can open our doors to new horizons. However, not everyone is comfortable with this advancement, since the future of AI seems to have a dark side as well.
Before we go any further, let’s discuss what we mean by AI. Artificial Intelligence is any computer program that mimics human or ‘natural’ intelligence. Quite often, it uses Machine Learning to predict certain events and respond in an appropriate manner. Its primary goal is to simulate human decision-making capabilities. Using cognitive ability as a yardstick, AI can be classified in two ways:
- Strong vs weak: Strong AI is the closest to genuinely imitating humans, and may even have the capacity to explain how humans think. Weak AI systems are those that can behave as humans do, but don’t have the capabilities to reason in a natural way. Most of the AI we’re familiar with is weak, and we haven’t moved beyond the initial stages of developing strong AI. Currently, the most advanced example is Sophia, a humanoid robot created by Hanson Robotics in collaboration with AI developers. She has the capacity to have lifelike face-to-face interactions with the people she meets — an almost eerie experience.
- Narrow vs general: Narrow AI is built for a specific purpose, and is most commonly used by businesses in the form of chatbots. It’s also highly popular in the gaming industry, where it can help create a more immersive gaming experience. Meanwhile, AI designed to reason is known as general, as it has no singular guiding purpose. An example of this is the AI that powers IBM’s supercomputer, Watson. Watson’s reasoning capabilities grabbed the spotlight when it took part in and won the American quiz show, Jeopardy.
When we debate the pros and cons of AI, most people are concerned by strong, general AI, although the list of advantages and disadvantages could equally apply to other types of AI.
Developing AI to accurately mimic human reasoning has several advantages, some of which are:
- Expanding horizons: Smarter AI can allow us to explore further than we have before. For instance, a computer with the capability to compile and analyze data it collects — without human input — could mean a future of robotic exploration. With the help of AI, we can discover more about outer space, the depths of the ocean, or what lies beneath the earth’s crust.
- Mitigating risk: A future with strong AI would mean a future with less risk for humans, as bots take over dangerous professions such as mining or rescue work.
- Mundane tasks: The nature of AI means that it could soon be used to carry out mundane, repetitive tasks with precision and efficiency. Also, these tasks wouldn’t be subject to human error caused by physical factors such as exhaustion.
- Managing resources: AI with reasoning capabilities can help organizations function more efficiently. Digital assistants such as chatbots are already being adopted in some areas to interact with users, a concept that might evolve into digital representatives who can have face-to-face interactions with clients. This allows the organization to appropriately allocate resources to the sectors that require it.
- Making decisions: When AI makes decisions, they’re made using logic, and are based on sets of preconditions. Even strong AI, with its reasoning capabilities, will not be able to mimic human emotions, making it a powerful tool in fields that require pragmatic decision making — such as manufacturing.
With all these advantages in mind, let’s take a look at the flip side. Naysayers have brought forward several disadvantages that will emerge as the development of AI continues.
- Job loss: one of the major arguments against AI is the possibility of massive unemployment. The basis of the argument is that if AI has the capability to take on high-risk professions, there’s nothing stopping organizations from hiring robot employees instead of humans.
- Judgement calls: A logical mind is great for thinking pragmatically, but even something as simple as going for a drive requires us to make intuitive decisions. AI lacks a creative mind and common sense, and therefore lacks the ability to make decisions based on context. This makes them useless, and even dangerous, in situations that require a quick judgement call.
- Loss of Power: Many people worry that widespread adoption of AI will result in humans losing control over it. This isn’t a science-fiction cliché; the very idea of strong AI with control over things like medical equipment or nuclear missiles is chilling.
- Human touch: Humans may not be as accurate or efficient as AI, but there is one thing we have that they don’t. Empathy and emotional connections are not programmable, which means AI interactions lack the human touch. Service provided by AI will be cold and clinical, with no hint of the understanding and kindness that is often latent in any human interaction.
There’s a philosophical debate that surrounds this technology as well. Is it morally correct to recreate intelligence? And what happens if we succeed? Do the same rights that apply to humans apply to AI-powered machines? The lines are already beginning to blur — last year, Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to Hanson Robotics’ Sophia. What does this precedent mean for the future of AI?
Every day we see new strides in AI development; research into this technology allows it to progress in leaps and bounds. Whether you believe that widespread adoption of AI will invite unnecessary danger or that the advantages outweigh the cost, there is no denying that AI is a development that is fast becoming ingrained into our society and into our lives.