When I was a pre-teen, I saw my first Disney princess movie: Sleeping Beauty. I liked the story well-enough, but the part that stayed with me most was when Prince Philip was arguing with his father about an arranged marriage. He heartily declared “It is the fourteenth century, father, times have changed, a man is allowed to choose his wife”. I looked over at my younger brother and we both started laughing. For Prince Philip, the fourteenth century was the epitome of progress; things could not possibly get any more advanced.
Times have changed since the most significant thing people could do was choose their spouses, but with each arrival of progress, society seems convinced that the next step will be apocalyptic. The thought process goes ‘since we have reached the peak, from here on out it will all be downhill’. This is portrayed in several dystopian films, novels, and even scientific articles.
The new trend to panic about seems to be Artificial Intelligence. There are several theories flying around about what the creation and use of AI could mean for mankind, most of them with conclusions that are less than savory. There have also been several literary publications with titles such as “Will AI robots turn humans into pets?”, “Robots taking over blue-collar jobs” and “will AI take over?”
This fear was prevalent as far back as in the sixties. I read a dated article on Newsweek titled ‘the challenge of automation’. It cited that thousands of people that were responsible for operating the old pulley elevators have lost their job due to “automatons” that made their job obsolete. It also stated that if we don’t control this wave, human evolution will eventually cease to include human functionality.
Although, human evolution stopping due to being replaced by automatons really is a scary concept, this dichotomy thinking that either the machines will take over and make humans their pets or we stop progress altogether is flawed. Every piece of technology since fire has had its risk, perhaps even the first man who lit fire was cursed for bringing a hot plague among his clan.
It is true that AI has so far outpaced human potential in many fields, on May 11, 1997, Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov at a game of chess being able to evaluate 200 million views per second, under normal circumstances, computers could still defeat the strongest of human chess players. IBM’s Watson AI can also diagnose a patient’s symptoms a lot faster than a human doctor would be able to. There has been AI trained to manage hedge funds much better than a person can and it is foretold that AI could pen a best-selling book by 2047.
Perhaps these are the reasons that one of the most renowned entrepreneurs of our time, Elon Musk has started a company called ‘Neuralink’ where small chips would be implanted into the brains of humans to make sure they can compete with Artificial Intelligence. Dr. Ray Kurzweil also believes that
It is also undeniable that the digital wave has made human lives so much easier and better. Take the British inventor Trevor Baylis, who invented the famous wind-up radio. His radios were so crucial in reaching people in Africa about AIDS in the 80s. Governments could better reach their people to communicate with them about the transmission of AIDS after his radios were spread over Africa. His technology made a difference and saved countless lives. So, in a rapidly changing world, where we don’t know for sure what’s going to happen next, I believe the right technologies will definitely help us to cope with those changes. The inclusion of AI in the modern world is definitely a significant change.
However, the risks are also real. It might be a longshot that a line of indestructible, genius robots will rise up and simply destroy human lives like Terminator, but a lot of jobs are being replaced by machines. Take Watson, the IBM artificial intelligence that does a doctor’s job much better than a doctor would, would it render physicians as obsolete as those elevator operators?
My personal opinion would be ‘no’. There is nothing quite like human ingenuity, especially when it concerns survival. AI would be just another addition that mankind invented to make its livelihood better. It will not cause the rapture, nor would it be manna from the sky. It will just fit into human civilizations, as part of the next step in human evolution.
A person to mention in this area would be Dr. Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering. Having penned several books on AI, he has concluded that ultimately what decides the impact it has, is how humans handle it. If human governance and social institutions are kept functional and for the best, that is exactly how AI would play out its role if it is used for destructive purposes… Well. At least the 21st century allowed us to choose who we marry.
By Yididiya Mulatu