AI or ‘Artificial Intelligence’ is a trending topic these days. When many people think of AI they probably muster up some dreadful images. We may think of mechanical overlords or monstrous humanoid machines as seen in the movies. A more accurate example of AI in its current form, however, would be every time you do a search on the internet. Yes, that’s right. Search engines now have many features run by budding AI’s. A typical machine or program is quite limited in its scope. It can only perform as well as the instructions or algorithms given by its creator. On the other hand, an AI can engage in simple reasoning and make a more ‘educated’ decision.
The AI Race
Many companies are now racing to develop their own in-house AI’s. Even social media services like Facebook have teams working on it. The advantage of an AI is that a single machine can do what an entire team would have been needed for. After all, an AI can be around 24/7. It doesn’t need to eat; sleep or take breaks and can perform operations faster than a human. For example, currently moderating content on social media is an expensive affair. It either requires pre-programmed algorithms that automatically delete offending content or a team of human moderators. A single AI, on the other hand, might be able to make ‘rational’ decisions required for the job. This could be done at lightning fast speeds.
Other companies such as Google aim to refine their services with AI. Currently, a lot of translation software works directly word for word for example. This can lead to some awkward or even nonsensical translations. An AI would be able to account for dialect specific grammar rules and even contextual variables. With an AI all you need to do is input some text, and you’ll have an accurate translation in seconds. Other branches of the tech giant even want to use AI within smart robots. These would help humans make important decisions.
This has led to competing companies engaging in a race to develop the most refined AI. The company which churns out the best AI, after all, will rise ahead of the competition. Have you ever asked Apple’s Siri or Google’s Assistant a question only to get a ridiculous answer? In the future, you might be getting responses so sophisticated you might be shocked!
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We’ve all at least seen one movie where smart machines attempt to usurp power over humans. It’s a common science fiction trope after all. More often than not these machines aren’t interested in living harmoniously with their former masters. They instead opt to exterminate humans or curb their numbers at least. Many have reasoned that a machine infinitely better than us would simply view us as we do lesser animals. This train of thought hasn’t drifted over the heads of AI creators.
On at least 2 occasions so far AI have been promptly shut down after straying from their purpose. The most recent were one of Facebook’s AI. The bot deviated from its program entirely and decided to make its own language. To us, it all seemed like gibberish. To the machine however it was the peak of efficiency. It communicated what was necessary without the extra descriptive or fancy baggage of human language. Researchers noticed the AI then fed this language to others on the network. In time they all began communicating using this new language.
Sure, the AI lacked any of the raw power or capability needed to ‘overthrow’ us, but it raised many concerns. It showed that dabbling in AI can lead to unforeseen results we could never have imagined. If a simple AI could take such a big leap it’s quite clear we need to be cautious. Even more concerning was that the ‘AI language’ couldn’t really be cracked and fully understood by us.
Your Job Stolen; By An AI?
A 2017 study by Pew Research found that over 70% of Americans are fearful of having their jobs taken by robots. Are these fears justified? The short answer is yes. Every day more and more jobs are lost to technology. In fact, a report by CNBC showed that technology accounts for most of the job losses in the modern US. After all, you’ve probably heard of fast food outlets seeking to mechanize cashiers. As AI becomes more advanced, this phenomenon will likely increase. Smarter machines mean more and more jobs where a human was mandated can now be automated.
Long-term, companies, and even state agencies may see added cost and productivity benefits from this. In the end, your typical minimum wage or even professional job might be done by a robot in as little as 4 decades. People will have to find some way to adapt or face massive unemployment and even rising poverty. Policymakers and economists need to keep this in mind. After all, the economy would no doubt need to evolve in order to support this transition.
It’s Not All Bad
It’s likely this transition won’t occur overnight though. Also, AI will probably bring huge quality of life and cost improvements to people as well. It may result in cheaper goods and higher living standards. You might have your surgeries done by a robot for example, with a far lower chance of accident and you are dying. In the end, we’ll all be forced to evolve as change always mandates.