When Elon Musk talks, everyone tends to take a serious listen.
Little wonder that his mounting worries about the perils of artificial intelligence have garnered universal attention.
Musk joins a growing list of renowned scientists and intellectuals (Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates) who have voiced their concerns about this issue. Scary predictions conjuring up scarier images of an insurmountable intelligent entity that is hell bent on exterminating the entire human race.
Perhaps he’s right. Perhaps we may be confronted with a situation where intelligent and self-learning robots with evil intentions will pose a threat to humanity.
He even recommends people sharpen their brains to remain competitive in an AI-driven market. For now though, the reality is this:
We can barely power AI-driven robots to climb stairs or pack products, let alone liquefy and navigate through rubble-strewn hallways.
The possibility of any existential threat lies in the womb of a very distant future and most concerns surrounding its alarming imminence appear to be a tad bit optimistic.
So does that mean we’re safe and don’t need to worry or think about the possible implications of AI?
Well, not quite.
Let’s take a download on areas where AI and Humans can possibly take a calibrated approach.
Let’s face it: AI-enabled automation is set to drastically disrupt the current status quo of the economy. From time to time, we hear stories that AI is going to steal millions of jobs by automating human-performed tasks.
As per a recent study, AI has the potential of making nearly 40% of all jobs redundant by 2030.
But here’s the good news — it’s not happening anytime soon.
Also, history is replete with examples (the industrial revolution being a case in point) that any disrupting technology ends up creating more jobs in the long run even if that means causing some intense short-term pain.
The fact that human workforce will be required to manage, regulate and enhance AI technologies is a clear indicator that new jobs will make way for old ones, which will have a cascading effect in terms of creating new opportunities.
- Weapons of Mass Destruction:
Now, countries have and do leverage futuristic technologies to make powerful drones that not only fly with an amazing degree of autonomy, but also make intuitive use of imagery and other sensory data to hit its target.
In fact, Musk famously commented,
“I keep sounding the alarm bell, but until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react, because it seems so ethereal.”
Probably he does have a point.
But again, nothing major has transpired, that seems to suggest AI-based weaponry is set to make human lives hostile.
Now, we know some people worry about what would happen if we let machines make automated decisions. This would inadvertently make AI a glaringly dangerous proposition.
But here’s the point. As long as our human brain is in charge, it is likely to undergo system evolutions and concede to strong mechanisms to counteract potential mishaps.
- AGI (Artificial General Intelligence):
Musk also noted,
“Robots will be able to do everything better than us.”
This again suggests that he believes in the imminence of AGI.
Philosophically speaking, AGI is a possibility because of the theory about the universality of computation in which, everything that a physical object is capable of doing (in accordance with the laws of physics) can be replicated arbitrarily by a computer-made program — as long as it has enough time and memory.
A 19th-century mathematician named Charles Babbage was the first one to explore its wide-ranging ramifications.
Yet, the fact remains that AGI is not only improbable in the near future, but also has a proven track record of failure, at least for now.
There’s no denying the fact that scientists are in the process of creating intelligent and self-learning robots who recognize patterns, base their decisions on those patterns and ‘unlearn’ what they’ve previously learned. This can have them enter unfamiliar territories and enjoy a stronger influence on our lives in terms of speed and efficiency.
But, here’s the thing:
Artificial intelligence can indeed solve numerous problems, but it is nowhere close to replicating the human brain fully — anytime soon.
We’re nowhere close to building a replica of the human brain yet, and that’s a good thing because it clearly demonstrates who’s in charge.
The way most programs or even robots (virtual assistants) are made, it’s difficult to foresee that they’ll be making totally independent decisions — because they do not and cannot function like human brains. In other words, it’s unlikely that existing architectures will become what we popularly call “intelligent.”
Yes, AI can beat world champions at a game of chess, navigate driverless cars, interpret tons of massive data and optimize internet searches. But it cannot conceive, plan or adapt like a human brain does.
Also, even if AI does threaten our jobs, it won’t be due to the fact that data scientists have created robots that have sharper brains than ours. In fact, advancements in artificial intelligence are intrinsically designed to solve problems or perform specific tasks such as making musical recommendations on Pandora or analyzing driving habits. However, we’re long way off from when AGI begins to simulate a human in dangerous ways.
Oren Etzioni, the CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, notes,
“General Intelligence is what people do. We don’t have a computer that can function with the capabilities of a six year old, or even a three year old, and so we’re very far from general intelligence. There’s no dialogue, there’s really no background knowledge and as a result…the system’s misunderstanding of what we say is often downright comical.”
In all fairness, it is not that Musk is against AI and its efficacy per se, as suggested by Stuart Russell, principal at Cal’s Center for Human-Compatible AI.
“First, Musk isn’t against AI. After all, he funds a lot of it both within Tesla and elsewhere [OpenAI, DeepMind]. He just wants people to recognize that it has downsides, possibly very large [downsides], in the future, and to work on avoiding those. You can be in favor of nuclear power while still arguing for research on [reactor] containment. In fact, inadequate attention to containment at Chernobyl destroyed the entire nuclear industry worldwide, possibly forever. So let’s not keep presenting these false dichotomies.”
Maybe the takeaway is that not just businesses but the world at large needs to prepare for another revolution in the making, not because of the imminent threat it poses but for future in-roads in collaboration. Afterall, they say, if you can’t beat them, join them.
As always, the way forward is figuring out a palpable middle ground — a melting point of different ideas and possibilities.
All said and done, businesses would do well to keep pace with burgeoning AI advances. As programs are becoming more adept at performing tasks (and at a much greater scale & pace) that were previously done by humans, they must wake up and smell the coffee.
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