Wow. AI. What Elon Musk fears may take away thousands of jobs, and grow beyond the control of humans. Let us look at Artificial Intelligence, a topic so vast, that it cannot be covered in a single post.
First off, what is AI? We all know how Hollywood has portrayed AI. Movies like I, Robot, Ex Machina and Terminator don’t capture the true picture of what exactly AI is. Oh, AI in real life is nothing like the villainous VIKI from I, Robot or Skynet from Terminator (though some people fear that AI is evolving towards all these). When people talk about ‘tremendous’ changes in AI they are talking about one certain field of technology: Machine Learning. Machine Learning is a very literal description of the technology it describes i.e., a program written to learn and adapt. The pioneering technology within this field is the neural network (NN), which mimics (to a very fundamental level) the pattern recognition abilities of the human brain by processing thousands or even millions of data points.
Artificial Intelligence, really, is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. These processes include learning (the acquisition of information and rules for using the information), reasoning (using the rules to reach approximate conclusions), and self-correction. Particular applications of AI include expert systems, speech recognition and machine vision.
AI can have two purposes. One is to use the power of computers to augment human thinking, just as we use motors to augment human or horse power. Robotics and expert systems are major branches of that. The other is to use a computer’s artificial intelligence to understand how humans think, in a humanoid way, and emulate or implement that. Literally, artificial intelligence.
Now, let’s cut to the chase. What you’re really here for.
Is AI dangerous?
AI can be deadly.
First, there are two ‘existential’ threats.
(a) AI can automate a lot of mundane jobs. This can put a lot of people out of work. While human society is exceptionally good at coming up with new jobs and things to do, it is clear that the job destruction process will out-speed job creation process with the arrival of AI.
Job destruction per se is not necessarily bad – the original purpose of all so-cherished technological progress has been to relieve humans of hard work – think of the modern computer. However, job destruction can have bad consequences within this particular socio-politico-economic setup we are living in, where if you are out of job, and society has no need for you, you will sink.
In particular, it is not impossible that we may end up in a situation where labor of a portion of population assisted by AI will be enough to provide all goods and services required by the whole population. Under current political regimes this could be catastrophic and lead to tensions between the few owners of the means of production and the non-owners.
The gravity of this concern and its growing popularity among younger people will also be a guiding force behind growing strength of socialist political forces in societies.
(b) Another fear is that AI can become sentient (conscious, possessing subjective perception and free will – or any other preferred definition), and then turn against people.
This may seem farfetched, as the current state of machine learning technology does not offer a clear path to building a sentient machine from the ground up.
Process all this. Part 2 on AI is coming by this weekend.