Research suggests that by the turn of the century Artificial Intelligence ["AI"] could be at least as smart as a human being. Nick Bostrom ominously forecasted that "machine intelligence is the last invention that humanity will ever need to make.” And I don’t know about you, but this sort of language stirs something in me that hasn’t been stirred since I studied Mary Shelley's classic 'Frankenstein' all the way back in A-Level English class. Let’s explore. Could our own inventions really replace us?
Well, Google did invent a computer that taught itself how to walk. And (despite this yarn being a slab of inventive spin) Facebook did 'shut down' two chat-bots because they started communicating with each other in a new language that no one could understand. The point is, AI technology is arriving. In addition, technology is constantly being applied in new and colourful ways. Sex-robots are being integrated into mainstream culture and virtual marriages are becoming more and more normalised in Japan. It appears as though there is not a single parcel of human existence left that can’t be simulated in some way. Is nothing sacred?
The-times-they-be-a-changing indeed! And when you look at these subjects more closely, it’s easy to get a bit overwhelmed. It’s not at all hard to see where the root of this anxiety comes from. It’s the fear that AI will inevitably supersede the human experience in a way that is literally, and pardon the pun, an artifice. It’s all a bit too Orwellian, isn’t it? I mean, for Christ’s sake guys, have you not watched a SINGLE sci-fi movie?! This is all bound to end in tears…
But could AI machines really form a rebellious, malevolent underclass capable of overthrowing humanity using their pre-programmed super-intelligence? The truth is, I can’t answer that question. How could I? When there are countless programmers, philosophers and entrepreneurs (including Mr. Progress himself, Elon Musk) who together provide an aggressively schismatic account of AI.
However, what I do know is, there isn’t a lot of "real" AI out there at all yet. At least not in the way that people most commonly perceive it (from sci-fis). Instead, what we are seeing right now is something called machine learning. Simply put, this is a branch of AI in which machines improve with every experience and thus learn to perform tasks that they aren’t explicitly programmed to. So you can all breathe a sigh of relief! Because right now, there is no robot that is even close to achieving sentience, let alone one that is capable of experiencing a seditious thought of some kind. Make no mistake, that sort of thing is an issue for the future and is something that we should approach with caution.
But if we are talking about the present day, the only real ethical question that AI and machine learning raises, is: ‘will these machines take our jobs?’. And, the truth is, machines in general (and more specifically computers) have been rendering human jobs superfluous since their conception. However, in my opinion, this isn’t a huge cause for concern and no reason to take a Luddite approach. To me, AI is like any other invention, in the sense that it causes old jobs to become redundant whilst simultaneously causing new jobs to be created – that’s just the nature of the beast. After all, there will always be measures, like social agreements or technology caps (to name a few I've just made up!), that we can take in the future if it really does spell crisis.
Besides, many of these products will massively enhance the human experience. Whether it be Siri, that provided a blind quadriplegic with a platform to manage his social life. Or an AI piece of kit that when used by a doctor improves the diagnosis accuracy of cancer by over 3% (that is a lot of cancer). Or even a chat bot that can book your entire holiday for you with simply a few instant messages. Artificial Intelligence has arrived… so let’s embrace it.