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Artificial Intelligence – Should We Be Frightened?

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Artificial Intelligence – Should We Be Frightened?
Cottonbro studio.

AI is rapidly advancing in challenging and previously unthought of ways. What are the realities of this — and should we be wary?

by David Bass

From the challenges to the education system that ChatGBT has brought to fears in the music industry about programmes that can write music just as well as human musicians, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is without doubt something that will massively impact society more and more in the coming years.

However, there is one worrying key concept. If we ascribe our success as a species to our superior intelligence, what happens when machines become smarter than us?

As American psychologist, cognitive scientist, and author Gary Marcus put it:

“It’s likely that machines will be smarter than us before the end of the century — not just at chess or trivia questions but at just about everything, from mathematics and engineering to science and medicine.”

Are we close to general artificial intelligence?

General AI or Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is a theoretical form of AI that would not only have an intelligence equivalent to humans but also be self-aware. It differs from standard Artificial Intelligence (in this context, known as Narrow AI) in that the general purpose of AI is to make life easier for humans. AGI would be able to carry out any task a human mind could — and potentially better, adapting to new situations and circumstances.

However, although theoretically possible, it seems unclear when or indeed if it can be realised. The main issue seems to revolve around the human concept of creative and abstract thinking. In a blog post on techslax.com this is discussed:

“While progress has been made, there are still significant roadblocks in the way before we can achieve AGI. One major challenge is building a system that can understand context and adapt to new situations like humans do. This requires developing algorithms that can reason abstractly and think creatively – skills that even the most advanced systems currently lack.”

So although the pace of standard (or Narrow) AI is progressing fast, this central problem must be overcome before true AGI can be achieved.

The latest advancements in AI

These range across many areas, from advanced chatbots and music generation, such as ChatGPT and Google’s Bard, to technology enabling self-driving cars.

One of the most interesting areas is medicine, with the use of Big Data for compiling possible diagnoses.

AI can help with not just diagnosis but treatments. For example, AI can not only find better ways of using and combining drugs, but it can also potentially create better drugs. In a post-pandemic era, this could prove invaluable to prevent the spread of highly infectious or dangerous diseases quickly.

There has also been much controversy about the use of AI in the arts, particularly music. AI is rapidly transforming the way that music is created. By using algorithms and data, AI can now rapidly generate art and music that is challenging convention. Dennis Kooker, president of Global Digital Business at Sony Music expressed his concerns:

“We have serious concerns about the potential for AI – synthesised voice technology to be used at scale to cover songs and attempt to replace artists.”

Further possibilities

Many see some amazing possibilities for the advancement of AI. Undoubtedly, it could hold the key to better scientific methods, making science more efficient. This could be vital for major challenges such as tackling the climate crises, by helping us prepare by using early–warning systems and predictive modelling of climate events. Transport will also definitely be revolutionised.

Perhaps the quote by Fei-Fei Li best summarises our hope for the future:

“I imagine a world in which AI is going to make us work more productively, live longer and have cleaner energy.”

However, despite the many and wide-ranging benefits, there are also fears about the dangers of AI.

What are the dangers of artificial intelligence?

Perhaps the most foreboding quotes on Artificial Intelligence come from one of the greatest minds of our time, Professor Stephen Hawking:

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever–increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

When Hawking speaks of “full artificial intelligence” he means General AI and AGI systems capable of replacing the human brain.

This comes back to the point at the start of this article. We see ourselves as a superior species due to our intelligence. But Artificial Intelligence could not simply be more intelligent, but redesign itself at a rapid rate, leaving our limited brains far behind. This has far-reaching and worrying implications.

The issue of artificial intelligence and the military

Perhaps the biggest danger is the use of Artificial Intelligence in military technology. Many countries are already using AI to build weapons and other systems. Drones have been used in many roles for years now and are a well-established military technology. Soon they could be piloted exclusively by AI.

AI also has other military applications such as intelligence analysis and cyber security, where it could revolutionise the ways things are currently done. As Stephen Holtz, a student enrolled in UC Berkeley’s School of Information in the Data Science master’s program said, writing about AI Applications in the Military:

“Seven key countries lead in military applications of AI: the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Israel and researching weapons systems with greater autonomy […] there will soon be autonomous weapon systems that can identify and attack targets with little or no intervention from humans.”

This, of course, poses an immediate issue: Should such decisions be made without humans in the loop? Is that a safe situation? Particularly if this is done not only by weapons but at a strategic or planning stage.

Many countries already have taken a stance on limiting the dangers posed. The United Kingdom has introduced measures to restrict the extent that AI can control weapons, along with the US and Canada. However, the question must be asked if all countries will be this moral — will rogue states have the same outlook?

Will artificial intelligence replace our jobs?

Many people worry that Artificial Intelligence will replace jobs. The rise of GPS for cars and trucks has already impacted the taxi and transport industries — for example, extensive knowledge of London Streets is no longer necessary when a sat nav can do that for you.

Further statistics show that many admin and legal tasks will also be hit. The following graph illustrates how working life across a range of important industries will be affected:

Working together with AI

AI will inevitably have a massive impact on the way we lead our lives and work. However, not all of it should be seen as negative. After all, technology has had a history of replacing some jobs but creating others – how many new jobs have been enabled because of the computing revolution?

Many see the future as humans and AI working closely together. The report by the World Economic Forum lists an increased need for jobs such as Artificial Intelligence Specialist, Insights specialist, and Big Data Scientist, amongst others.

A similar report from the World Economic Forum also predicts a list of benefits from the rise of AI for workers, including shared economic prosperity, more flexible labour markets and more fulfilling jobs.

It is clear that the AI revolution is already happening and can’t be rolled back. It will undoubtedly change our world, with both positives and negatives. To conclude, perhaps it is best to look to the person that started the basics of computing, Alan Turin, who said:

“It seems probable that once the machine thinking method had started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers…They would be able to converse with each other to sharpen their wits. At some stage, therefore, we should expect the machines to take control.”

A dire outlook, or is it?

First published in Impakter. You can read the article here.

David Bass

David Bass is a Political Journalist. Having studied at both the London College of Print (now the London College of Communication) and later the Press Association’s main UK office in Victoria, London, David went on to work for The Guardian Local Paper Series, which has newspaper titles covering the London area. David currently works in TV Production for the company Collaborative Media and the multimedia platform Executive TV, where he helps with interviews, scriptwriting, press releases and production duties. David is passionate about covering environmental issues and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. Outside of work, he is interested in film, art and culture and is a committed Christian.

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