AI: Good Or Evil

‘The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race’, this was the warning given to the media by Stephen Hawking last December.

Conscious machines turning on their creators has featured in numerous works of science fiction, from Terminator, to the Matrix, to HAL 9000. The idea that machines will one day destroy, enslave or assimilate us is the first thing that most people think of when they hear the words ’Artificial Intelligence’ or ‘AI’. Many people envision the dark future known to most as the ‘singularity’ – the point in which AI surpasses humans in general intelligence. This idea along with numerous ‘warnings’ from influential scientists such as Hawking has led to mass hysteria around the development of AI. With many now calling for it to end.

They couldn’t be anymore wrong. Despite the dark future envisioned by science fiction. I believe that we should continue to develop AI as I see brighter possibilities. And I am not alone.

Despite Hawking’s warning about AI, he along with another several hundred scientists, signed an open letter for the Future of Life Institute describing that ‘the potential benefits are huge… AI (could lead to) the eradication of disease and poverty’. AI could change the way we work, live and affect the environment. If done right AI could solve problems in ways we can’t conceive. Especially with recent advances in technology Artificial intelligence capable machines have escaped from their narrow confines and have started to demonstrate broad abilities.

AI can create a safer environment for humans to live in.

The true definition of AI is the ‘an area of computer science that deals with giving machines the ability to seem like they have human intelligence. The keyword there being ‘seem’. All of us unknowingly use AI in our daily lives from facial recognition on Facebook photos to programs which tailor advertisements to individuals on Google. Harmless right? AI is now capable of carrying out many processes ranging from speech pattern recognition to automated packaging robots with simultaneous localisation and mapping. Through similar processes AI can create a safer environment for humans to live in.

Take self-driving cars for example. 90% of all driving accidents are caused by operator error. Automating the operation of vehicles would reduce injuries, deaths and related cost by staggering amounts according to a study by the Eno Centre for Transportation. If just 10% of all vehicles in the US were self-driving and controlled by AI, the number of accidents would decrease each year by 211, 000; 1, 100 lives would be saved. If 90% of all vehicles in the US were self-driving and controlled by AI, 4.2 million accidents could be avoided, saving more than 21, 700 lives. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 40% of fatal crashes have been the result of alcohol, drug use, driver distraction and/ or fatigue. Since computers can’t get intoxicated, high on drugs, become distracted or tired, their use in vehicles would dramatically reduce the number of fatalities.

Not only are the uses of the AI confined to benefiting human society on the road. The medical applications are enormous, ranging from automated personalised surgeries/drug treatments to diagnosis of disease. One recent example was developed by innovators at the Israeli company OrCam. They have combined a small but powerful computer, digital sensors and excellent algorithms to give key aspects of sight to the visually impaired. The user simply points at a source of text such as a newspaper article and the artificial intelligence inside the computer analyses the source and reads the text to the user via bone conduction speakers. This development in artificial intelligence has led to senses being restored to humans. Imagine the feeling of pure joy if you just had one of your senses restored. This and is a good example of how artificial intelligence has been designed by humans for humans. Here AI is not destroying lives; Here AI is saving lives.

This is only the beginning of AI and we have only cracked the surface on the huge gold mine of potential uses for Artificial Intelligence.

This is a far cry from the ‘executing’ nature that people envision about artificial intelligence. These rudimentary AI are nothing but useful and should continue to be. In fact Stephen Hawking warned us about AI using AI. He uses a type of AI known as Assistive Context Aware Toolkit (ACAT) to talk to us. It uses his previous writings and communication to predict what he’s going to want say.

We mustn’t forget that AI and computers are relatively ignorant. They can only operate tasks that it has been coded to do so. They have to be programmed by humans to carry out any task. We have to code morality, ethics and empathy into them. Just like how we program them to drive, speak or move cargo. AI machines don’t have an active conscious. One trivial example is a money lending AI, it may lend more money to Caucasian people than other races but it is not because the AI is racist. But is because it has been designed to so by humans. In this way AI can’t yet form intuitions about the physical world without doing extensive calculations, and seem to fail at answering all open-ended questions and lack common sense. The most advanced from of artificial intelligence has the IQ of a 4 year-old. This called ConceptNet4 developed by MIT. It may pass a vocabulary test with flying colours but lacks the prudence and sound judgement of a child in nursery. Machines may be able to solve complex equations that the vast majority of people wouldn’t understand but the algorithms that carry out these processes have been written by humans. AI is not a threat to society.

And it will stay this way.

The open letter that Hawking signed points out the current issues with artificial intelligence, such as the law and ethical issues for example whether autonomous weapons should be banned, without being alarmist. This is why the letter was written. To be a warning. These are the greatest humans now wanting to make sure that AI of the future will be programmed to concern human safety. We are taking precautions now to ‘ensure that these machines are built to collaborate with us and not be totally autonomous’ and avoid the ‘singularity’ event. Through precautions such as those addressed in the letter, we can continue to rake the benefits of developing AI without any disadvantages. To quote DNews ‘Hawking and the researches from the largest and smartest technology firms and universities aren’t saying “run for you lives” they are saying “run the right algorithms”’.
To conclude humans design machines to be tools and extensions of our own minds and brains. We must remove the irrational idea born out of science fiction because it is just that, science fiction. The future uses of Ai are still just potential and we need to continue to develop AI to access the vast amounts of benefits that AI could bring. We design AI for us, to benefit human society, to benefit your family, to benefit you.


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