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Fearing new technology has been an ancient pastime, and now you can witness the use of technology in every sphere of life. From something as simple as a looking glass to the way more sophisticated printing press right down to the “idiot box,” new inventions have been regarded with an irrational fear, sometimes even supernatural awe.
And artificial intelligence is no different. The newest and most cutting edge in the ceaseless march of technology is A.I. And debating its need is like talking about whether we need pharmaceutical drugs.
Yes, there are side effects. But it would be foolish to throw the baby away with the bathwater.
Whether it is the smartphone, which is increasingly an extension of your brain and even personality than a mere device to keep in touch with the world, or tiny nano-bots injected into your bloodstream to detect hostile foreign entities and decimate them, the uses of A.I. are many, diverse and inescapable.
Its many practical applications make it key to a host of disciplines and lines of occupation, from investigation to art to further advancement of science. And as these intelligent systems become more efficient, they are transforming our world, modifying it, and into an efficient, smooth and fast machine.
Tech giants are having a field day. Google’s parent company Alphabet, online retailer Amazon, social medium Facebook and computer manufacturer Microsoft are pumping vast sums of money running into billions of dollars into ‘moon shot’ projects revolving around machines becoming more and more intelligent.
Scientists like Stephen Hawking and engineers such as SpaceX’s Elon Musk believe that the time is here for the world to prepare itself for the boundless applications and uses – for the betterment of humanity – of artificial intelligence.
It is truly a new frontier and unique from past inventions in that it deals with machines perhaps turning sentient and the social and ethical implications of that.
In a way the fears are not entirely unfounded. An assessment of the risks involved in keeping many philosophers and thinkers of our time up at night.
The first and obvious one is unemployment. Are almost all jobs eventually going to be taken over by machines, leaving not much to do for the human race, except wage war against the machines?
Dramatic, but not quite. Car manufacturers, for instance, have experimented with cent percent automation only to realize that that is not such a good idea. Concepts like aesthetics, comfort and just the ‘feel’ of the product remain important for manufacturers, and nothing understands them as well as a human being.
While the hierarchy of labor has mostly to do with automation, there is ample space for people to take on more complex and challenging roles, moving from the grunt of the physical work to strategic and administrative work.
Besides, empathy remains a strong strand in our collective psycho-social makes up.
On the bright side, if you do go with automation, taking the example of four-wheelers again, we stand to gain if we consider the lower risk of accidents that, say, Tesla’s self-driving trucks run.
A similar fate could await other industries.
What’s more, automation is going to challenge people to reinvent themselves to make a relevant and improved contribution to their general transactions with the world, whether it is professional or personal.
Of course, artificial intelligence machines are going to affect our behavior and interactions.
Through deep neural networks, A.I. bots are becoming better and better at imitating human conversations and relationships. Some four years ago, in a very first, a bot came out victorious in the Turing Challenge. The exercise involves humans chatting with an unknown entity via text. Hey then must guess whether they had had been chatting with a human or a machine. Eugene Goostman, the bot that won, had more than half of the human raters thinking it was a person.
The signs are clear. There is no turning back from A.I. It is quite possible that the next step in our biological and neurological evolution will be inextricably linked to machines.