by Andrii Zahorodnii

Will AI take over the planet and destroy humankind or will it be to the best of men? All sorts of wild theories are out there. Time to check what really is to be expected from this next wave of technological development.

“Our technology, our machines, is a part of our humanity. We created them to extend ourselves, and that is what is unique about human beings.”  Ray Kurzweil

In the present day, we find ourselves on the brink of a technological revolution unparalleled by any other in human history. A revolution which has the potential to either elevate humanity to a new plane of existence or wipe it from the face of the Earth. This seemingly irresistible technology is Artificial General Intelligence, which has the potential to not only perfect the way in which humans perform tasks at present but discover whole new ways of approaching them. However, in spite of this great potential, we are still some way away from machines that are able to compute a wide range of tasks using the logical structures and processes humans have come to rely upon. For the moment, most computer scientists use applied AI whose grounding can be found in Neural Network and Machine Learning technology. In this article, I would like to think in some greater depth about the implications for the shape of our world.

For most of humankind, homo sapiens have looked for ways in which they can ease the burdens of carrying out tasks necessary to survival. Early on, assistants were commonly animals, a fraction of whom were even domesticated to the point where they could be in the home. Animals, however, are inappropriate for some tasks which require a level of prediction. As a result, people have tried to use feats of engineering in order to make the best use of the natural resources all around us. The earliest mechanism that we have on record is known as the ‘Antikythera’. This machine was an ancient Greek analogue computer and orrery used to predict astronomical positions, often decades in advance. The date of invention has often been disputed and has been variously dated to about 87 BC, or between 150 and 100 BC, or to 205 BC.

The 20 or centuries since the invention of that machine have seen an almost constant stream of technological innovation. On August 31, 1993, noted science fiction author William Ford Gibson stated, “The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed.” PwC has identified three waves of automation which it predicts will take place between now and the 2030s: the algorithm wave, the augmentation wave, and the autonomy wave. In the first wave (until the early 2020s), relatively few jobs will be automated but the financial sector will be impacted heavily. The two waves after that threaten to change the very face of global capitalism.

Approximately 30% of existing jobs (the report estimates) could be replaced by the end of the 2030s, with the transport, manufacturing and retail sectors particularly badly affected. In 2017, the popularisation of the Cloud, major advances in Machine Learning, Big Data entering public discussions, and scalable distributed computing suggests we are heading towards this new world at a speed where policy is unable to keep up. Perhaps Gibson’s quote was more food for thought than initially expected.

However, we can discern two groups of people in the technology sphere today: supporters and opponents of these disruptive technologies. The payoffs may be massive, but I have come to warn that the risks should not be yet underestimated. We are simply not ready for a world shaped so greatly by non-human entities. Disregarding any risks, we are inspired by a chance to disrupt many sectors in our world by ”smart machines”:

• The manufacturing industry – Manufacturers have used robots for decades to perform the assembly and packaging tasks in their industrial plants. AI can be applied so as to make the robots assemble items which are much more complex or require a far greater degree of precision, such as electronics.

• Transportation – Today’s cars have AI-based driver assist features, such as self-parking and advanced cruise controls. AI has been used to optimize traffic management applications, which in turn reduces wait times, energy use, and emissions. In the future, proper mapping of road systems could allow for the widespread proliferation of driverless cars.

• Education – There are a number of companies that create robots to teach subjects to children ranging from biology to computer science, but such tools have not become widespread yet. There has also been a rise of intelligent tutoring systems in higher education. Perhaps the single greatest impact will be the use of cloud technology in order to store pockets of knowledge and teaching resources that can be used in the developing world.

• Finance – Algorithmic trading involves the use of complex AI systems to make trading decisions at a greater speed than any human is capable of, often making millions of trades in a day without any human involvement. However, the scope has been historically limited by regulatory frameworks keen to retain the human decision component in banking system decision making.

• Law – AI programs are able to create legal letters for clients automatically. By relying on a comprehensive legal knowledge base, this program is able to create letters and reports to help in handling day to day life or business. It could also streamline the connection process between a victim and the kind of lawyer they would require.

• Healthcare – AI programs have been developed and applied to practices such as diagnosis processes, treatment protocol development, drug development, personalized medicine and patient monitoring and care, among others.

• Media – Some AI applications are geared to the analysis of audiovisual media content such as movies, TV programs, advertisement videos or user-generated content. The solutions often involve computer vision – a major application area of AI.

There are plenty of others uses in fields as wide-ranging as homeland security, speech and text recognition, data mining, and e-mail spam filtering. It is also important to remember that this is merely the range of activities that can be achieved through the use of Applied AI.

AGI, unchecked, is able to entirely replace humans. The age of automation is clearly visible through a replacement of human worker by more dutiful and obedient machines. An exponential growth of dismissals is thought-provoking about the future of jobs. Blue-collar workers with limited complex skills are the first group to be replaced, followed by almost all simple-algorithmic jobs. Now, this is not to say that this change in the pattern of human work is inevitably a bad thing. Most ancient Greek philosophers prioritised reflection over the action as the culmination of human endeavour, and contemporary culture appears to agree. Ultimately, action and contemplation function best when allied. We have an opportunity to turn our curiosity and social natures to action and contemplation. It might be that freedom from the need to work is the greatest freedom in allowing for progression towards the ideal Aristotelian end state of eudemonia.

While the job losses generate the most interest and headlines, but it is only a part of the story. Research firm ”Gartner” said more jobs will be created than lost. The firm says 1.8 million jobs will be eliminated by 2020, but 2.3 million new jobs will be created by then in different sectors. The number of jobs affected will vary from industry to industry. The public sector, healthcare and education are expected to gain the most jobs, while manufacturing and transportation may be the hit the hardest, said Gartner’s research director, Manjunath Bhat.

Unfortunately, most calamitous warnings of job losses confuse AI with automation, which overshadows the greatest AI benefit. AI augmentation— a combination of human and artificial intelligence, are complimentary as opposed to being in conflict with one another.