Artificial Intelligence or AI, refers to intelligent behavior exhibited by machines or programs. The term inspires so much enigma that over the last few years it has been one of the hottest topics of conversation.
While AI has gained much more traction over the last decade, the concept has actually been around since 1950, when Alan Turing designed the Turing Test. Although the discussions on how well machines can imitate humans have since matured into how far can this imitation lead us and how viable that future is.
Considering the current pace of development it is not hard to imagine that there might soon be robots around that are not only physically far more skilled, but also have an intellectual capacity to advance and adapt at a speed significantly faster than that of humans. Since robots are largely governed by learning systems encoded into them, the concern that at one point they might evolve into independent entities, posing a threat to humanity, is one that many harbor.
By ‘pose a threat’, I’m sure a lot of you envision a Terminator like situation- at least that’s how Elon Musk pictures it. Musk believes that AI can turn out to be ‘more risky than North Korea’ and has reiterated his views multiple times through various channels. “I keep sounding the alarm bell, but until people see, like, robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react because it seems so ethereal,” Musk said in an interview.
Musk is of the opinion that robots will soon have the ability to do everything better than humans and that this is the scariest thing about AI. Working with cutting edge artificial intelligence, he has first-hand experience of the kind of threats that AI can pose to us, humans. When robots’ physical and intellectual capabilities become more superior, they will begin to take over jobs currently done by us, leading to mass unemployment. An idea not entirely absurd, since we are already surrounded by robots — simple and complex — that have taken over human tasks, performing them with incredible dexterity.
However, Musk feels that AI’s most dangerous feature is the fact that it is intangible and is a deep intelligence in the network. So, Musk, Stephen Hawking and other experts gathered to voice their concerns, with an open letter on artificial intelligence, ‘Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence: An Open Letter’. In the letter, these experts wrote of both short term concerns like those regarding autonomous cars and weaponry, along with long term ones relating to the hypothetical situation where we lose control of AI systems and they don’t act in accordance to human wishes.
But there are a few who warn us not to panic about these situations. We have Mark Zuckerberg, who has been quite outspoken on the matter, even saying that Musk’s claims are “pretty irresponsible.” Zuckerberg’s views not only differ from those of Musk or Prof. Hawking, but he is even optimistic about AI and is excited for what it has in store. “One reason I’m so optimistic about AI is that improvements in basic research improve systems across so many different fields — from diagnosing diseases to keep us healthy, to improving self-driving cars to keep us safe, and from showing you better content in News Feed, to delivering you more relevant search results,” Zuckerberg wrote. Mark believes that AI will improve every aspect of our lives, from businesses and government organisations to even philanthropy.
And then there are those with a more mellow and pragmatic approach to the issue. “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned,” said Bill Gates who believes that the grim picture Musk paints has a possibility of becoming reality but the situation may not come around if the development of AI is kept well under control.
Whichever view you support, or whatever view you hold, we are far from unlocking the potential that artificial intelligence has in store. As does everything in life, it is no mystery that a tool as powerful as AI will bring with it benefits, as well as drawbacks. However, the future has and will always be a mystery for us. The answer to whether artificial intelligence will evolve as a friend or foe is one only time and technology will reveal.