AI: Friend or Foe?

We’ve all seen the movies; the year is 2050 and sophisticated robots have gained a mind of their own, taking over the world in a blaze of fire and panic.

Whilst the prospect of artificial intelligence is a scary thought in the minds of those who aren’t well versed in current technological trends, the reality is a little less dramatic. However, this is not to say that it’s dull. In fact, AI is perhaps one of the most exciting movements of the 21st century and we’re only just getting started.

Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence

What is AI?

Well, in simple terms, AI is the ability of a machine or computer program to learn, specifically machines that are able to “think” and act like humans in an intelligent and measured way. With this definition in mind, it is understandable that AI is often still placed in the 21st-century bracket of futurism. However, upon closer inspection, the technology has already been established and is embedded into computerized systems of all kinds.

AI is beginning to manifest itself in almost everything in the world around us, from the voice assistants in our smartphones to advanced security and surveillance systems. While this may sound ominous, at this point AI has not developed enough for it to be an immediate threat. In many instances, AI is a key factor driving strategy and direction across different industries.

Take the automotive sector, a market that is expected to reach a global value of $400 billion by 2022. A number of movements in the auto-sphere have emerged that are being quite literally driven by AI-inspired innovations, namely autonomous vehicles.

Tesla - seekingalpha.com
Tesla – seekingalpha.com

The coming debut of driverless cars will ultimately transform the world forever, with a substantial number of Fortune 500 firms attempting to be the first to crack the code, from GM to Ford to Toyota. Firmly introduced by Elon Musk’s Tesla Model S back in 2015 with the implementation of an autopilot feature enabling hands-free control for motorway driving, the technology has since advanced at a rapid rate, with numerous tests of fully autonomous vehicles having taken place throughout the past year.

But the thing that is truly stunning about modern AI is its ability to exceed the human intelligence.

Google’s DeepMind subsidiary is the perfect example of this; having created a number of game-playing AI software, late last year Google raised the stakes with its AlphaZero launch. In doing so the true capabilities of AI were showcased to the world when AlphaZero beat the world’s best computer program in a chess game after having taught itself how to play in the space of just four hours. Not only this but in a 100-game matchup between the two competitors, AlphaZero didn’t lose once.

AlphaZero - medium.com
AlphaZero – medium.com

Computer programs have been beating human chess champions since 1997, but programs teaching themselves to be world class players in the space of a few hours is an entirely different ball game.

The Dark Side of AI

For many, the idea that AI is outclassing humans at an exponential rate is worrying.

Predictions have come from the likes of Stephen Hawking that AI itself will be the single cause of a new age apocalypse; that the technology is a greater threat to us than the likes of nuclear and climate change.

Even Elon Musk himself, one of the leading advocates of AI, is considered to be right at the front of this doomy, gloomy bandwagon.

“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence,” he said in 2014. “If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful.”

The Everyday

While these estimations are entirely plausible, particularly when coming from experts of this stature, the current state of AI does not see this happening quite yet.

The current technology can be better applied to help our daily lives rather than conquer the world. Not only can it be found in driverless cars or in advanced game playing robots, but in all areas of the world around us. It can be difficult to see how AI is working to this effect, but in reality, AI used by people in almost every hour of every day.

Email is one primary example of this. Spam filters, for example, use AI technology to learn, react and adapt in order to ensure that they remain timeless, factoring in anything from the content of a message to its metadata.

Social Media
Social Media

Social media is able to work in similar ways. Learning from the uses of certain words and phrases, platforms like Facebook are able to suggest automatic responses accordingly. Social platforms have begun to use AI to tailor individual newsfeeds, automatically identify individual faces, and to improve a wide variety of their services.

Aside from the online, AI affects us just much on an indirect basis, often without us even knowing. Google maps, for example, will use AI to predict the fastest routes to get through traffic at any given time by using anonymized location data from smartphones.

So, what’s next?

Based on these few examples alone, it is evident that AI has developed rapidly to become a major influence in 2018. But while the technology is still considered to be in its infancy, what can we expect to come?

Plainly, AI will continue to transform each and every industry, from healthcare to agriculture to marketing.

According to the esteemed International Data Corporation, global AI investment is expected to reach $46 billion by 2020, up 768% on the figures recorded in 2016, as businesses and consumers alike are increasingly recognizing its benefits.

As AI adapts and evolves, humans will also have to change. Education will be imperative, not only in enabling the technology’s successes but also in preventing its failures.

Like anything, there are bound to be some hiccups along the way.  However, if we start to ensure that we are open to the prospects that AI can bring, learning to be part of the transition as opposed to standing by idly, watching, then the technology may well continue on its path to becoming our greatest asset.

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