AI – Ushering an Era of Intelligent Machines – Part 2
Artificial intelligence, machine intelligence, AI, smart machines, etc. are the terms you must have heard a lot in the past few years. From shopping on Amazon to transacting in a virtual bank – AI is in use everywhere.
In the previous article, AI – Ushering an Era of Intelligent Machines – Part 1, we focussed on attaining conceptual understanding about artificial intelligence. If you haven’t yet read that article, we strongly recommend you do so first, in order to gain a deeper clarity of what AI is and why it is rapidly becoming the ubiquitous technology. Now, in this article, let us look the economic benefits of AI, whether it can wipe out the human race and how we can adopt the technology to our own advantage.
As we’ve already learnt, AI is a system that perceives its environment in order to take an action that completes the given task effectively and efficiently. In this pursuit of bestowing ‘human-like’ intelligence to machines, AI scientists make use of concepts from computer science, psychology, linguistics, philosophy, etc. This multidisciplinary approach to design ensures that the machine’s intelligence is multidimensional. This multidimensionality allows deployment of the technology in diverse fields from sports to satellites.
Is AI a threat to humankind?
You must have watched the 1999 movie Matrix wherein humanity was shown to be enslaved by robots and trapped in the disillusionment of a simulated reality called Matrix. The field of AI was founded on the foundation that ‘human intelligence is a quantifiable entity that can be recreated artificially’. This has led to an ethical and moral conundrum whereby philosophers, scientists and intellectuals argue about the need of AI and its possible detrimental effects on humanity. This subject has been explored variously in fiction, cinema as well as philosophical texts.
History shows us that beings with higher brain volume and cognition, have always managed to dominate the Earth and its resources. Hence there is a fear amongst the masses that AI would soon reach those levels of intelligence where it would become capable of taking over our planet. This fear stems from the assumption that because AI-sentient beings are capable of self-learning, they might use the intelligence to harm humans. With a fast and rapidly-increasing computing power and the capability of ambient intelligence, skeptics of AI are afraid that it would be impossible to control it.
Now, keeping the fear and the fantasy part aside, let us look at this issue from a rational point of view. AI is classified into two categories based on its capabilities –
1. Weak AI – This kind of artificial intelligence uses on completing the task at hand effectively. It follows a set of pre-fed instructions to do so. It lacks human-brain-like cognitive abilities, hence its ‘learning’ from the surroundings and decision-making is restricted to the job it has been designed for. For example, Alexa and Siri are weak AI models designed to perform a predetermined set of functions as a personal assistant to humans.
2. Strong AI – This is the AI that you must have encountered in sci-fi movies or in literature but not in reality yet. Strong AI-enabled machines or robots have the ability of understanding their environment, making independent decisions without the programming by a human and are equipped with emotional intelligence and common sense too. Thus, strong AI is the state of machine intelligence that could match the full range of cognitive abilities of a human mind. This entails the presence of consciousness within the machine that would allow it to learn from past experiences and plan for the future, just like a human being. Though fascinating and terrifying at the same time, the concept of strong AI is far from becoming real, due to the many inherent fundamental limitations of the technology.
The aim behind imparting intelligence to machines is automation. Though, sometimes perceived negatively in popular media, automation is not necessarily a bad thing. Automating your daily mundane tasks like vacuuming or laundry can give you more free time to do what you love. Because smart machines are programmed with the specific goal of accomplishing a particular task efficiently, their programming is limited. Hence, they do not have the ability to understand situations which are beyond their scope. Thus, due to the lack of the abilities of perception and insight, there is almost a negligible chance of AI turning into a killer entity that can annihilate the entire human race.
The Economic Potential of AI
According to the report – ‘The Economic Impacts of AI’ by European Parliament, AI technologies have the potential to revolutionise production and contribute to addressing major global challenges, a view shared by organisations such as the European Commission and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Majority of studies mentioned in the report emphasise that AI will have a significant economic impact – not only on the major economies, but also on smaller ones – especially as the global manufacturing walks on the path of AI-led automation.
Research conducted by Accenture, a reputed consulting firm, forecasts that by 2035, AI could double annual global economic growth rates. The study spanned 12 developed economies which together produce more than 0.5% of the global economic output. It further reported that AI will drive this growth in three important ways –
- A strong increase in labour productivity (by up to 40 %) due to innovative technologies enabling more efficient workforce-related time management.
- Creation of a new virtual workforce – described as ‘intelligent automation’ in the report – that would be capable of solving problems and self-learning.
- The economy will also benefit from the diffusion of innovation, which will affect different sectors and create new revenue streams.
Thus, as seen from the report, AI has been predicted to cause a profound change in the current ways in which factories produce and industries provide services.
With the greater adoption of automation, AI is predicted to lead to widespread unemployment. Though, this argument seems logical, it is far from the truth. Due to the limited nature of machine cognitive abilities, it is forecasted to replace humans in low-skilled tasks. Tasks that require high skills and creativity or those problems that need complex thinking, such as the jobs of leading and governing, journalism and reporting, research and development, therapists and counsellors, teachers and doctors, etc. are some of the examples of jobs that AI cannot replace in the foreseeable future. Though there are AI programs that can paint or write, the human touch and the emotional connection is missing from them. Hence, AI is least likely to replace human painters, writers or singers, etc.
Even though AI possesses no real threat to jobs, it is true that it shall create a paradigm shift in the way workplaces and industries function. Due to automation of manufacturing processes, job of a human would focus more on troubleshooting, supervision and designing aspects of the product manufacturing. The possibility of round-the-clock production shall create a greater demand in the market for professionals who can work with the machine in order to keep the assembly line running.
Next, AI is predicted to generate novel job titles such as ‘influencers’ and ‘content creators’ due to the proliferation of social media and short video apps. Furthermore, AI has led to creation of demand for newer products in the field of technology, automobiles, consumer-electronics, etc. both within the affordable as well as the premium price-range. A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimates that global GDP may increase by up to 14% (the equivalent of US$15.7 trillion) by 2030 as a result of the accelerating development and take-up of AI.
Thus, AI has opened a large number of opportunities for us. A few years back nobody could think of earning millions of dollars while making videos from the comfort of our house. But it has been made possible due to the penetration of social media apps amongst the masses, of which AI is an essential component. According to the World Economic Forum’s, ‘The Future of Jobs Report 2020’, AI is expected to replace 85 million jobs worldwide by 2025, while also birthing 97 million jobs at the same time. Thus, instead of looking at AI as a foe, we stand to earn more and live better by befriending the technology, as the tech is here to stay for the long haul.
The Path Forward
As the first industrial revolution has shown, a change in the economic relationships and manufacturing processes also leads to shifts in societal values. With the accelerated march of Industrial Revolution 4.0, AI promises to bring about a revolution not only in the manufacturing processes and service industries but also in the workings of governments, bureaucracy and society. Hence, AI is one such technology that is being observed and studied by sociologists, psychologists, technocrats and governments too.
With its enormous potential to enhance the quality of life of humans, this tech promises to be revolutionary, but only if it is used sustainably and responsibly.
Vishvali Deo is an E&TC (Electronics and Telecommunication) Engineer by education and Software Engineer by Profession. She believes that 'Technology is a Great Democratising and Equalising Force' and hence is on a mission to make the general public understand seemingly complex technologies in a simple manner.
She is convinced that the root of today's world problems lie in the past, hence she has also pursued post-graduation in History. She has a keen interest and a good grip over Economics, Political Science and Environmental Engineering. She has a penchant for working with Women and spreading Digital Literacy amongst them, with the aim of their empowerment. She also strives to provide Free Quality Education to children and counsels young adults. Besides, she is also skilled at Public Speaking, having won many awards in Elocution & Debate Competitions and Technical Paper Presentations.