There is no middle-ground with Artificial Intelligence; for those who hold an opinion, they carry it to the extreme.
For the optimists, a future of uber-productivity awaits. A world in which machines take care of the mundane. While we mere human folk relish a less burdensome existence with more free time than ever – a heyday for humanity.
Whereas among the doomsayers, an opposing conviction exists.
A lot of sentiment is spurred around the belief that such power will only ever serve the computing elite. Meanwhile, us paupers suffer job losses, society is upended, and a lifetime of struggle – led by a data-bred apocalypse of Skynet proportion, lies ahead. Poignantly—worryingly, perhaps—even a select few with close ties to the technology speak of working on AI akin to “summoning the demon.”
So, who should we believe? And what are the grounds for concern?
Or is the doom-mongering, pure Hollywood?
The AI Risk: Is It Really Job Losses?
The most-discussed threat of an artificially intelligent world is, without doubt, job loss.
As machines take over an ever-expanding array of tasks – be it at the cashier-less supermarket, via automated business reporting, or in the self-driving taxi – it seems every nook and cranny of mid-level society risks redundancy.
Such fears are arguably rooted in a growing inequality; one which materialized following globalization, then proliferated as a result 21st century technology.
However, one could equally argue that this societal gap resulted from institutional, business, and governmental mismanagement. This gap has been created by those with power whom displayed a bias towards the few – rather than redistributing the fruits of progress.
And so, perhaps the primary risk is actually of an increasingly-divided society? By contrast, to thoughts of AI an apocalypse—many would suggest the likelihood is overblown.
“I Am Optimistic”—Zuck.
Where some fear chaos, many see opportunity: rather than sharing the universal fear of jobs destroyed, the confident are buoyed by the prospect of work created. Indeed, throughout history; technological shifts have always been accompanied by more jobs, not less.
So, the optimists predict—yes, machines will dominate some sectors.
But people will retain their comparative advantage in enough areas to support employment, and for several reasons:
- Automation lowers costs: meaning we achieve more – cheaper and faster – creating a higher workload in yet-to-be-automated tasks.
- Automation generates demand: if costs are down, prices will drop also; cheaper goods and service drive demand, creating work.
- Automation improves productivity: freeing time from repetitive tasks, allowing us to focus on the creative—a domain where computers still struggle.
AI is Already Bearing Fruits to Share
Fear often lies in the unknown; but as soon we understand the potential of AI, we can capitalize on it.
Only then can we step away from the mundane to embrace the interesting.
Plus, if we appreciate technology changes the nature of work, rather than replacing it – we can tackle new, previously unsolvable, problems:
- More accurate medical diagnoses as computers flag symptoms based on historical data, eliminating subjective bias or a doctor failing to identify an underlying risk.
- More robust anti-fraud systems, which continuously monitor payments; automating alerts of suspicious activity, thus reducing the cost of money management overall.
- Lower premiums as car insurers monitor data in real-time, providing lower-cost coverage to safer drivers; while improving road safety.
Yet, this is just the tip of what’s feasible.
The Threat Lies in Transition
The most significant risk of artificial intelligence lies in the transition to an automated world: Yes, technological shifts have happened before; yes, new jobs have been created; yes, society has managed to adapt.
But this time, the transformation could be more pronounced.
There is likely to be a significant skills gap between education systems, training schemes, and working environments. The majority are not-yet-prepared for the new paradigm. Therefore, policymakers must prepare for upheaval, ensuring adequate safety nets are in place to support those who suffer the fallout.