Writing08: Artificial Intelligence

I believe that artificial intelligence is just like every new technology that emerges, it is a tool. It is neither good or bad, rather it is how we humans choose to use it. That being said, some technologies lend themselves more easily to negative consequences than others. Artificial intelligence is one that has large gains on both sides. As has been seen with AI machines like AlphaGo or IBM’s Watson, artificial intelligence is not simply a gimmick, it has real potential and applications. If AI can beat top players of Chess, Jeopardy, or Go it is clear that AI can edge out human ability, at least if sufficiently specialized. Some of the most promising applications for artificial intelligence are in the medical field. A faster, more accurate diagnostic tool is pretty hard technology to vilify. However, AI also has applications that have murkier morality. If you can specialize AI to do anything, why not specialize it to kill? One use for AI that the military seems particularly interested in is facial recognition, which would allow for easier identification and termination of enemy combatants. But when stateside, how about using facial recognition to identify criminals? Sounds promising, until you realize that current AI is very flawed. Bias entering the system, whether by design or by poor implementation, is a problem that is not close to being fixed. Artificial Intelligence is still in an incubation stage, yet some people worry about robots taking over now. AI is nowhere near what people could potentially consider sentient; it is evident that there must be improvements on the order of leaps and bounds within the field before that question is even relevant. But it is plain to see that even with Artificial Intelligence being in an early stage, it is still powerful enough that we must take care not to misuse its current capabilities.

Those applications of AI are more software based and abstract, but what about the increasing automation of every industry? There are obvious pros and cons to each side. On the negative side, jobs that formerly belonged to human workers are being taken by machines. Not just blue collar factory jobs, but also jobs in other industries are being displaced by increased automation. Ever walk into a McDonald’s and order at the kiosk? One less person the corporation has to pay. The most concerning thing about this is that a job that used to formerly be done by thousands of people, can now be handled by a machine and a handful of humans to maintain and surveil it. At a certain point you have to consider that a more productive world does not guarantee a better world for people. However, it cannot be denied that automation has plenty of upside as well. Automation allows for cheaper products for consumers. When people first hear that, some tend to think more about non-essential products like toys or snacks, but the creation of essential life-saving medicine can also be automated and made cheaply accessible to people. The virtue of automation requiring so few people is also its vice, removing those jobs from the economy. Once again, we must take care to properly use this technology wisely, and properly aid those who are affected by automation.