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Blog: AI: Bladerunner Nightmare or Just-in-Time Lifebuoy?

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There’s no denying Artifical Intelligence’s presence, but the outcome of it is still unknown. The gamble may pay off, but it’s just as likely things could turn awry. Like a gamble? It’s a fifty-fifty bet

The Rise of AI

In today’s ever-changing business landscape, technological innovations are surpassing the abilities of humans all the time. AI, in its many forms, is an integral part of any business moving forward.

It can simply transform how a company does business and can change how effective it is in the marketplace.

But there’s a caveat to all this.

The speed in which this technology is developing could have serious repercussions for humans in the not-to-distant future. People, and the unique skills we bring, are vital in the unified sphere of industrial, as well as technological, expansion, especially in the development of smaller-sized companies and minute start-ups.

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Just as it is with the corporate behemoths, small businesses need technology to develop and support themselves as they go about creating innovation that may assist humanity in its ultimate goal of self-development and the realization of its greater destiny.

The Shift

A hundred years ago, most people on earth — somewhere in the region of 90% — worked in the agricultural sector as farmers. But with the advent of mass production in industry, a huge migration in working practices came about, which in turn changed that demographic on its head.

Photo by mark chaves on Unsplash

Now it is the reverse.

People today rely much more on computers to either do the jobs for them or at least help them in manual operations. The AI that we have invented, will one day, unfortunately, control us if this process continues on its current course.

Professor Stephen Hawking, speaking at a conference in London a few years before his death, stated: “Computers will overtake humans with AI within the next 100 years. When that happens, we need to make sure the computers have goals aligned with ours.”

‘The goals aligned with ours’ is a key point.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Visions of an apocalyptic scenario where robots or advanced machines are controlling us à la I, Robot or Terminator don’t bear thinking about.

AI technology is already showing signs of an autonomous nature that, if not put into check, may develop into a situation in which the machines become the masters — maybe not to the extent of the doom-mongers’ insight of having total control over us, but more because our reliability on their performances in our lives will have very much the same effect anyway.

Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and the advent of self-driving cars are all indicators of a world where machines will play a pivotal role in our lives.

Exciting for many — particularly for Millennials and those born of Generation X, whose whole experiences have been lived in what seems to many a Blade Runner-esque theme park — this world of AI-induced entertainment and free-thinking computers that are able to tell us anything in a nano-second, or perform mundane tasks effectively, seems a utopia.

To older people, however, those with experience of an almost Neolithic world before the dawn of the internet and all its advantages, things can often seem less appealing.

The Malthus Prophecy

Though the future of AI on the workplace and life, at least for the most part, is an unknown quantity, one thing guaranteed will be its ‘disruptive’ nature. Over the years this term has both been used in a positive as well as negative way. The connotations of how this kind of technology will eventually replace all human labour is a scary proposition in some circles. To be displaced by the very robots we gave life to would be a hard pill to swallow for many.

Photo by Agathe Marty on Unsplash

With the ever-growing population set to climb by a billion souls in the next decade, the spiritual inheritors of Malthusian rhetoric have, some may say, a right to scream from the rooftops about the approaching nightmare. With a higher demographic, and more machines to do the work that in a bygone era was done manually, we are setting ourselves up for a scenario whereby mass unemployment — and the problems it causes like social exclusion, poverty, depression etc — becomes a widespread phenomenon, not just in Africa, Latin America and many parts of Asia as it is already and has been for eons, but in the traditional heart of ‘modern civilisation’, the United States, Western Europe and the wealthy Australasian continent.

But there is another side to all this, one that is far less doom-mongering in its sophistry.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Many experts believe the rise in automation may even increase the number of jobs, creating more demand in certain areas. The rise in software, too, could heighten demand for specialists who can both program and maintain it. There are various jobs which in the last five years didn’t exist a decade ago. As well as generating more work, technology could possibly help people perform better while doing them.

“AI will probably most likely lead to the end of the world, but in the meantime, there’ll be great companies.”

Sam Altman

The pros and cons to all this, at least in 2019, cannot be envisaged clearly. That AI will change the future of work is a given but it is up to us how we wish to use the technology we have at our fingertips to transform our world.

But then Again…

There are already countless jobs that have disappeared since the advent of automated computer systems in the second half of the twentieth century, such as the human alarm clock, switchboard operator and elevator man. In the future, too — as is already the case — occupations such as travel agent, taxi dispatcher and postman will all, sadly, be jobs of the past.

Photo by Agathe Marty on Unsplash

For those of us in such professions, and with very little scope and education to retrain in other occupations, the future looks bleak. But humans, and the way we are able to adapt to the constantly changing flow of life and all its vicissitudes, should survive — and even thrive — in the brave new world.

So, should we turn away from technology, as it will inevitably make us a redundant species in regard to work and production?

The answer should be an emphatic NO.

AI and technology can be, if used correctly, a tool to empower people within the financial, service industries and industrial world. In addition, if AI can assist humans to become successful in whatever they want to achieve, then this will conclusively lead to more business start-ups and a higher level of employment for the ever-growing population.

In order to go about successfully avoiding Hawking’s future nightmare, we need to know what it is we want AI to do for use, and how — as in the eminent Cambridge physicist’s words once more: its goals align with ours.

The future’s bright if we want it to be.

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Source: Artificial Intelligence on Medium

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