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Blog: Should I Be Impressed by AI Yet?

I recently stumbled on an AMA on the Hacker Noon message board with Stack Overflow and Discourse.org cofounder Jeff Atwood. I won’t pretend I knew who he was before I saw this AMA, although I’m a big fan of Stack Overflow and have been getting into Discourse as a potential platform for a project I worked on this spring. In his AMA, he answered wide-ranging user questions, including this one about AI:

Have you any ideas for utilizing artificial intelligence algorithms?

for which he had an interesting but short response:

I do not. I’m not sure “artificial intelligence” is a particularly useful concept at this time. “machine learning” is at least a little more accurate in describing where we are 😉

I’m not deeply immersed enough in the CS/programming realm to have an informed opinion either way, but I found his skepticism heartening, given my own curmudgeonly feelings toward the proliferation of AI as a catch-all phrase.

For me, the gripe is mainly with the way current usage has transformed something that’s always been billed as a massive cultural paradigm shift into something quite banal and almost always commercial. It’s been reduced to machines doing menial tasks reasonably well at scale, allowing corporations to shrink labor costs. Part of the appeal of AI as a concept for me, before the advent of AI chat bots and virtual assistants, was the idea of getting to see an intellect making decisions free from human baggage — bigotry, sexism, ableism, belligerance….On the other hand, perhaps the real reason AI is on everyone’s mind, beyond the headlines and marketing copy, is that there’s a lot of fear around it — partly because of the world-wrecking impact it is predicted to have on the whole concept of employment but also partly because of the fear of precisely the kind of intellect I described above: decision making without humanity. If one perceives our darkest hours as being devoid of or lacking humanity, the advent of AI might conjure the image of a robot-overlord dystopia, straight out of sci-fi.

Machine learning feels more appropriately banal for the myriad “enhancements” to corporate structures and products currently emblazoned with the AI label. And with that said, don’t get me wrong: I think I have a good idea of the massive impact machine learning is having and will have, but given the track record of our society, under the influence of free-market forces — which at times seems to reflect “decision making without humanity” or “the darkest parts of our human nature,” depending on how you look at it — this technology, whatever you call it, will be largely exploited by corporations to do tasks for profit.

As for now, I’m still waiting for the sentient benevolent decision making potential of AI, bringing our rouge edges into line with a greater good, that sci-fi fantasy, before I’ll really believe that AI has arrived. And if it’s that other AI fantasy, the sci-fi dystopia? Call me optimistic (or thoroughly indoctrinated by Hollywood fantasies 😂), but that’s where I think humanity can really show it’s best self and just say “no.”

Source: Artificial Intelligence on Medium

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