Artificial intelligence (AI) is a hot button topic and for good reason. As technology advances at a pace unlike any other time in our history, AI will become more capable and ubiquitous, and consequently, we can expect to encounter it handling increasingly complex tasks. It’s safe to say that AI-based disruptions are here to stay and that comes with an array of potential – both good and bad. However, many of us, myself included, are still trying to get our bearings on what AI might mean for us today and in the future.
What Is AI?
AI, or artificial intelligence, refers to machine or computer processing that simulates human intelligence. Among other things, it can be used to complete data analytics, perform language processing, recognize speech and faces, track patterns, boost engagement, and forecast/predict outcomes. In general, many of the places where you interact with strangers — when ordering food, chatting with a salesperson on the phone, buying groceries, or ordering a ride through Uber — are all being assessed for AI-based technologies.
One potential use for AI is to eliminate seemingly mundane tasks that optimize for efficiency in sectors like business, education, and agriculture. Most AI systems aren’t considered a replacement for human intelligence; however, through machine learning, they have the potential to learn new skills that weren’t explicitly programmed.
Machine learning occurs when an AI system is fed and trained on massive amounts of data, allowing it to recognize patterns and learn from mistakes. There are two subsets of machine learning: supervised and unsupervised. The former uses human-labeled data points so that, for example, if you’re training a machine-learning model to recognize and differentiate between shapes, you would start by gathering and annotating images of circles and squares. The algorithm would then learn to distinguish between the shapes via this data. Afterwards, it should be able to determine the shape of a brand new image.
Unsupervised learning occurs when an algorithm attempts to identify patterns in large datasets. It isn’t programmed to select specific data; it simply categorizes and groups together similar data. An example that we can all relate to is an algorithm that groups customer trends based on shopping behaviors, using this to serve up a personalized marketing/advertising campaign.
Is AI a Serious Threat?
AI represents our increasingly sophisticated technological capabilities but it also poses an existential threat to many white-collar jobs and even entire companies. If you ask billionaire and co-founder of OpenAI, Elon Musk, AI is “one of the biggest risks to the future of civilization.” While there are certainly a lot of unknowns, one thing seems to be sure — increased AI capabilities mean fewer jobs for “knowledge workers” such as writers, accountants, customer service specialists, architects, lawyers, and software engineers, just to name a few.
Based on recent social media history, there is fear that the government won’t apply effective regulations until after the full scale of AI has been realized. While the White House recently announced its plan to address ongoing concerns about unchecked AI, they will not stop or pause what’s being called the “AI arms race” on their own. For now, AI continues to rapidly evolve and the most outspoken calls for restraint are, ironically, coming from the AI professionals themselves, including Musk and Sundar Pichai, Google’s top Chief.
Pros and Cons of AI
There are certainly cons to AI, some of which are hypothetical, but there are also many pros as well. Consider its ability to diminish human error, speed up processes, facilitate decision making, lessen risk, and comb through as well as sort large amounts of data. From one perspective, AI still lacks the ability to develop emotional bonds or think creatively. It could, however, be used to determine the best treatment for cancer, identify cures to disease, and more accurately predict survival rates to chronic illness.
No matter how AI continues to show up in our lives — and it undoubtedly will — I don’t believe it can erase or destroy the value of human touch and connection. Nonetheless, it may help us find solutions to problems that would have taken us centuries to determine otherwise. It’s all very exciting, scary, and ultimately, speculative. But be sure to pay attention because new opportunities are developing every day!