Picture credit: Yuyeung Lau
Artificial Intelligence is a term that gets thrown about very frequently in our day and age. When asked about the future of AI, most of us would gingerly fascinate about a dystopian future like the ones portrayed in Hollywood movies like “The Terminator” or “i, Robot”. Whilst most of our perceptions about artificial intelligence also closely spiral around the possibility of a potential conflict with such an autonomous intelligence, these concerns never really seem to leave the big screen and into modern day discussions and mainstream politics.
But can we really afford that? Our lives are already intimately intertwined with this technology, and it is being made more advanced by the day. Whether it is a microanalysis of our online behavior by smart algorithms, or fully autonomous weapons, it is essential that we maintain an updated understanding about what AI can do now, and what it could potentially do in the future.
Where did it all begin?
The term “artificial intelligence” was first coined in 1956 by American computer scientist John McCarthy, but the concept of an intelligent machine has actually been around for millennia with the first recording of such a concept being referred to in the Greek myth “Talos”. In this legend, Talos was portrayed as a mighty machine cast purely from bronze and created by the Greek God of craftsmanship Hephaestus, to guard the island of Crete from intruders. However, it was recorded in the myth that Talos also had a human characteristic about it, a desire, which was what ultimately led to its demise. The first record of the myth was estimated to be back in 700 B.C, but it’s fascinating how such a concept developed through mere myth, has a resounding resemblance to our present state with artificial intelligence.
Since 1956, development of AI has been a slow and gradual process, with the first ever chatbot which could converse with humans being developed in 1964, to the development of the program Deep Blue in 1997. Deep Blue, developed by IBM was able to beat the reigning chess world champion Garry Kasparov, arguably the greatest human player of all time, in a match, something that was thought to be above the limits of artificial intelligence at the time.
- Garry Kasparov against IBM supercomputer Deep Blue
Ever since the inception of AI, it has been developed into a force that can achieve unfathomable levels of intelligence. However, the big question is - how is this technology being used today? And how will it be used tomorrow?
The gift of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence is being used in a myriad of ways in today’s digital world. Everything from using Google Maps to navigate your way through the city, scrolling through YouTube recommendations or even just plugging in your phone for a quick charge, AI is working meticulously to give you an optimum experience.
For example, when using Google Maps Live View, according to their VP Dane Glasgow, the AI technology used in it has to scan billions of “Street View” images to pinpoint the precise altitude and placement of objects to understand a person’s orientation. Google Maps even uses an aspect of “Deep Learning”, which is an advanced type of machine learning that imitates how humans learn based on artificial neural networks, to predict whether there will be any traffic jams and give you an accurate estimate of how long your journey will take.
Picture Credit: Suzy Brooks
Even when we look at YouTube or Netflix online, we get a tailor-made homepage to greet us with videos and episodes from our favorite YouTube creators or TV shows. This is done using AI, which has to scour through hordes of data to understand each unique viewer’s preferences and match them to the relevant videos they love to watch. This is part of the reason why it is so easy to get addicted to social media, the machines train themselves to create a haven for you on their digital platforms, basically recreating your definition of heaven on these services to make you stay as long as possible, through the extensive processing of data.
This technology then renders a great service to us every day. It is the technology that constructs the backbone of all our favorite applications and software services, allowing us to go about our day with relative ease. Artificial intelligence is the new disruptive technology that has the potential to influence almost every industry across the globe. It is only through artificial intelligence and machine learning that we can strive to make our lives safer as well, through smart cars that drive themselves which has the potential to exponentially reduce road related accidents, or machines that can diagnose fatal diseases like Cancer and Alzheimer early through advanced pattern recognition. AI then truly holds the potential to carve the road to utopia.
But there is also an ominous, darker side to this technology. One that could instead, lead to dystopia.
Behind the Iron Curtains of the 21st century
When mentioning AI’s capability of predicting outcomes such as the probability of traffic jams through your Google Maps application or coming up with hundreds of accurate recommendations of videos or shows on YouTube or Netflix, the question often pops up, how can AI learn to do these things? The answer boils down to one fundamental point, data.
David McCandless, a British data journalist said “Data is the new oil? No: Data is the new soil”. AI grows off data, and it needs massive quantities of it in order to produce quantifiable and accurate results. The companies who rely upon their AI systems to sustain their services (like Google) need to maintain massive databases with frequently updated information to feed their AI systems. Everything you do online is tracked by these tech giants and fed into smart computers which perform a microanalysis of your activity. This then allows tech companies to carry out micro-behavioural targeting to influence your decision making.
Picture Credit: Mitchell Luo
This stems into a concept called “surveillance capitalism”, where your personal data becomes a commodity, a material, that companies can harvest and sell for the purpose of profit making. Such an invasive collection of data by AI has never been seen before in human history. The wrong use of such massive basins of data could have catastrophic outcomes. Shoshana Zuboff, a professor at Harvard university commented “we thought that we were searching Google, but we had no idea that Google was searching us”.
This is just one of the ways that AI is exploited by multibillion dollar enterprises in secrecy of the public. Another potential threat of misusing AI is governments mass producing fully autonomous weapons. This is a type of autonomous weapons system that can independently locate and engage with its targets with little to no human intervention. A truly frightening prospect.
Picture Source: Military Leak website
Artificial intelligence has inherited risk associated with developing it. However, with proper regulations, understanding and respect for this technology, it can be used for the greater good of mankind.
20 years after he lost to Deep Blue, Garry Kasparov has seen the potential that combining his intuition and ambition over the board along with a computers mighty ability to calculate has had. He is confident that there is an equilibrium between these two extremes, that it doesn’t have to be a world without AI or one that is dominated by AI, but one where we can learn to coexist with our creations instead of competing with it.
“A good human plus a machine, is the best combination”- Garry Kasparov.
October 06th 2021 | 12.00 PM