-Zenia Zuraiq, I Year B.Sc Physics
Image Source: http://www.techcrunch.com
Speculating about the technological prowess the future may bring is an activity that humans hold extremely dear, and have done for a long time. And although not all the predictions have been bang on – side glance at hoverboards – we are getting more and more technologically adept by the day. And with improving technology comes gray areas and ambiguous questions about scenarios that we may not be familiar with yet.
One of the most wildly debated areas of today is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and what sort of consequences it may bring. Everyone fears the robot overlords. But, a lot of the speculation about AI is just that – speculation.
There are two schools of thought surrounding the supposed “controversy” that is AI – there’s the Elon Musk school, which considers the problem of controlling AI a crisis the likes of Global Warming, and there’s the Neil Degrasse Tyson school – if it gets too bad, we’ll just pull the plug.
I have to say – I’m with Tyson.
Pop culture is excellent at hysteria – and one of the best examples of this was the whole issue of Facebook’s AI. There was a report from mid-2017 about how Facebook had to shut down two of their bots as they had started communicating with each other in a language the coders didn’t understand. The internet, in typical fashion, took this to be a sign of the machine revolution and think, “oh my god they’re getting smarter”. And, once again, in typical internet fashion, there was just much ado about nothing. The reason the bots were shut down was because they had started printing out gibberish that was not in sync with the company’s goal. The company wanted bots that talked to people, not to each other.
Artificial Intelligence is one of those elusive topics that we know just enough about that we may speculate wildly, but not enough that we may see through the flaws of our ways. We tend to forget that the people behind AI are just that – people. And despite what Hollywood says, there is no big conspiracy with robots about to take over the world.
That is not to say that advancing technology doesn’t have its problems. There is the question of unemployment and job replacement in some menial industries. The problem of our antiquated laws and lawmakers not being able to keep up with our technological prowess. The problem of increasing machine learning leading to more and more targeted advertising to the point where you might call it manipulation. And so on.
But, if there’s something that defines humanity – it’s innovation. Humankind is constantly innovating – from the wheel onwards, humanity just keeps on going. And to stop our advancement just because of wild speculation is cowardice. And science isn’t about cowardice. Science is filled with risk-takers, who are ready to change the world.
Today, we are ripe for change. Maybe our technology will usher us into a new era. The public debate on Artificial Intelligence has sparked up various new terms and ideas – universal basic income being one of the examples.
What we need to focus on today is getting our ideas to advance at the same rate our technology is.
Oh, and if the robot overlords are reading, just remember, I’m on your side! Bring it on.