In the first two parts of our series on ‘What actually is AI and how does it work?’, we embarked on a journey through its history and delved into the mathematical foundations and algorithms that power this remarkable technology. In our final section, we turn our attention to the most pressing question: How do we prepare ourselves for a world infused with AI?
Part 1: Part 1 of our AI series
Part 2: Part 2 of our AI series
This article serves as a personal opinion piece, offering insights into some of the fears and opportunities surrounding AI, as well as how companies, public bodies, and the government should work together to ensure a positive and progressive future with AI.
Let’s begin by outlining some of the fears surrounding AI, including its impact on the workforce, potential malicious use, and ethical concerns. Then, we will explore the positive aspects of AI, the opportunities it presents, and the breakthroughs it has supported.
Fears of AI
The impact on the workforce is a significant concern as AI advances. Increased automation and machine learning capabilities have the potential to replace certain low-skilled jobs, potentially leaving many people out of work. However, AI will also create new job opportunities as the industry continues to grow and develop. I believe there are certain skills and industries where AI will struggle to entirely replace human workers, such as roles that require emotional connection with humans, creativity, and high levels of critical thinking. For example, doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, therapists etc. While these sectors may be less vulnerable to automation and AI, they may undergo radical transformations as AI technology augments and assists human workers in these fields.
When considering how AI will impact the workforce, it is natural to feel nervous or apprehensive about the future. It is important to prepare ourselves for the changes that are coming. This could involve becoming comfortable with the AI technologies commonly used in your industry, considering how AI can be integrated into your work, or exploring how to transition to new roles if the rate of automation accelerates. Those who stay ahead of the curve, learn about AI, and embrace its potential will be the ones to grow with it and maintain their jobs.
Another concern regarding AI is its malicious use and the potential effects on society. This includes the creation of deepfakes—highly realistic videos, images, and audio that spread misinformation or defame individuals by falsely attributing words or actions to them. Deepfakes have the potential to undermine trust and exacerbate social divisions. Malicious actors may also exploit AI to carry out sophisticated fraud attacks, engage in surveillance, or conduct identity theft as a result of the huge amounts of data they have access to. Finally, the development of autonomous weapons using AI raises ethical concerns as well, most recently in California after a discussion about allowing robots to use lethal force, as it removes direct human control from decision-making processes. These concerns present serious risks to global security in the forms of warfare, terrorism and social control.
Crucial ethical considerations surround the rapid advancement of AI. Fairness and bias in AI systems are of particular concern, as biases in data or algorithmic design can lead to discriminatory outcomes. There is already discussion surrounding the biases of a number of chatbots – likely a result of the data used in its training rounds. Ensuring fairness in AI requires addressing bias in data, algorithms, and decision-making processes. Privacy is another major ethical concern, as AI relies on vast amounts of personal data. Ethical use of AI demands the privacy and security of individuals’ data, including informed consent and responsible data governance. Concepts such as transparency and accountability, as well as the prevention of a potential “Technological Singularity” where AI surpasses human intelligence, are also part of the ethical discourse surrounding AI.
Opportunities of AI
Turning to the positive aspects of AI, it offers opportunities for human, economic, and societal development. Increased productivity is one area where AI is already making a difference. By outsourcing menial, time-intensive tasks to AI systems, humans can focus on more complex and critical tasks, resulting in quicker and more efficient work. AI’s ability to analyse data far more efficiently than humans has led to breakthroughs in areas such as healthcare, where AI has aided in the detection of diseases like lung cancer and psychosis, contributed to wearable sensors for heart disease detection, and facilitated discoveries of genetic mutations associated with autism. These breakthroughs have a positive impact on society, improving healthcare outcomes and driving innovation.
While the future with AI is not entirely predictable, it is a personal belief that AI will significantly progress humankind in the coming decades, offering new innovations and cures for diseases. The transformative advances in healthcare, sustainability, transportation, and beyond have the potential to reshape our society for the better. However, achieving these advancements ethically is paramount. Discussions surrounding AI ethics, data privacy, and responsible development are necessary. Implementing certification methods for engineers and companies working with AI, establishing independent regulatory bodies, and ensuring collaboration between stakeholders are potential paths forward.
What do we do next?
The last major technology-focused societal change was the introduction of social media. Initially used as a platform for simple posts and interactions with friends, it has now become a pivotal part of our identities in many societies worldwide. However, it is widely recognised that social media has not been entirely positive. Issues surrounding privacy, mental health, and regulation have emerged. Much of this stems from governments initially taking a hands-off approach to social media to avoid disrupting and slowing down innovative development.
Nevertheless, considering the serious concerns outlined above in the context of AI, I believe a different approach should be adopted. The reluctance of governments and multinational bodies to regulate social media companies has proven to be disastrous. We cannot afford to repeat this mistake with AI and a comprehensive multidisciplinary discussion on the ethical implications of AI, AI companies, and data privacy is necessary. Interestingly, AI companies themselves are advocating for greater regulation of the industry, recognising the risks of unbridled AI development.
One potential approach is the implementation of certification methods. Engineers and companies working on AI systems could undergo certification, similar to other crucial professions such as civil engineers, lawyers, and doctors. This would ensure a foundational understanding of the ethical concerns surrounding artificial intelligence and provide them with a framework to guide their work. Additionally, the establishment of independent regulatory bodies is crucial to ensure that companies operate ethically and in a manner beneficial to society. Consider the role of the Medical Regulatory Authority in the UK when working with companies to develop drugs and new medical treatments, or the concept of independent ethical controllers akin to data controllers under GDPR regulations.
These are just a few ideas that have emerged from ongoing discussions surrounding AI. While concerns about stifling innovation in the long term due to increased regulation are understandable, given the potential—both positive and negative—of AI’s impact on society, we must strive to stay ahead of the curve. By doing so, we can ensure that AI’s development remains beneficial and its impact remains positive.