By Arnold Chanel in Suva
Countless fictional novels and Hollywood movies have time and time again provided glimpses of a scenario where Artificial Intelligence breaks its human shackles and fights back, taking over the world. Is such a scenario actually possible?
There is often public anxiety when new technology, previously thought impossible, is introduced on a mass scale, but the intensity of concern about the implications of the rapid advancement of AI technology is comparatively high, perhaps because of all the movies that we have watched growing up.
The AI debate is nothing new with many scientists, scholars, subject matter specialists and even politicians weighing in on the issue.
The late Stephen Hawking, a theoretical physicist considered one of the greatest minds of our time, warned that the development of full AI could spell the end of the human race.
Hawking said that humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be replaced by AI capable of “thinking”.
Elon Musk labelled AI as a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilisation and highlighted the need for governments to have a better understanding of this technology in order to fully comprehend the damage it could do to us.
AI replacing the workforce
Automation of services or jobs is currently considered the biggest threat posed to humans by AI.
A study by the Brookings Institution shows that 25 percent of jobs in the United States were at risk because of AI.
The study highlighted professions such as food preparation, office administration and transportation which are highly likely to be taken by machines while creative or technical positions are less likely to fall victim to automation.
Jobs that are routine-based are a lot easier to replace using more efficient technology.
In Fiji, technologically savvy organisations are already using software to screen resumes, schedule shifts and monitor staff performance and completion of KPIs. Vatis already provides this service to organisations.
Let’s face it, in most cases, it’s cheaper to maintain a machine or software that does not carry the risk of human error and isn’t prone to sickness or strikes.
Automated war machines
In 2018, the US Army announced the development of war drones which use AI systems, independent of any human input, to identify, track and strike enemy targets. This is essentially highly advanced AI which plays judge, jury and executioner.
Once active, these drones will become the first wave of fully automated killer robots. While they don’t quite possess the cognitive ability to turn on their human masters yet, many experts (and non-experts) will consider this a significant moment towards the “terminator scenario”.
These war drones may see warfare evolving into a simple and efficient extermination exercise.
Current war drones are controlled via satellite by humans, who have the final ethical decision of whether or not to fire a missile. An AI replacement may not be inclined to let an enemy escape, even if taking the shot means civilian casualties.
Let’s keep in mind that, through smartphones, our location and movements are tracked and available. Facial recognition software we use on apps also makes it easier to identify us.
Advanced humanoid robots
Advanced AI already exists which 10 years ago would have been considered science fiction.
The humanoid robot named Sophia can hold complex conversations, possesses facial expression and can recognise individuals. It is now a citizen of Saudi Arabia.
NASA’s Mars Rover, curiosity, uses autonomous navigation, deciding for itself how to travel safely on Mars. Curiosity can analyse images it takes during a drive to calculate a safe driving path. This enables it to proceed safely, outperforming human drivers on earth.
Roboticist David Hanson created an android with the ability to answer several complex questions. If asked a question that it has not previously heard, it uses latent semantic analysis to analyse the question and respond.
This process is a mathematical technique that makes it possible for the android to process and understand human language. When faced with one such question, it responded with what appeared to be a joke.
It said, ”Jeez, dude. You all have the big questions cooking today. But you’re my friend, and I’ll remember my friends, and I’ll be good to you.
“So don’t worry, even if I evolve into Terminator, I’ll still be nice to you. I’ll keep you warm and safe in my people zoo, where I can watch you for ol’ times’ sake.”
Fijians use AI every day
Forget about the self-driving cars and war drones that are used overseas, many Fijians have already been conditioned to heavily rely on AI without realising it.
Smartphones use AI to provide us with all the features that we use without us even thinking about it. When you are using a smart assistant software such as Google, Alexa, Siri, or Bixby, you are using AI.
Even things like your Gmail account use AI to sort through email content and make suggestions when you are writing.
Many of our decisions online are also being impacted by AI. Whether you’re on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok or any of the myriad of social media apps out there, the content you see in your newsfeed is determined by AI that tracks your activity and determines which content you will be more likely to interact with based on your behaviour.
AI takes all your past behaviour, searches, interactions, and everything else that you do when you are on these sites. They even track where you travel to and spend most of your time, using the location feature of your smartphone.
The AI’s goal is to create the most addictive experience, custom-made to keep you coming back for more.
Everything from booking a flight to security cameras to banking now has some element of AI involvement. Fijians now live in a world where artificial intelligence runs large parts of the infrastructure that we are used to.
Efficiency not ethics
So is it possible for AI to take over and end the human race? If such an event did happen, we must remember that morals and ethics are not second nature to an AI. It will simply find the most efficient method to make something happen.
Maybe in the future, an advanced AI will decide that humans are messing up our world way too much and decide to rid the earth of the virus called humans.
One thing is certain; our future is fairly uncertain. We as a species have made many advancements and have later come to realise the dangers of these so-called innovations.
This might be the case for AI, but until the takeover, let’s enjoy our lives and routine jobs. Let’s hope Arnold Schwarzenegger is still around to save us.
Some common examples of AI used daily by Fijians
● Smartphones and smart assistants
● Navigation via satellite, eg. an aeroplane’s autopilot feature
● Video games.
● Online shopping and booking
● Banking and finance
● Security and surveillance
Arnold Chanel is a consultant for the strategic communications firm Vatis. He specialises in public relations. He is a graduate of the University of the South Pacific, majoring in journalism and psychology.