Detractors of AI have understandable concerns, but their points have been clouded by "Terminator" movies and guesswork about how AI will affect human lives.
Elon Musk, for example, continues to call for more regulatory oversight regarding advanced AI development. Musk's own companies are working diligently on AI development, but he and others believe that AI's enormous potential makes it a potentially dangerous tool. Collaborative regulation is good, but when audiences take Musk's caution as condemnation, unhelpful narratives spread.
AI development warrants caution, but just because a superintelligent AI with unlimited access to the world's computers could pose a threat doesn't mean all AI is bad for you. Not only are humans nowhere near the realization of truly dangerous AI technology, but fear of AI will only hold you back from realizing the incredible benefits that new tools have to offer.
Google's chief decision scientist, Cassie Kozyrkov, addressed concerns about AI last June. Kozyrkov recognized fears that AI will turn hostile or steal human jobs, but as she pointed out, the ability to create better tools has been the driving force behind humanity's ascension.
"Humanity's story is the story of automation," Kozyrkov said in London. "Humanity's entire story is about doing things better -- from that first moment that someone picked up a rock and banged another rock with it because things could get done faster. We are a tool-making species; we rebel against drudgery."
Rather than treat AI like a ticking time bomb, Kozyrkov and others believe researchers and audiences should prioritize sound developmental practices. Artificial intelligence can inherit the biases of the people creating it; involving more people with diverse perspectives is key to eliminating problematic developments.
Kozyrkov also emphasized the importance of safety nets to catch problems with AI before those problems go from bad to worse. Even brilliant AI systems can fail, especially in their infancy.
Right now, AI is more like a toddler looking for guidance than a disturbed teenager ready to burn down the house. General AI remains an unknown entity, but the people working on the front lines appreciate their responsibility to nurture systems in the right direction.
AI fearmongers invariably focus on the pitfalls of generalized AI systems. They rarely stop to consider all the niche ways AI has begun to make the world a safer, healthier, and happier place.
Medical AI, for example, empowers healthcare providers to provide better diagnoses and treatments to more patients than they could on their own. That's a huge benefit during a pandemic that's stretching resources thin. For example, CureMetrix, one such medical AI company, has developed tech to improve cancer survival rates across the globe. The CureMetrix algorithm can detect anomalies in noisy mammogram images--anomalies that human doctors and existing medical tools might miss.
The U.S. faces a shortage of radiologists trained in mammography. At the same time, medical practices have a high volume of X-rays to review. This is where AI can help; if a provider has 100 mammograms to review, for example, the right tech can triage suspicious or anomalous X-rays so they're reviewed first. While it can be more efficient for the provider, this can mean earlier detection and less stressful waiting for the patient.
Another medical AI company, Roam Analytics, works to simplify the enormously complex world of patient documentation using natural language processing. Though not as glamorous as surgery or cancer detection, recordkeeping presents enormously complex challenges in the medical industry. When patient records are lost or contain erroneous information, the results can be catastrophic. If Roam Analytics achieves its goal, clerical errors could go from a major medical obstacle to an afterthought.
Outside the medical industry, other niche AI companies have found ingenious ways to improve humans' quality of life. Technology created by Circularise helps companies and governments optimize their recycling efforts and supply chains to reduce waste and improve sustainability. Envision empowers low-vision and blind users of its app to take photos of nearby objects and get more information. Envision even has plans to offer a version of its technology in glasses form, which could make life much easier on people with vision difficulties.
AI is far from an all-or-nothing industry. On the contrary, small implementations of AI will have a more pronounced effect on human lives than any attempts at full robotic intelligence will. Companies like these are using AI in small ways to solve big problems, and the better the tools become, the more you'll reap the benefits.
Humans have achieved incredible things through curiosity. Some, like vaccines, have saved lives. Others, such as nuclear bombs, have ended them. We have the power to choose what AI brings to the world by guiding its development and finding opportunities for new tools to make lives better.
As Kozyrkov said last June, "Don't let the science fiction rhetoric distract you from your human responsibility and paying attention to the humans who are part of this all the way through from the beginning." Artificial intelligence remains a creation by humans for the good of humanity. This can be a time of exploration and discovery, not one of fear and misinformation--but only if you embrace the real benefits of AI already happening before our eyes.