The human race has always been wary of new advances in technology. We saw it during the industrial revolution, during the commercialisation of automobiles, and now during the development of artificial intelligence. While these concerns aren’t exactly unfounded, the apocalyptic horror stories told by ‘The Matrix’ and ‘The Terminator’ are far from the truth. In fact, if anything, humans are more of a danger to our own race than new technology ever will be.
Firstly, it’s important to make a distinction between the level of AI we have already achieved, and the level we think we have achieved. Currently, the form of artificial intelligence we use is known as artificial specific intelligence, or ‘narrow’ AI. This type of AI is restricted to being able to perform a single task better than humans, but anything outside their programmed capabilities is unachievable. Now, a type of AI perhaps closer to our idea of dangerous technology is artificial general intelligence, which can complete any task within the realm of human knowledge. Humans haven’t fully developed artificial general intelligence yet, as it requires the replication of abstract thoughts and sentience in a machine, which is difficult to achieve. Interestingly, the type of AI that people like Elon Musk have been warning us about is even more developed than artificial general intelligence. Artificial super-intelligence is a type of AI whose capabilities exceed that of humans – this is the type of AI we see in apocalyptic sci-fi films. Considering the fact that humans haven’t even managed to develop artificial general intelligence yet, super-intelligence is far beyond our realm of possibility at this stage, so any concern as of now is misplaced.
Besides this, humanity has been through the process of fearing advances in technology time and time again. Notably, accurate parallels can be drawn between our current fears regarding AI and the concerns that arose at the start of the 20th century, during the commercialisation of the automobile. In fact, the Provincial Court of Georgia even had a debate regarding the morality of cars – in the end, the verdict was that they should be considered as ‘dangerous wild animals’. It is clear to see that our attitudes to cars have changed dramatically over the decades, who’s to say the same thing won’t happen with AI? Apart from this, there have always been worries about new technology taking over existing jobs, also known as technological unemployment. However, accompanying each new wave of technology is a new wave of employment opportunities in technology development. Therefore, as long as we keep preparing our workforce for the future in terms of education and training schemes, workers will not suffer due to AI.
Throughout all of this, it is important to know that technology is only ever as dangerous as the person behind it. The same technology that launched missiles in the second World War was able to send Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. In all cases of use, there is no reason to fear the technology itself, as it is fundamentally neutral. So rather than fearing artificial intelligence itself, we should be cautious of keeping it from getting into the wrong hands.