Artificial Intelligence - the go-to topic for all tech-savvy and even otherwise normal people. So much has been written and claimed over the past few years on this topic that it can get very confusing. So let us try to shorten it a bit and see if we can put it in simpler terms:
A bit of a history
The story begins in 1955, when computer scientist and one of the founding fathers of the field of AI John McCarthy defined it as "the science and engineering of making intelligent machines." Note, however, that prominent scientists like Alan Turing had already explored this field before but at the time, it wasn’t specifically defined.
The founding fathers aimed to make machines as capable of humans in making complex decisions and attain human-like intelligence levels. There were some good and some bad periods for this field, but arguably, today the attention that it has garnered today is unprecedented.
The against-AI argument:
In the past few months, you may have heard prominent personalities like Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Russian President Vladimir Putin talk about AI. You may also think that this is just all-talk and there isn’t any real threat to us from the AI-powered machines. Well, you need to think again.
Two prominent examples of AI beating humans are when Chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov and GO champion Beat Lee Sedol were beaten by AI-powered machines. It was fascinating and alarming in equal measures. The thought that a machine could beat a human mind at a game that humans invented was scary. Particularly in the case of GO as it requires intuition and not logic like chess. There are literally innumerable possibilities in the Chinese game GO and for the machine to find a way to beat Sedol was astonishing.
Recently, a machine generated a script for a play and it wasn’t all rubbish. AI-generated news reports have become so common that you may have already read many without even noticing. AI-powered machines have begun producing music too, something we thought is an intuitive and natural to only humans. The biggest takeaway is, what will happen to us if AI-powered machines take over these fields?
One may even draw a parallel to the development of nuclear weapons. Everyone knew that use of those in a war between two nuclear powers could cause total annihilation, but still, they were created on an alarming scale and with increasing strength. Today, as a result of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), no major nation thinks of deploying these weapons, but the threat remains. Similarly, in the future, devastating AI-powered war machines could be seen as a way to gain primacy on the battlefield but it may also bring in the possibility of human extinction if such a battle were to ever take place.
Is it all that dark?
No, it isn’t. One big thing that threatens our very existence could be saved by AI - climate change. Till date, it is almost impossible to predict a hurricane or an earthquake. There are just too many random variables involved with spontaneous unforeseen reactions causing many disruptive effects. But maybe, we can feed years and years of data to a machine and let it learn about these things. If it can make even a small headway in this aspect, it will be a huge leap for us.
Another field where AI can be just as life-saving is the medical field. Every year you might read about some ‘path-breaking’ research that might help us find cancer. But have we really found a way to do that? No. Diseases like cancer (in its many forms and severities) are simply too complex to be cured by a single method or even a combination of a few methods. But again, like climate change, an answer to curing cancer could be found by an AI-powered machine. Maybe someday a machine can devise an optimum unique treatment for each individual suffering from incurable diseases.
A great example is the OpenAI company founded by Elon Musk, with the aim to use AI for the betterment of humanity. Anyone can contribute to the projects and every such contribution in the right direction may help us heal some of the devastating scars that humans have left over the course of many centuries.
The debate and beyond:
So what do we do about this? Clearly, there is no way to guarantee that advancements in AI won’t be used to an adverse effect. What we can do, or rather what the heavyweights like Google and even nations at large can do, however, is try and encourage the use of AI for a better future and not in terms of a gaining supremacy. Easier said than done, I might add. We can just wait and watch now how the scene unfolds, as even the smartest supercomputer may not be able to predict that for you!
Title image: Cnas