This is the first in a series of three articles dedicated to the subject of AI. The outline of each article has been generated by AI software (using our choice of keywords) which provided a framework for the writing. Much of what you read on the internet is now generated by AI, which is why you see so much duplication. Our goal is to retain original thought, using AI for structure.
Written by Terry Clayton and Elizabeth Harris
The role of technology in our daily lives has become increasingly important. One area has recently garnered significant attention and investment is artificial intelligence (AI). In simple terms, AI refers to computer systems that can perform tasks typically requiring human intelligence, such as learning, reasoning, problem-solving, understanding natural language, perception, and creativity.
AI has its roots in ancient mythology and history, where intelligent machines and automatons were imagined by philosophers and writers. It wasn't until the mid-20th century when AI as a field of study began to take shape, with pioneers like Alan Turing, John McCarthy, and Marvin Minsky leading the charge. In this post, and the next two posts, we will briefly discuss the pros and cons of AI on society, the perspectives of prominent thinkers, such as Yuval Harari, its influence on the social and ethical aspects of life, the changing reality of work, and future predictions for AI advancements. By the end of these articles, you should have a deeper understanding of what AI is and how it is shaping the world around us.
History of AI Development
The history of AI development can be divided into several stages, each marked by significant advancements and breakthroughs. The pioneering stage, took place in the 1940s and 1950s, when IBM researchers began to explore ‘augmented intelligence,’ creating machines that could mimic human intelligence. Alan Turing's work on the Turing machine and his famous ‘Turing Test’ laid the groundwork for future AI research. (Wikipedia definition: The Turing Test is a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.)
The second stage, which spanned the 1960s and 1970s, saw the development of the first artificial intelligence programs. These programs were designed to perform specific tasks like playing chess, solving mathematical problems, and understanding natural language. This period also saw the establishment of AI research labs at universities and corporations, such as those at MIT and Stanford.
The 1980s and 1990s marked the third stage of AI development, which focused on integrating AI systems with other technologies, such as robotics and computer vision (a field of artificial intelligence that enables computers and systems to derive meaningful information from digital images). During this time, AI researchers began to develop neural networks much like the human brain, which allowed computers to learn and adapt through experience. This era also saw the rise of AI-powered personal assistants like Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana.
In recent years, AI development has entered a new stage, driven by advancements in machine learning, big data, and cloud computing. This has led to the creation of powerful AI systems capable of performing tasks previously thought impossible for machines, such as image recognition, natural language processing, and even creating original works of art.
AI: Different Types
Artificial intelligence can be broadly categorized into two types: narrow and general. Narrow AI, also known as weak AI, refers to AI systems designed to perform specific tasks, such as playing chess, predicting weather patterns, or driving a car. These systems are limited and cannot perform tasks outside of their designated area of expertise.
General AI, also known as strong AI or artificial general intelligence (AGI), is a more advanced form of AI that has the potential to perform any intellectual task that a human can do. It possesses the ability to learn, reason, and adapt across a wide range of tasks and domains. While significant progress has been made in the development of narrow AI, general AI remains a distant goal for researchers and scientists. It is the AI that many of its own developers believe should be regulated before it is deployed in the public domain.
In addition to the distinction between narrow and general AI, artificial intelligence can also be classified based on the techniques and methods used to achieve its goals. Some common types of AI include:
- Rule-based AI: Relies on predefined rules and decision-making processes to perform tasks. It is used in expert systems designed to provide advice or make decisions in specific domains.
- Machine Learning: A subset of AI that focuses on development of algorithms that can learn from data and improve algorithmic performance over time. It has been used in applications like speech recognition, image classification, and natural language processing. It is used to build, deploy and manage the performance of applications. Today’s complex cellular communication networks are an example of this type of AI.
- Neural Networks: Neural networks are computational models inspired by the structure and function of the human brain. They consist of interconnected nodes or neurons, which process and transmit information. Neural networks are being used in a wide range of AI applications, from pattern recognition to language translation. Speech to text, facial and handwriting recognition are all examples of neural network AI.
- Evolutionary Algorithms (EA): This type of AI uses principles of natural selection and genetic algorithms to evolve solutions to problems. These algorithms have been used in optimization problems, machine learning, and robotics. Wikipedia explains that EA uses mechanisms inspired by biological evolution, such as reproduction, mutation, recombination, and selection.
- Swarm Intelligence: Swarm intelligence is a type of AI that draws inspiration from the collective behavior of social insects, such as ants and bees. It focuses on the development of algorithms that enable groups of agents to work together to achieve a common goal.
AI Applications in Various Areas of Society
Artificial intelligence has already transformed a wide range of industries and is driving global transformation. Some of the key areas are:
- Healthcare: AI is revolutionizing healthcare by improving diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes. AI-powered tools can analyze vast amounts of medical data, identify patterns, analyze medical images, and provide personalized treatment recommendations. It was used during the recent COVID pandemic to diagnose and predict disease progression, and it remains to be seen how extensively the technology will reach into human health, especially with regard to the cascading effects of climate change. (Scientists have recently pulled at least eight ancient ‘Zombie’ viruses from melting permafrost in the Arctic). Genetic modification, with all its controversies, is a key area of development as well.
- Economy: AI is being used to boost global GDP by increasing productivity, creating new markets, and augmenting human labor. According to a recent study by PwC, (Pricewaterhouse Coopers) one of five top international companies that offers business advisory services, AI could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030. It is currently being deployed in the finance industry to detect fraudulent transactions, optimize investment portfolios, automate trading, analyze vast amounts of financial data, identify trends, and make predictions.
- Manufacturing: AI is being employed to optimize production processes, manage supply chains, improve product quality; robotics and computer vision are being used to automate assembly lines, reducing costs and increasing efficiency.
- Transportation: AI has revolutionized the transportation industry through the development of autonomous vehicles, ‘smart’ traffic management systems, and optimized logistics.
- Education: Artificial intelligence is being used in personalized learning, automated grading, and identification of at-risk students. Natural language processing has been used to create intelligent tutoring systems that can adapt to individual student needs. Talent that has been undiscovered or underutilized can now be developed rather than wasted. Personalized learning allows students to pace their learning and receive tailored feedback. AI-powered tools can adapt to individual needs, provide a more engaging and effective learning experience, and produce a broader, more educated populace. The social complexities inherent in the problems facing our species (i.e., overpopulation, climate change refugees, resource distribution, et al) require talented and knowledgeable people to manage and solve them.
- Environment: AI will play a vital role in anticipation of climate change, as well the protection and mitigation of its cascading effects. AI is capable of monitoring pollution levels, predicting natural disasters, optimizing energy use and helping us understand the impact of human activity. It will also be instrumental in developing more sustainable practices.
- Social: AI is already reshaping social interactions and relationships by automating routine tasks, creating new forms of communication, and providing personalized recommendations. This is a very sticky arena riddled with significant concerns about AI’s impact on social dynamics, privacy, and human connection.
Pros and Cons of AI on Society
In and of itself, technology is neutral. How it is used determines whether it will be complementary or menacing. As with any disruptive technology, AI has both pros and cons when it comes to impact. On the one hand, it has the potential to improve our lives in countless ways. On the other hand, there is considerable concern about its potentially negative consequences. Recently a 22-word statement was released by the Center for AI Safety and signed by more than 350 scientists, AI engineers, and philosophers working in this field:
“Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks, such as pandemics and nuclear war.”
To the above statement, I would add the existential threat of them all -- climate change. All these threats are the direct or indirect result of human activity.
All species find ways to exploit their environment in order to survive. Our species has dominated all other species on this planet because of our unique, sentient ability to create technology as well as systems to regulate that technology. When considering this in the face of AI, we must also be mindful of the ‘law of unintended consequences,’ which manifests as unanticipated results of something that are not part of its original intent. We must also be cognizant of the fact that humanity is made up of many traits, and is driven by two traits that I consider to be the most important: altruism and greed. We have already seen the worldwide effects of unrestrained capitalism and profiteering in terms of resource depletion, environmental degradation, natural habitat destruction, and vast amounts toxic and other waste. Our human traits are playing out in the face of AI technology as I write this. In the quest for wealth and advancement, we must also recognize that we could well be driving our own potential extinction.
As AI systems become more advanced, there is a risk that they will replace human workers in many industries, leading to widespread employment and economic disruption, which in turn could lead to prolonged, and worldwide, civil breakdown. The plausibility of bias and discrimination in AI systems, as well as its impact on privacy and personal autonomy are very real. Despite these concerns, many experts believe that the benefits outweigh the risks, and that we should work to develop AI in a responsible and ethical manner. But can we do that given our track record? It’s a big question that is only now coming into public consciousness. It’s true that by ensuring that AI is designed to serve the needs of society as a whole, rather than just the financial interests of a few, we theoretically can harness the full potential of this transformative technology. And that brings me to the issue of regulation.
Yuval Harari's Perspective on AI and the Future of Humans
Yuval Harari, a prominent historian and philosopher, was among those who signed the letter mentioned earlier. He has written extensively about the impact of technology on human society. In his book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Harari explores the potential consequences of AI and other emerging technologies for the future of humanity.
According to Harari, the rise of AI has the potential to fundamentally alter the balance of power between humans and machines. As AI systems become more advanced, they may gain the ability to make decisions and take actions that were previously the exclusive domain of humans. For those of you old enough to remember the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, you will recall the struggle for ultimate control between the film’s main antagonist, HAL 9000, a fictional AI character that controls the systems of the Discovery One spacecraft, and the highly-trained astronauts that comprise the flight crew. At the time of its release in 1968, very few people understood where the development of AI was taking us. Now, in 2023, we are finally realizing what Arthur Clarke, the original writer, was trying to show us.
Harari also raises concerns about the potential impact of AI on social and ethical aspects of life. He argues that AI could lead to the creation of a new kind of social class, with a small group of super-intelligent individuals wielding immense power over the rest of society. He raises concerns about the potential for AI to erode human values like compassion, empathy, and free will. Yet Harari remains optimistic about the future of humanity, arguing that we have the potential to shape our own destiny through our choices and actions. He also takes human nature into account, however, and calls for a delay in deployment of AI across the spectrum until we simultaneously create systems of regulation and enforcement so it is not merely driven by a profit motive. Responsibility and ethics are key cornerstones to be firmly in place before AI is released into the public domain.
AI's Influence on Social and Ethical Aspects of Life
A word about privacy and personal autonomy…
As AI systems become more advanced, they will increasingly be able to collect and analyze vast amounts of data about us as individuals, including our personal preferences, behaviors, thoughts and emotions. Social media as a conduit that has provided data for AI (unbeknown to users) is currently making its way through our legal and governmental systems. This raises important questions about the right to privacy and control over personal information. It also raises concerns about the potential for AI to be used to manipulate individuals or groups for political or economic gain.
Another area where AI is likely to have a significant impact is in the realm of ethics and morality. As AI systems become more sophisticated, they may be called upon to make moral and ethical decisions, such as whether to prioritize the safety of human beings over the interests of a few. This puts morality and the role of humans in shaping ethical decision-making in the spotlight.
Still, many believe that AI has the potential to enhance ethical and social values by providing new tools for problem-solving and decision-making, such as its use in identifying and addressing social inequalities, promoting diversity and inclusion, and enhancing the quality of life for all members of society.
AI and Work
It is highly likely that AI will continue to impact society through work. This is going to affect every single industry; indeed, every worker. Many experts believe that AI can be the genesis of new job and opportunity creation, particularly in areas that require creativity, problem-solving, and human interaction, much like it is currently doing in the medical and scientific research fields. It also has the potential to create products and services, such as virtual assistants or personalized shopping experiences that make self-sufficiency easier. But there remain considerable concerns that under our current definition of ‘work,’ AI could widen existing inequalities. Depending on how technology is allowed to develop, and how work is re-defined, workers with specialized skills and education could benefit from new AI-created opportunities while others could be left behind.
Artificial intelligence will reshape all aspects of society. For the first time, humans are creating machines that have the ability to become more sentient than their creators; machines that could decide to eradicate us as a pestilence or actually be a positive supplement to humanity. There is, of course, a third option, which is that humans integrate with AI, using it to supplement our abilities. In his book The Singularity is Near, author Ray Kurzweil suggests that we are already becoming integrated with AI through medical nano-technology. Harari furthers that discussion by suggesting that we humans will need to ‘upgrade,’ ourselves, a concept that we will discuss in future blog posts.
The fact is that the genie, to some extent as of this writing, is already out of the bottle. AI will continue to be developed. If we are to control, or direct, its development, it is critical that we regulate it, and that its use be transparent. I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter as, over the next two blog posts, we explore AI, its pro’s, con’s, development possibilities and models for regulation.
DISCLOSER: The outline for this article was generated in less than 5 minutes by AI software. We used select keywords to generate the article, which we diced down to the most relevant points we wanted to make. We back-filled with our own words, ideas and commentary about AI in order to create edited content and the final message. The facts were fact-checked.
We chose to do it this way because we wanted you to understand through experience how AI is being used through most media channels and industries already. The technology continues to get smarter and we wanted you to experience it before we disclosed the process so you are better able to apply critical thinking going forward into this ‘brave new world.’