Concerns over the impact of new technologies on society have characterised shifts from one industrial revolution to the next. As we sit on the verge of realising true artificial intelligence (AI), the overriding sentiment towards this latest wave of technology is no different.
With some tech leaders raising questions over the regulation of this emerging technology, and even sounding alarm bells over the proportion of the workforce that could one day be replaced by robots, undoubtedly this has added further fuel to the fire.
The reason humans have a natural inclination to fear the worst of AI is that we are a species separated from others by our capacity for intelligence. What is up for debate here is really about humans being replaced by something potentially more intelligent than we are for the first time in our history.
The would-be usurper is a non-physical intelligence that learns and improves itself at an exponential pace to become faster, better and smarter. It truly is scary to think what could potentially happen.
AI, however, is disruption in its purest form. It is no longer just a term used by the innovative geniuses of the tech industry to describe the future humanisation of technology, but is now one of the most potent concepts driving Silicon Valley's future. And while truly disruptive advancements can be scary due to the chaos they can create and the seemingly limitless potential they embody, that is also why they are exciting.
As we've seen time and again, disruption delivers positive results that represent a sea change in the way industries and societies work. AI can be that huge disruption that leads tomorrow's economic progress in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution. From manual labour to banking, it is already having a positive impact on both businesses' bottom lines and productivity levels.
The latest research from Accenture in this area, which investigated the impact of AI in 12 developed countries, revealed that the technology could double economic growth rates in 2035 by changing the nature of our work, thus creating a mutually beneficial relationship between man and machine. Their projections predicted that the resulting positive impact of AI technologies on businesses globally would lead to an overall increase in labour productivity by up to 40 percent, freeing up employees to use their time more efficiently.
However, away from the world of business, a more wide-ranging debate remains at-large over the societal implications of the development of AI. The fear-based narrative, threatening to crowd out those who champion this technology, relies as much upon both our regulators and the media presenting a balanced case for both its benefits and its risks, as it does for those who make the case for why this technology can benefit the many - and not only a select few - to be heard.
Proactively implementing and accommodating this technology into our daily lives can - and should - be at the cornerstone of a successful approach. Just as we have done with the likes of Apple's iPhone revolutionising the way we communicate; social media sites like Facebook connecting humanity across all corners of the globe; and, online viewing platforms like Netflix changing the face of our entertainment industry, AI can go one step further and change the way we live.
As with any new technology, safeguards must be put into place to prevent and learn from misuse or malicious application, but we must also have the courage to reap its benefits to advance our professional, cultural, and societal aspects of human life.
Our healthcare, for example, can be improved immeasurably by using AI to help doctors provide more tailored and personalised information to patients, as well as more effectively diagnosing medical problems. There is certainly no need to remove the human element from the profession. In fact, one could argue that the human side of medicine will actually become more valuable as machines take over the more automated side of healthcare. Machines can deliver the insights, the data, and the analytics to inform their decisions - not own them.
From a philanthropic standpoint too, AI has the power to provide food for the malnourished. Intelligent machines, for example, can increase yields on understaffed farms with the additional crops, creating more work for humans further down the production line. By no means an isolated example, the technology can not only drive productivity in existing roles, but also simultaneously be responsible for creating new positions too.
The practical benefits of AI and the realities of how the technology can be leveraged for the good of humanity do not align to the fear-provoking headlines that are all too prominent in the media. Harnessing the full potential of this technology and the benefits of automation will raise the quality of our industries and our lives to a level like nothing previously witnessed.
There is nothing wrong with a concrete and thorough assessment of any new technology, but we should dissect the fears and unpick the myths. We have merely scratched the surface of what is possible with AI.
The innovation around this multi-faceted scientific and technical advancement has only begun, and could bring countless beneficial applications. If we can base our decisions on the real-world benefits of AI, we can look forward to a bright and exciting future.
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