At a recent Internet Association Gala, Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, intimated that we are currently living the “golden age” of artificial intelligence. With product development and artificial intelligence (AI) applications on a seemingly rapid upward trajectory, Bezos might not be wrong.
Open source software and the emergence of edge computing have allowed widespread AI development. Due to standardized operating frameworks and interconnectivity of technology, it’s never been easier to develop AI products.
Skeptics, such as Tim Berners-Lee and Stephen Hawking, however, argue that an AI renaissance will likely herald the end of mankind. It will become so efficient, that it will effectively render humans obsolete.
Bezos is touting AI as the linchpin of future technologies. Many of Amazon’s current features are improving due to AI and machine-learning applications, such as optimizing search engines results and product recommendations based on browsing history. Amazon’s Echo, with Alexa capability, already integrates machine learning into the home to accomplish daily tasks.
“We are solving problems with machine learning and artificial intelligence that were in the realm of science fiction for the past several decades,” advocates Bezos. He also prepones future applications beyond technology products, suggesting that machine learning and AI is an enabling force capable for empowering businesses, government organization and philanthropic ventures.
To decide on whether Bezos has it right, we need to look at what innovations are in the works and conversely what problems can be foreseen with the extensive implementation of AI.
Ground-breaking advancements in AI and machine learning
Bezos’ confidence in AI and machine learning is not unfounded. There are many ground-breaking developments that indeed support the claim that we are living in the “golden age.” For example, machine learning and AI is already revolutionizing disease prevention. By using algorithms to analyze human genome sets, it is now possible to offer personalized and proactive healthcare based on genetic mutations. And, in the realm of psychiatry, algorithms are able to use verbal and non-verbal data to determine a person’s mental state. Using these techniques, researchers were able to correctly identify suicidal persons with 93 percent accuracy. With 80,000 suicide related deaths per year, this technology could lead to better diagnoses and handling of cases.
Amazon itself is investigating the use of drones for delivery purposes, which the company anticipates will fly autonomously in the near future. Indeed, apart from improving current services, such as Alexa, it is now possible for AI to drive cars, diagnose patients, offer DevOps consulting, play competitive games against human players and even compare favorably to people in creative aspects, such as music or art.
The other side of the coin
However, known critic of AI, Elon Musk, suggests that even harmless AI applications can have dangerous consequences. Musk highlighted the implications of self-improving AI in an interview by making an analogy to strawberry picking. If a machine gets better and better at strawberry picking and thus constructing a reality where strawberry fields are ubiquitous, fulfilling its need.
The tech guru also harbors concerns about weaponized AI and the usurping potential of AI robotics, claiming that once the robots become “smarter” than us, there will be no way to switch them off. Google’s DeepMind has outlined plans for a big red button, which will stop algorithms before they get out of control.
It’s a point Tim Berners-Lee, who has warned about AI in finance, also shares. The inventor of the world wide web stated that as the technology slowly takes over every level of business, it will soon control the economy as a whole. A daunting thought when one considers AI having the power to create its own companies, holding companies and generate new versions of itself to run these companies.
Are we in the golden age?
Contemplating the cutting edge advancements arising with AI and machine learning, I am tempted to say that we are indeed in the “golden age of AI.” Recent progress in open source codes and smarter hardware is opening up the realm to development. The minds of our century are making the most of this, as is evident with the exponential growth seen in the field.
With the current rate of development of helpful AI tools, it’s difficult to foresee a future without AI in it. The concerns for a “machine uprising” are valid, but with apparent controls in place it’s unlikely to ever reach the point of Armageddon. The sector is fraught with the existential conundrum of “good vs. evil.” Humans are human, and ambition and drive will trump fears on any playing field, including this one. AI is no longer a vague concept of the future, but already surreptitiously integrated into our daily lives. The potential is there for AI’s expansion into every facet of our existence, the question is no longer if but when.
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