The Most Feared and Anticipated Aspects of AI

Few topics have been as hotly debated over the last few years as the rise of AI — and even fewer have instilled such fear and anticipation in equal measure. Here, I’ll be exploring both sides, and asking how we can ensure that the future of AI is of benefit to all.

What are people’s fears?

When it comes to scare stories about AI, you don’t have to look far. After Facebook was forced to switch off an AI test, countless articles claimed it was shut down before it grew too powerful, until Facebook was forced to clarify — the test had merely gone as far as it could go.

However, people do have their concerns over AI, often with good reason. One study found that 70% of people in the US worry about the possibility of technology such as AI and robotics taking over and controlling our lives. As AI looks set to integrate into our lives through ventures such as driverless cars or care-giving robots, people are understandably cautious as to whether they will cause harm or inconvenience — either intentionally or through a lack of human nuance.

There have also been several high profile figures urging caution over the development of AI — Stephen Hawking has spoken of its potential to both benefit and harm humanity, while Tesla CEO Elon Musk has warned that it poses a greater, more existential threat than anything else.

What do people anticipate?

Despite all these predictions of gloom, people also see reasons to be hopeful of an AI future.

One area in which people believe that AI could play a beneficial role is healthcare. According to a study by Dr Ian Pearson, 40% would like to see smart implants to monitor our health and detect ailments. The same study discovered that 28% of people were optimistic about flying, driverless cars.

Opinion seems to be far more divided on the question of automation in the job market. While an Adobe study found that 89% of people have a positive outlook on automation’s impact, other voices have warned that we are unprepared for such an enormous shift — one economist has gone as far as predicting that 47% of all jobs will have been lost to automation by 2034.

AI — sorting the good from the bad

Is there a way to ensure that people’s hopes are fulfilled, while their fears remain unrealised?

Some have suggested regulation of AI is necessary, but this approach is not without issues — at what level would regulation take place? Who would enforce it? A far more practical solution would be to look to the groundbreaking work of researchers such as those behind Empowerment, a project developing a complex, mathematical framework for safe and ethical AI behaviour.

If there is a common thread running through the fears and hopes surrounding AI, it is a tendency to anticipate small, practical tools to improve our everyday lives, while remaining wary of developments on a larger, more existential scale.

However, the reality is that our conception of what an AI future will look like is shifting away from science fiction robots and towards technology such as machine learning algorithms. In fact, AI already exists in these forms all around us, from the Netflix recommendation algorithms to medical diagnostic tools. The key is surely to convince people that AI’s potential lies in its ability to solve problems ranging from the everyday to the global. Through my work with the Tej Kohli Foundation and Kohli Ventures, I have been fortunate enough to see the potential of AI to tackle everything from cancer to climate change and food security. It is by focusing on projects such as these that we will assure people that an AI future is to be embraced, not feared.