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Why we are afraid that Artificial Intelligence may completely change life as we know it.

We are on the verge of monumental changes to the way we live our lives. The last such change was probably the industrial revolution and the scale of that change was miniscule compared to this one.

Technology has been seeping into our lives steadily for the last 50 years, although it was really the advent of smartphones and our now apparent inability to be separated from them that has paved the way for a full “technological integration”.

As smartphones and home hubs are now well and truly present, if not already integrated into our everyday lives, the next inevitable step is artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.

Once the realm of sci-fi movies and books, AI is no longer the future. AI is happening now and its applications and advances are further along that the mainstream would like to advertise.

Why? Because when you talk about an AI humanoid robot or just artificial intelligence generally people get uncomfortable. And for a species that loves having things done for them, humans seem to be terribly afraid of AI.

Let’s assume for a moment that there will belittle or no intervention from legislators to restrict the continued development and implementation of AI and robotics. If so, then we could very soon live in a world where not only repetitive (also referred to as ‘low skilled’) tasks will be performed by AI, but actually ALL tasks could be performed by AI.

Let me dwell into this a bit further. You see, the poster child for AI has always been industry and manufacturing. These are “easy” choices. They are the ones that most people accept as being natural setting for thorough use and implementation of AI and robotics.

The loss of jobs in the sector seems to be an acceptable trade-off (much like it was during the industrial revolution). Higher profits for companies and lower acquisition costs for consumers seem to always be a winning combination, even if this is to the detriment of low skilled workers.

Where people start getting uncomfortable (not to say terrified) is practically anything beyond manufacturing.

Healthcare, elderly care, child care, education, food production, services, IT and even (yes even) the creative arts; everything could conceivably be done by AI.

Back in the day, when the talk of the day centered around AI taking over our jobs there was a lot of talk about what type of jobs would be “safe”. Meaning what type of jobs could not be done by a machine. At the time, people pointed to the creative arts as a safe realm. Something that surely AI could not replicate.

The reasoning being that our creativity is one of the key aspects that defines our humanity. Of course now, with computational creativity, we have paintings, poems and music that have been “created” by AI. From this vantage point it would seem that there is really no aspect of human life that could not be done by AI (some would argue that it would be better for AI to do it).

And so with this vision of the future there are those that see it as a kind of Utopia and those that are very afraid.

For the latter, the question remains, why are people so scared of AI?

First, let’s take it down a notch see it from a daily life perspective, perhaps get a little bit petty if you will.

At a very selfish level isn’t AI the ultimate dream? Doesn’t it have the potential to convert each and every person into a veritable king, queen, instagram celebrity or (insert your ideal status here)?

Stay with me for a little bit. I am not saying that AI will literally convert us into kings and queens (although with a virtual reality headset that’s debatable), but actually that if everything is done for us, if we don’t have to clean, cook or work, if we can pass on any responsibility we don’t want or are unwilling to do to AI, isn’t that the dream?

Because correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t people out there working their butts off so that they can pay other people to do stuff for them?

Kings, queens, celebrities (and apparently some of the Kardashian’s bottoms), aren’t they meant to represent the epitome of wealth, of someone who can have everything done for them?

As terrifying as AI can be to some people, it can actually make that “dream” possible (the effects of wealth, not the butts) .

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that AI has the potential eradicate poverty and hunger. Actually AI has the potential to solve many of our problems, if we let it.

Ah, but if AI was made and programmed by humans it will be just as flawed because humans are flawed, right? Well not exactly, because that is the point. That AI will have the ability to learn by itself, to observe, to analyse the millions of events that have occurred and actually find a solution to the multiple messes in which we seem to find ourselves.

I think we actually have the ability to solve the world’s most pressing issues and problems…not in 5 o 20 years time, we can start solving them now… we simply choose not to.

Now imagine, if we were we would relinquish these responsibilities to AI. If we were to give AI our problems and say “here… solve it”. AI would not only find a solution, but would likely make the necessary changes immediately.

Because it is the logical thing to do, because a society where everyone is doing well, is a society that will thrive and flourish.

Maybe that is what is truly terrifying to some people, that AI could actually find a solution and implement it. With no agenda other than to solve the problem and as unpopular as it could prove for some, no amount of lobbying could change it.

If we were to allow AI to find and implement such a solution the repercussions to our way of life would be enormous.

For example, what would be the use of governments, ruling elites, of our whole societal structure as we know it?

Granted, lately it feels like the whole concept of a “government run society” has been talking itself out of a job.

Governments are meant to be put in place by the people to work for the people… BUT not for the benefit of people who are actually in the government (and their families) and yet this seems to be exactly how the current system seems to work. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any corruption, dictators or need for lobbying in politics, right?

What about poverty? Surely we all want that?

Imagine a sort of universal income or a world where everyone can have access to or afford whatever AI support is available (because if it were to remain to the benefit of the rich then surely not much would change).

It could mean that EVERYONE lives well, without the need to work. Everyone can have their basic needs met, food, shelter and clothing. If we were to leave everything to AI (food production, construction, entertainment, manufacturing, etc.), that could mean that we as humans would want for nothing and because everyone would have the same, everyone would have the same ”status”.

And this is where it gets tricky right?

For all of humanity’s boasts about equality, wishing to eradicate world poverty, achieving world peace, helping others and saving the planet, we actually suck at it. We are failing in all of these…badly.

The truth that no one bears to accept, is that deep inside, no one wants to be the same as everyone else. We believe (or want to believe) that we are special and that we deserve better, even when it is to the detriment of others.

But surely we could never relinquish decision making and control to AI, I hear someone yelling at the back… that would be crazy!

Is it, really?

Do you think you have control now of what you can and cannot do?

I would argue that in society we have a sort of “control mirage”. We think we have control, but we don’t really, it’s just a sense, an idea of control.

In order to live together as a society we have all accepted to be bound by laws, rules and unspoken conventions of society.

Add to that hundreds of years of indoctrination through education and religion (many aspects of which are ridiculously outdated for the lives we live now, let alone for what we will face in 20 or 50 years’ time) and we don’t actually have a lot of say in what is “allowed” and what is “not allowed”.

But let’s not dwell into that particular rabbit hole just yet, for now suffice to say that it is doubtful that whatever control we would relinquish in an AI-run society would be any higher than what we have already given up to the governments that are meant to be looking after our interests ( not taking into account dictatorships or dictator-like societies).

But wait, there is one last hurdle for those who argue in favour of an AI integrated society.

That even on the assumption that AI would learn by itself, it could never learn “properly” or unbiasedly because its learning would be based on an imperfect society (i.e. humans).

Right…perhaps the simple solution would be to have AI analyse certain animal groups and their interactions and society structures (preferably those that don’t eat their young). Because if you look into nature there are MANY animals that have complex society structures just like we do and that are far kinder to each other than many of us seem to be.

…And finally, if we are still really scared let me propose some small print wording. If or when we do the initial request for AI to save the world, let’s include a caveat that it must keep humans in it…lest its practical solution ends up being to ‘remove humans from the equation’ and let nature flourish without us.



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