The Impact of Artificial Intelligence

The Impact of Artificial Intelligence

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I had a great conversation last week on my local BBC Radio station about Artificial Intelligence (Link here Starts at 9:50 mins). For me, this is one of the most underestimated technologies in the world right now. Very few people understand what is possible today and what is becoming possible in the very near future. Very few people understand both its dangers and opportunities.

I remember when I really learnt about it, just over 2 years ago, at Singularity University. Understanding the impact on our future of technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology and Nanotechnology really blew my mind. It was more than a week before I could sleep properly again.

20 years ago, if I had told you where the internet would be now, you would have said I was crazy. If I had told you about smartphones and social networks 10 years ago, you would have thought I was equally crazy. Well, the impact artificial intelligence will have 5, 10 and 20 years from now will probably make those developments seem very small.

Looking at the technology already developed by IBM Watson and Google Deepmind, I consider what it will do to most of the white collar jobs in my own community. And that’s just by rolling out existing capabilities! Machines can now learn and make complex decisions. Many of those decisions are significantly better than the decisions that human beings can make on their own. Compared with these new intelligent machines, human beings are both very poor learners and – by and large – highly irrational decision makers. They are also quite incapable of storing infinite information on which to base all of their decision making and learning. Machines, however, are capable of all these things – and more.

Intelligent agents like Siri, Google Now and Cortana are embryonic, and are evolving at breakneck speeds. By the end of the decade, thanks to initiatives like Project Loon, there will be a 5G network across the entire planet and smartphones will be so cheap that every single human being will be able to afford one or be given one. Everyone will have access to every development in intelligence at the same time. What becomes available to all of us in 5 years’ time will astonish most people. One big breakthrough could create a step-change in human evolution, in minutes. And believe me – big, big breakthroughs are coming.

Think of a question – How do I solve problem x? And then think of every human being having the very best answer available to them all of the time. Think what that means for the collective capability of the human race! Just think about what that means for education alone! How can a traditional classroom teacher adapt themselves to deal with that?

I then consider how this technology will work together with machines like robots in the coming decade – to transform virtually every industry: transport, manufacturing, food production, healthcare, construction etc. On the plus side, many of our toughest challenges will become solvable and there will be a rapid reduction in the cost of living. On the downside, our economies will shed jobs at a faster and faster rate. The major question is – will job creation occur at a faster rate than job destruction? Some people believe it will. Others believe it won’t.

Personally, I look at this problem in a different way and ask: why on earth do we need jobs in the first place? This is why I work on The Dandelion Project in the island nation of Guernsey, with huge aims such as reducing the cost of living to zero and ending the need to work. Given what is already in existence and what is coming, I passionately believe that these outcomes can be achieved in the not-so-distant future. And that, to me, is the real opportunity that Artificial Intelligence provides. It can deliver an abundant future for us individually, whilst also tackling great global challenges like poverty and climate change.

It is not all rosy, though. Just as this technology can be used to solve all the problems we have in the world, it can also create many new ones. There are already military drones flying around that make decisions on their own. Artificial Intelligence has as much capability to leverage harm as it does to leverage good. With this perspective, I urge those of us who want to do good in the world to understand as much as possible about how this technology works and how it will change things – and to start using it to create a more positive world.

We live in extraordinary times.

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