Nandini Gupta who interned at an IT firm explains how Artificial Intelligence can change our future.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Geralt/Pixabay.com
As the cleverest chimpanzees in the animal kingdom, mankind has used tools since prehistoric times to suit his various needs.
And like mankind itself, the tools have evolved from being simple spears to complicated coffee machines that no one seems to know how to use.
Machines, in fact, as so ubiquitous in modernity that it is difficult to image life without them.
For a significant amount of time, machines were used to assist jobs, which were deemed too difficult to accomplish by humans in a fashion somewhat akin to extension of the human body; only stronger, faster or bigger depending on what to be done.
Along with the phenomenal increase in computing power, a whole new branch of science took shape. Called, rather dully, computer science, it focused upon algorithms i.e. the series of steps a computer must follow to solve a given problem, and algorithmic efficiency.
Over time algorithms have been written to solve a myriad of problems, play chess, fly airplanes and play movies. Today’s algorithms are so efficient that they can mimic intelligence, a sort of artificial intelligence.
What is intelligence?
Intelligence has been defined through various statements.
It states one's capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, planning, creativity and, problem solving.
Intelligence is the ability to find solutions to problems. For instance, if someone is trapped inside a cage (problem) and breaks free from it (solution), he or she has demonstrated a certain degree of intelligence.
What is learning?
Intelligence has been commonly misinterpreted to be ‘learning.’ Intelligence and learning are poles apart.
Intelligence is the ability to solve problems, while learning is applying already inherited knowledge to a particular situation. For example, if a student learns about the human body in his or her Biology class and is asked about the structure of the heart in the exam paper, he or she will pen down the structure just how he or she ‘learnt’ it. There is no problem solving involved in this process.
One is never taught how to learn. S/he learns the particular topic, but is never taught how to learn it (manner).
What is Artificial Intelligence?
Machines can also acquire intelligence, if they are taught to do so. It is commonly implemented to them using a program software.
In computer science, artificial intelligence is described as 'the study of intelligent agents,' which means that machines are able to perceive their surroundings and are able to maximise their chance of success at a particular goal. This means that if machines become intelligent, they are likely to find solutions to problems like all other living beings.
Hence, if intelligence in humans is denoted as ‘natural intelligence’, then intelligence in machines can be denoted as ‘artificial intelligence.’
Impact of AI
What if AI becomes sapient?
Artificial Intelligence can have many impacts on human life.
Till now, a machine is just following a set of codes that it is being given by its instructor. It learns the code and knows how to find a solution to a particular problem.
However, what if it becomes aware of its existence?
Humans are very well aware of their existence. For instance, if a murderer with a knife in his hand comes chasing after a person, he will run away from him and try everything in his capacity to stop him from committing this deadly action. This is because he is aware of his existence and the prime purpose for him is to do anything to be alive (sapient).
This is why humans adapt to different environments.
Machines, however, are not aware of their existence, as of yet. If one punches a robot, the robot will not punch him back, unless it is instructed to do so by its commander.
If the ‘on’ button is pressed, then the robot will function, and if the ‘off’ button is pressed, then the robot will not function; it will be ‘dead’ for some time, until it springs to ‘life’ again. If the robot is aware of its existence, then it will do anything and everything to save itself from becoming momentarily ‘dead.’
This is when AI can become extremely powerful.
What if AI develops the sense of intuition?
In general, what we have learnt till now regarding human senses is that we have five, which include sense of touch, smell, sight, taste and hearing.
However, there is actually a sixth sense, which humans tend to forget many times. This is the sense of intuition.
Intuition is something that a human feels, understands or considers through instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning. For example, if one is watching a horror movie late at night and suddenly a ghost appears on the screen, he is guaranteed to be petrified.
Why does he feel scared? His sense of sight and hearing was fine; there was no difference to it. Yet, he felt horrified due to his sixth sense of intuition.
In the present situation, AI machines have all the five basic senses, but they lack the sense of intuition.
Scientists do not have methods to ‘input’ this sense into those machines yet; however when they will be able to do so, then problems might arise.
If intuition is installed in them, then they will no longer be just ‘machines’, they will become ‘humans.’
What if AI forms an opinion of its own?
Just as children go to school, learn various topics and then create their own opinion on certain matters, similarly, AI machines will ‘learn’ from their human tutors and will then form their own opinion.
Just as we rebel or fight against opinions that do not match ours or satisfy us, in the same manner AI machines might, as well.
They will think on their own and if they are head-strong on a particular matter, there is no stopping them.
What if AI demands rights?
If AI comes into being, these questions will pop in everyone's mind, 'How should we treat AI machines? Should they be accepted as an integral part of society?'
If AI knows it's alive, then it also becomes a living, breathing human like all of us and what we share in common is life and survival again.
Despite the fact that it might benefit society in medical procedures and much more, when it comes to dangerous situation in which is either has to save humans or itself, it will definitely choose itself.
It will consider personal gain over human gain and this is when it will crunch us.
If AI is like another human, then should it be imposed by the laws of a particular nation? Will it also have to follow society’s rules and regulations?
What is the morality argument?
Despite all the aforementioned future possibilities, there is always a flip side to AI.
If we take today’s example, we know that most of us are law bound and are rightful citizens. Yet, there might be a bad apple.
But there is a possibility that the rest of AI machines might actually shake hands with humans and help us to prosper.
Even Hitler was defeated when all the nations joined hands to uproot his existence. The morality of AI, hence, cannot be determined as of yet and no particular judgements of AI and its future with us can be determined.
There might be one Hitler, but what if the rest turn out to be like Martin Luther King?
Where do we go from here?
The future holds indefinite possibilities for us to explore.
AI is already used today in several small tasks, but what if it is used in the future to change the world completely?
Today, the gadgets we use are mere tools to us. If we want to heat our food, a microwave is just a tool to help us carry that task out efficiently.
If we are feeling hot, then we use an air conditioner to cool the room.
What if we integrate with AI?
What if AI becomes a part of us and we become a part of AI?
This can be very beneficial.
We can possibly think of something and place our hand on the computer and the computer can type our thoughts down.
In emergency cases, for the doctor to know our blood type or know our allergies, a barcode inscribed on our palm can tell him or her that.
We could probably even click pictures with just the blink of an eye and store them in our memory. Just through a chip insertion or some mechanism like that, we could do wonders with AI.
It is important to have these debates because the answers are not going to be easy.
AI, unlike other technologies, could very well be the stairway to the gardens of Eden. And equally the stairway to hell.