“The real problem”, as BF Skinner the social scientist rightly pointed out “is not whether machines think. It is whether men do.”
When it comes to technological advancements it would seem Skinner was right on the money. We tend to take an alarmist view, every time we are confronted with something new. Take the arrival of the textile loom in 12th century Europe. Today we recognize this as the harbinger of the industrial revolution. Back then however, it caused riots and the Dutch even destroyed the loom as it caused job losses among sheep farmers.
The problem is that while the science has advanced tremendously from the basic loom, we have not managed to advance the argument. As the COO of a company that is using AI to unlock hidden profits in the retail environment, I find much of my time is spent dealing with a variation of a nine-century old question. How will technology (in this case AI) impact jobs? The answer, unfortunately, is also nine centuries old. Like every great advancement in technology, AI is massively disruptive. And like every great technology AI will propel mankind to greater heights of achievement in all spheres of activity be it science or art, physical or mental. There is not a single aspect of our lives that AI will not touch – if it is not already – and greatly enhance. Let me share a couple of examples.
A common story in the medical profession is that AI will cause massive job losses among doctors as AI driven apps like Babylon can blitz through databases of hundreds of thousands of patients to quickly diagnose symptoms. However, it took a combination of both human and artificial intelligence to work out the 3D structure of an HIV enzyme in just three weeks. Alone neither could get the job done and together we are greater than the sum of the parts. AI enhances humans as much as human intelligence enhances AI’s abilities.
Similarly there is a fair bit of hullabaloo in the legal community about AI’s potential to replace lawyers, or even judges, and while AI is threatening these kinds of white collar jobs, it is going to replace many jobs that require routine mental work, such as writing up contracts. AI is also an excellent assistant to the trial lawyer looking for the one loophole that will exonerate their client. Think back to that classic 1992 Hollywood courtroom comedy My Cousin Vinny. The fate of the case hinged not on Vinny’s knowledge of the law, but on his girlfriend’s expertise of automobiles. Now, you wouldn’t expect most lawyers or their girlfriends to know that much about cars. But given an AI assistant Vinny would still have solved the case. All he would do is feed the critical photographs to his assistant and ask it the question he asked his girlfriend. Bingo, he would have got the exact same answer, without the attitude!
That’s the whole point with AI. It will help us as the human race move on to the next level of achievement. Our personal virtual assistants will be constantly by our sides, monitoring us, advising, informing and helping us get better at whatever we do. We’re seeing the initial burst of products in the virtual personal AI space. From Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana to Amazon’s Alexa and a few interesting ones from Smartphone manufacturers you can get a teaser of what to expect when you collaborate with AI.
But these are early days. Moving forward your personal assistant will become capable of a lot more, will understand you better and tailor itself to creating a better you. The soldier will have her assistant, the musician his. Eventually, she will become a better soldier and he a better musician. We are not there yet, but I believe Tony Stark and Jarvis is the vision of an AI-enabled future. There is no Ironman without Jarvis and no Jarvis without Tony Stark. It is an integrated future full of amazing possibilities So let’s junk the old argument and embrace the brave new world of AI.
P.S. One of my business fellow who is a father of 3 already think about how AI can help his kids, and maybe yours, learn smarter.