Artificial Intelligence: A Threat to Humans?

Artificial Intelligence: A Threat to Humans?

By: Navya Malik
  3019 reads

Everyone in the world is talking about Artificial Intelligence these days. From Bill Gates to Elon Musk, many leading thinkers have raised concerns about the possible dangers of A.I. But what exactly is A.I. and what does it mean for the rest of us? Simply put, A.I., or Artificial Intelligence, refers to machines, programmed by humans, that can learn to solve problems that we once believed only humans could solve. From simple tasks like recommending books and driving cars to more complex problems such as spotting issues in medical images,  and solving transportation issues by analyzing patterns in data, A.I. is thought to quickly outpace humans in a multitude of ways.

Due to its ability to live longer, improve itself and set goals, A.I poses a variety of threats to humans. For example, A.I. controlled drones used in combat and for border surveillance have the ability to kill through target recognition systems and Virtual Assistant’s such as Amazon Alexa can control smart home products through voice recognition software. Which raises privacy concerns as the software has the ability to listen and record information

Computers already have the potential to be more intelligent than humans and have the power to learn by analyzing problems and making intelligent decisions. For instance, the invention of self-driving cars - still a work in progress –  could reduce the number of car accidents, however, frighteningly,  the autonomous vehicle’s passengers won’t have any control over the navigation of the automobile. It’s unclear when self-driving cars will be available on the market but some predictions put this as early as 2021. These autonomous cars will not need to be operated by humans. Rather a machine - using its own intelligence - will drive the vehicle on its own. In such a scenario, humans will be forced to trust this machine to ensure their safety.

There is a moral dilemma here – can a machine be trusted to act in the best interests of its human passengers? There’s a possibility that such cars could malfunction or fail to follow instructions. They might direct us anywhere, at any speed, without letting us control where and how we go. Humans, in this instance, would lose authority of making decisions by themselves.

Another example of how A.I. is exhibiting intelligence and self-improvement can be observed in Google’s A.I. powered devices. An example from our everyday life is Google Maps. Through this service, Google can gain access to large amounts of user’s personal data including their real-time location. Not only that, A.I. can also access the user’s email. For instance, Gmail uses a “machine learning approach” to categorize our emails into primary, social, and promotional inboxes. Whenever a user marks any message as ‘important’, Gmail learns. This helps Gmail to differentiate between important and unimportant emails for future reference. Basically, in this way, apps and functions can determine their own course of action and resolve problems on their own, without needing human intervention.

With its “learning” and “self-improvement” capabilities, coupled with immortality, A.I. could potentially replace the need for human services. The emergence of A.I. is predicted to be unlike the industrial revolution which opened the doors for many new jobs for humans. Instead, as stipulated by Stanford University academic Jerry Kaplan, “today, automation is blind to the color of your collar”.  This can threaten all forms of employment, whether inside a factory or inside an office. For instance, going back to the example of self-driving cars, A.I. is expected to replace bus, taxi and truck drivers in the near future, potentially putting millions of people out of work.

A few additional present-day examples of A.I. replacing human labour can be found in the self-checkout lines found in almost every modernized grocery store. These machines, by eliminating the need for cashiers, may be a sign of things to come. Companies such as CAT are also working on building automated drilling and mining technology which could again lead to a drastic spike in unemployment. These examples demonstrate how A.I. poses a risk to 40% of our current occupations.

More worryingly, today many military services use autonomous flying drones as a replacement for on the ground foot soldiers. It is scary how we have started to trust machines over humans, which can be noticed in our armed forces.  As Tesla CEO, Elon Musk infamously stated, “with Artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon”.

If super intelligent machines are designed to perform specific tasks or projects, and if humans fail to align the goals of A.I. with our own goals, then this could cause havoc. According to most A.I. researchers at the 2015 Future of Life Conference in Puerto Rico, we might encounter such a situation as early as 2060. Currently humans are the strongest species in terms of intelligence but as A.I. develops it threatens to dethrone humans from this position. The development of A.I., therefore must be given more attention and thought before it challenges the human race in more drastic ways. Currently A.I. is at its level of Artificial Narrow Intelligence (A.N.I.), according to which machines only do the things assigned to them. However, with the fast progress of automation, the shift to Artificial Super Intelligence (A.S.I.) where machines can perform multiple tasks, doesn’t seem so far away.

As we are approaching more complex designs and highly programmed machines, I fear that Artificial Intelligence could soon surpass humans. 

Photo credit:

Beyond the Article

  • Follow Navya Malik on Instagram
  • Wondering if your career will exist in 20 years? Read this.
  • What do neural networks, artificial intelligence, and machine learning actually do?
  • If the tech industry interests you, read about how one student's co-op led to a dream job with Google.

Navya Malik is a Communication and Interactive Arts and Technology student with a background in Computer Science who made the switch between majors when she found that she was more inclined towards indulging in discussions about issues surrounding society and  technlogy. Navya also enjoys learning about intercultural communication as diversity helps broaden her perspectives about issues around community. Apart from school and volunteering, Navya enjoys learning about language and culture, expressing herself through dance and writing, playing sports, and cooking.

Posted on July 18, 2018