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AI – terrific or terrifying?

Paul Toms

In the last 10 years, we’ve seen the emergence of 4G, the release of Android, the arrival of Chromebooks, the rise – and rise – of smart devices, from televisions to thermostats, lights to watches. Alongside all these exciting developments is artificial intelligence, or as it’s more commonly known, AI. AI has probably seen the biggest development, driving growth across many tech sectors and it continues to evolve into a central player in smartphone technology. But phones aren’t the only AI success story. Chatbots make it possible for companies to communicate with their customers, so much so that their customers probably have no idea that they’re chatting with a bot. While virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri are being used by millions. And let’s not forget that AI is being used extensively in the gaming industry.

But with AI being able to perform many tasks faster and better than us, many are worried about them stealing our jobs – but also being able to match us at being humans. Toby Walsh, Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence, said during the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney recently that he thinks AI will learn and possibly match human traits like creativity, emotional intelligence and adaptability in less than 50 years, predicting robots will be as smart as humans by the year 2062.

The danger here is that even if AI is confined to a set of rules, autonomy can be likened to free will – an emotional, reactive machine could genuinely be dangerous. And it’s not like we haven’t been warned. Elon Musk said in 2014 that AI was akin to “summoning the demon”. Bill Gates agreed and doesn’t understand why people are not concerned.

For Walsh, it’s not the technology, or its intelligence, that’s terrifying, but mankind itself. He believes this technology could be key in dealing with the world’s biggest problems – if it’s used in the right way and AI systems are aligned with our own values. Undoubtedly the wheels are in motion for AI in the future – where will it take us next? Who knows. Maybe ask Alexa.

Read our related blog: The impact of AI and machine learning in 2018

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