Is AI really a threat?

“Success in creating effective AI, could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst. We just don’t know.”

These words are from a speech delivered by Stephen Hawking at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon last Monday. Unsurprisingly a lot of journalists have picked up on the more sensational parts of the speech, Fox news, for example, headlined “Stephen Hawking says artificial intelligence could 'destroy' humanity”. But this was not his main theme and has been taken somewhat out of context.

The speech is not exactly a new idea. On December the 2nd 2014 Hawking warned that AI "could spell the end of the human race". That same year Elon Musk claimed that AI is "our biggest essential threat".

Professor Hawking has been musing over this premise for some years. however, you could say that in many ways last Monday's speech was actually pro AI. Hawking was warning the group of engineers and techs that we need to think about what we are creating, not just the sophistication of the technology but what it could achieve. He said that AI could help to eradicate disease, end poverty, and reverse damage done to the planet. He was optimistic about the potential for a harmonious, beneficial human AI relationships. If we fail to adequately prepare for any potential pitfalls of AI, we may face “powerful autonomous weapons,” “new ways for the few to oppress the many,” or, “mother of all ills, economic disruption.” Although, as we all know, disruption can lead to innovation.

You could compare this to concerns about the self driving car. Yes AI can go wrong. It runs on GIGO, garbage in, garbage out. So, yes, the car could crash or veer off the road if fed inaccurate information. In creating the initial algorithms to develop any AI program great care has to be taken, as these concepts are coming from human brains not the AI per se. Initially it learns from us.

Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google says not to fear the future of AI. "Go back to the history of the loom," Schmidt says. "There was absolute dislocation, but I think all of us are better off with more mechanized ways of getting clothes made." He adds, "There's lots of evidence that when computers show up, wages go up. There's lots of evidence that people who work with computers are paid more than people without."

Just think back to the 1980s. Mobile phones were new tech and the size of house bricks. Your appointments and contacts were kept in the latest trendy work accessory, the 60 year old Filofax. We communicated by typing documents up in WordPerfect, printing it out on a black and white dot matrix printer, and then faxing it. Now we think nothing of carrying a small, flat, touchscreen computer around with us that is more powerful than we could have imagined and, yes, also makes phone calls.

Artificial intelligence benefits

People already benefit from AI every day, Siri and Cortana are intelligent digital personal assistants that recognise your voice and serve you results that are tailored to your preferences. Banks use AI to check for fraud and email you if the program picks up any irregular movements. Even your on line grocery shop uses AI as your personal shopper to suggest products you might like based on your previous orders. This is just the beginning. In such cases, AI makes things easier for us, increasing our number of options. However, AI is still basing its actions on human decisions and requirements, where to search and what to look for.

AI controlled robots can help humans by performing tedious repetitive tasks, like processing census data, eliminating fatigue induced human error. They can limit human exposure to dangerous situations and materials, working in areas humans cannot get to. Intelligent robots could assist law enforcement in responding to acts of terrorism, stepping into harm’s way and protecting our police officers. In May this year, Dubai law enforcement enlisted their first robot police officer.

Artificial intelligence benefits

In general, AI apps and robots can provide humans with more time to do other work, saving resources and getting more done. We need to fully embrace AI and learn how best to use it and benefit from it. We are a long way from self aware AI robots who need the control of Asimov’s 3 rules. As Andrew Ng, Machine Learning Researcher & Chief Scientist at Baidu says “I don’t work on preventing artificial intelligence from going evil for the same reason I don’t work on solving the problem of overpopulation on the planet Mars.”
Addressing the group in Lisbon on Monday Hawking said, ““We need to employ effective management in all areas of its development,” he said. “We stand on a threshold of a brave new world. It is an exciting, if precarious place to be and you are the pioneers.”

We might not be about to enter the perilous future conjured up in Aldous Huxley's dystopian masterpiece, but those of us that are embracing AI are indeed pioneers. Using AI to calculate property pricing is an innovative move forward, and not something to be treated with trepidation.

Watch Stephen Hawking’s speech at the opening of the 3rd Websummit, Lisbon.

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This article was written as a guest blog for James Dearsley's Proptech blog site.

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Vivienne Brooks

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