Technology is ubiquitous, omnipresent and touches pretty much every aspect of our lives. It’s transforming almost everything we do, and the pace of change is only gathering speed. In fact, analyst firm Gartner speculates there will be more than 26 billion connected IoT (Internet of Things) devices by 2020.
Technology is so prevalent in people’s everyday lives and within businesses today that many of us cannot imagine a life or future without it. In one estimate, Artificial Intelligence (AI) could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030.
However, AI and other forms of advanced technology have consistently fuelled both excitement and trepidation amongst organizations, businesses and the world at large – for good reason. Are humans and technology mutually exclusive? No, but we need to be careful about its rapidly accelerating growth. Are we better off now than before technology became so all encompassing? Are our lives easier, or more complicated with all this excess technology?
Let’s break it down:
Technology is Improving Our Quality of Life
AI in many ways makes our daily lives easier. Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Cortana enable all of us to have digital assistants if we want them, while Google Maps does our navigating for us. AI is widely employed by financial and banking institutions to organize, manage and even predict data, while detection of fraud uses AI in a smart card based system.
Technology has reduced humans need to undertake mundane or laborious tasks – think dishwashers, washing machines, hoovers, automatic airport check-in stations and supermarket self checkouts. There is less room for human error where technology is concerned, because we naturally make mistakes.
What’s more, AI can potentially reduce risk to humans. Examples include space travel, mining or fuel exploration, whereby AI powered machines can perform difficult or sometimes impossible human tasks with no rest periods.
In the medical field, AI and other advanced technology such as bio printing and radiosurgery is on the up. IBM’s Watson machine can process the equivalent of a million books a second. It’s analyzing and diagnosing cancer biopsies and it’s doing so with more speed and overall accuracy than any human can or will ever be able to do. Algorithms can help doctors assess patients and their health risks, while surgery simulators use machine intelligence in training medical professionals.
Communication is now easier than ever too. We can send a message, photo or video to someone across the globe, in a different time zone in seconds. We can connect with old friends, family and brands over social media. Equally, we can promote our business online to billions of people worldwide or seek products and services at the click of a button or swipe of a finger.
Learning has also become more accessible. Have a question? You can “Google it” and have your answer in seconds. Then there’s flexible working and the potential for remote working. Nowadays, you don’t have to work in an office cubicle; you can work from home because of the internet.
The Risks Associated With Advanced Technology
One of the main disadvantages of AI is the cost incurred in the maintenance and repair of such technology. Programs need to be continually updated to suit changing requirements.
A key concern of AI and other technology is ethics and moral values. Is it ethically correct to create replicas of human beings? Intelligence makes our species stand out, in which case, is it right to install that intelligence into a machine to make it work for our benefit?
Machines do not have any emotions or moral values. They perform what is programmed and cannot make the judgment of right or wrong. They either perform incorrectly or breakdown in such situations.
Moreover, while machines can store large amounts of data and perform repetitive tasks over time, they do not get better with experience, as humans do. Additionally, while data storage is more efficient and no physical files means reduced danger of physical damage or loss, there is the risk of data being stolen or getting into the wrong hands.
There is real danger of AI increasing unemployment if machines can do a job more efficiently and at less cost. A World Economic Forum study in 2016 predicted that around 5.1 million jobs will be lost to AI over the next five years alone, across 15 countries. If there is no work to be done, how will we earn money and what will we do with our time to ensure we don’t lose purpose?
Ross Harling, expert evaluator for the EU Commission, told me: “Governments are increasingly aware that Robotics and AI will displace traditional employment. That could mean we end up with 40% of current jobs becoming redundant, not just manual jobs, but in jobs that require professional application of rules and decision making. The real threat is that we’re not geared up for actually understanding how those changes will impact us, where salaries will come from and what are we going to do with our time if machines are doing all the work.”
We are accustomed to technology developing quickly, but that pace is increasing and AI is driving much of that acceleration. Still, the advancement of AI doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll lose free will, we can choose to ignore or live without machines (for now).
Clearly, advanced technology has massive potential advantages. However, its impact on factors such as employment and ethics will need to be carefully monitored and addressed.
Judy Shapiro, senior VP at Paltalk said: “Technology is cool and helps simplify some aspects of our lives. But the myth that technology makes our lives easier deserves to die. So while the iPhone can let me get a mailing label done easier, I may just pull out my pen. After all, my pen does not run out of juice too often.”
Of course, technology is not a replacement or substitute for human intelligence. It is an entirely different way of reaching conclusions. It can complement or exceed our own abilities: it can work alongside us, and teach us new ways of thinking.
The key for us will be to use our own judgement to apply technology productively and ensure we don’t "shoot ourselves in the foot."
Do you find Artificial Intelligence intriguing or frightening? Discuss this topic further in the GrabCAD's Artificial Intelligence group.