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Is Society Ready For The AI Future?

Written by: Salim Sheikh, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and intelligent systems are changing the way humans interact with each other and the world around us. AI impacts every aspect of our lives, ranging from customer services, retail, education, healthcare, autonomous cars, robotics, industrial automation, computer vision, natural language and more.

a view of the sun on the beach.

AI offers us a “New Dawn”


Businesses are rethinking their competitive strategies and organisational structures, preparing for a new revolution as deep and as fundamental as the industrial revolution of 100 years ago. Scholars are divided over when we will achieve artificial general intelligence and what it will ultimately mean for society.


Some believe it will be our greatest invention yet. Others, like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, lament that it may lead to our doom.


People have varying and often conflicting beliefs, expectations and fears of science and technology. AI is no exception, and it has captured the imaginations of people of all walks of life and is already affecting into our daily lives.


A New Dawn


AI is all around us, from self-driving cars and drones to virtual assistants and apps for translation or investing. It is commonplace enough that economists refer to AI as a general-purpose technology. In recent years, there has been major advancements in AI driven by exponential increases in computing power and the vast amounts of available data. Software now being used to discover new drugs and to predict our cultural interests. Digital technologies interact with our biological world on a daily basis. Engineers, designers, data scientists and software architects have combined computational design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering and synthetic biology to pioneer a new symbiosis amongst micro-organisms, our bodies, the products we consume and even the homes and office spaces we inhabit.


We may be far away from super-intelligent AI systems, and there may yet be fundamental obstacles to achieving much beyond human intelligence. When considering the future, we often encounter polarised views of utopian vs. dystopian futures, raising several interesting questions about ethics, morality, religion, social values, regulations and what it means to be human. Some are concerned that AI will amplify the gaps between rich and poor and further enhance inequalities, prejudices and conscious/subconscious bias. AI is sure to further play a role in an ever-increasing surveillance-based society that may suffer from suffocating bureaucracy, malevolent governments and public manipulation via social media reminiscent of George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ (Orwell, 2003).


When talking about the future, there is often a mental attempt to return to the past.


It is important to understand that no process will create a single end state, just as the technological developments predicted by Charles Babbage and the socio-economic changes advocated by Karl Marx did not. This will also be true for AI globalisation. All images of the future are projections of our imaginations, and, even if they come true, it will be do so in the manner we forecasted. Because these images and ideas are at the centre of public rhetoric, society will continue changing it.


Today, the effects of AI are felt unevenly through the economy. It is challenging to predict exactly which jobs will be most immediately affected by AI-driven automation, because AI is not a single technology. It is rather a collection of technologies that are applied to specific tasks. Some tasks will be more easily automated than others, and some jobs will be affected more than others both negatively and positively. Some jobs will be automated away, while, for others, AI-driven automation will make workers more productive and increase demand for certain skills.


Finally, new jobs are likely to be directly created with respect to the development and supervision of AI and indirectly in a range of areas throughout the economy as higher incomes lead to increased demand.


Impact of AI on Society


Society has an opportunity to shape and control AI and AI-driven automation through non-technical factors, including aspects of both the broader economy and policies created by institutions and governments. Ultimately, policy will play a large role in shaping the effects of technological changes, including those of AI.

A great example of this was demonstrated by the US Presidential Executive Order (EOP, 2016) that directed an in-depth study into AI automation and its effects on the US economy. It provided two significant insights drawn from ‘The Future of AI Institute’.


Firstly, the direction of innovation is not a random shock to the economy, but the product of decisions made by firms, governments and individuals. Economic factors will continue to drive the direction of technological change.


Secondly, there is a role for policy to help amplify the best effects of automation and temper the worst.


For many societies, technological advancements are adopted by entrepreneurs, workers and firms looking to better serve a market or streamline production processes. These decisions are underpinned by public investments in basic and applied research, infrastructure and other public goods. Innovations that are likely to be profitable and which are technologically feasible are the ones that gain traction. Practical strategies need to be adapted and generalised to apply to citizens across all societies as shared below (EOP, 2016):


Strategy 1 Invest in and develop AI for its many benefits.


Strategy 2: Educate and train citizens for jobs of the future.


Strategy 3: Aid citizens in the transition and empower them to ensure broadly shared growth.


In all cases, the government with businesses, institutions and communities has an increasingly important role to play in advancing the field of AI by investing in research and development, for establishing pro-competition policies and encouraging competition from new and existing businesses.


Closing Thoughts


Society finds itself at great cross-roads. With the advent of AI and intelligent machines, we have an opportunity to control our legacy and our future. We still have time to do it right, but we need to be wise in how we go forward.


We must join forces and integrate together across communities, regions and countries and drop the behaviours that created the ‘me generation’ so that we can evolve to a ‘we generation’, where everyone’s welfare counts.


Humans are relentless problem solvers who relish challenges and opportunities to innovate. A case in point is climate change. This global problem has attracting many intelligent minds of all ages who are tabling unorthodox ideas that might help humanity relearn how to adapt to and change our environment for the better. Instead of ignoring, harming or plundering nature, we need to find a more natural role to engage and participate in it.


This philosophy applies equally to AI and emerging technologies (such as Augmented/Virtual Reality, Internet of Things, the Metaverse, and so on).


We require systemic policies with social, economic and political frameworks that begin at the governmental level while inviting the rest of society to ‘opt in’ and make changes happen.


Further Reading


This article is based on "A New Dawn" ‒ Chapter 1 of my new book "Understanding the Role of Artificial Intelligence and Its Future Social Impact" available on Amazon and IGI Global.


Follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter and visit my website for more info!


 

Salim Sheikh, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Over the past 25 years, Salim has built a career in consulting, working both client ‒ and supplier-side as an interim CIO/CTO and a Business Change / Transformation Consultant. facilitating digital and technology transformations programmes that have included rescue & recovery ("turnaround"), process optimisation & improvement and organisational change – across diverse industries in the UK, Europe, Nordics, Turkey, UAE, US, and Australia.


Salim is an Oxford University alumni who also has strong academic roots in Artificial Intelligence (AI). He is a mentor in the “Responsible Tech Program” managed by “All Tech Is Human” where he advocates “AI for Social Good” and “AI for All”.


He authored "Understanding the Role of Artificial Intelligence and Its Future Social Impact" which is available via IGI Global (https://bit.ly/34cfJVf) and Amazon (https://lnkd.in/gbk-zba).

 

Reference:


Sheikh, Salim. Understanding the Role of Artificial Intelligence and Its Future Social Impact. IGI Global, 2021. http://doi:10.4018/978-1-7998-4607-9

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