The Financial Express

Artificial Intelligence

An unmapped frontier

World’s first robot citizen Sophia. World’s first robot citizen Sophia.

The immense possibility of Artificial Intelligence (AI) taking the rein of global development architecture is a hope that most people in the developing world, including Bangladesh, have not considered as a part of their future agenda yet- it still remains as sci-fi. However, the time has come to awake from our slumber of the make-belief world and realise that our dreams of a technological utopia that is driven by artificial minds is very close to assuming its form in reality. The fourth industrial revolution, a trend-setting change that will have impacts spanning all seven continents, is one since the days of Newton in human history that all humans should expect. However, AI does not just mean a horde of metal-faced machines taking control of blue collar jobs. AI represents any form of artificial or man-made intelligence unit that can respond to human or sensory inputs and interactions such as hand and face gestures and that ca logically process the information to make an appropriate decision and carry out tasks accordingly- thus applications like SIRI on the Iphone are part of AI. As of now, humans have succeeded in developing and instituting a narrow spectrum of AI, systems that are designed for a specific task and are stepping into the infinite realm of general AI. However, no new technology in the modern world is that easy: AI can hold a dark future for the world if it essentially replaces a large fraction of human minds, as well as the philosopher's stone and elixir all at once, and it is our job as humans to create a healthy nurturing environment for this mercurial piece of technology.

A robot serves food at a restaurant

In about 60 years since AI was first conceptualised and coined by John Mccarthy, the technology has succeeded exponentially to develop from a dreamy brainchild to new fronts and prospects that were never before imagined. When Russian chess Grandmaster(GM) Garry Kasparov lost to IBM's Deep Blue(AI) in a chess match, the world had its first glimpse of the true intellectual prowess of AI, a level of intellect so high that even groups of the best minds in the world were rendered unrivaled to it. The brainchild of humanity was the top dog. As development proceeded, the world welcomed Machine Learning AI- machines that could collect and compile data themselves - in 2011 with the unveiling of IBM's Watson and Deep learning AI, systems that are able to interpret data from a vast neural network, in 2016. Putting AI to the test, consultancy firm Pwc recently compiled a study predicting the future boosts to gross domestic product (GDP) in various regions of the world caused by AI: the numbers were astoundingly high with China expecting to experience a 26 per cent (seven trillion USD) growth in GDP by 2030 and the US expecting a 14.5 per cent (3.7 trillion USD) growth in GDP. The massive GDP growth in the two superpowers of the world will probably be caused by a huge increase in labour productivity as the two nations aim to incorporate AI in manufacturing as an enabling mechanism to workers; in fact, a whopping 6.6 trillion USD increase in China's projected seven trillion dollar GDP growth is forecast to come from the increased productivity of workers. This has led to many economists agreeing that the solution to stagnant productivity levels for the past few decades, regardless of technological improvements, is coming to an end.

AI will function as an idea-spitting machine of the future-it will expand the horizons of human knowledge. The fields of medicine, agriculture, security and blue collar jobs will likely experience the most radical changes. For starters, scientists believe AI machines will make it possible to find sustainable, permanent cures to diseases like cancer and HIV/AIDS, leading to longer  human lifespans and many even argue that human doctors will be replaced by more intellectual AI counterparts. Even now, different kinds of AI are being used to interpret CT scans and various forms of imaging to identify tumours, cancer and other present health hazards. Scientists are even expecting AI to reach dizzying heights where it will have the capability to encode and discard specific alleles in an unborn human being, hence alter how each and every single human is born into the world, to make the person less prone to a plethora of present-day  diseases.

In the fields of security, AI systems will serve much better than security teams as they will be able to continually monitor the activity at a specific place and be able to identify anomalies and breaks in the pattern to ultimately detect a security breach. In cyber security, which is a new perplexity that modern humans are still trying to fathom, a field that is notorious for being lacklustre and allowing around 707 million internet security breaches in 2015, the incorporation of AI will cause a revolutionary change. AI will be able to predict the locations for attacks, be able to warn authorities and users and be able to track the person shielded by the malevolent glow of his/her device.

AI will even be the primary combatant in dealing with a tremendous increase in world population, an increase that will test and stress the limits of food production and innovative methods of agriculture. In the midst of an expected food scarcity will arrive the boon of AI; these systems will revolutionise agriculture by increasing labour productivity exponentially, incorporating new AI technologies that will increase crop yields, thereby providing better estimates and predictions in a variety of factors related to agriculture and crop yields. In fact, as a testament to AI, a company called Cainthus recently created a facial recognition system that is capable of recognising every single animal in a herd by analysing the shape of their faces and detecting diseased animals, so herders can easily identify the animal that requires immediate medical attention, and, if necessary, will cull those for efficient herd management.

The proliferation of primary education in nearly every nook and corner of the world is easily one of man's most cherished victories in modern human history; much to the dismay of the glittering trophy, the basic foundation provided by primary education is a bit too rudimentary for it to be useful in everyday life, and thus large numbers of high school graduates without higher education have chosen the road to the blue collar industry. Throughout the last few decades, the introduction of different types of technology influenced a larger portion of students to pursue higher education-in fact, the percentage of students going to colleges in the US rose by 18 per cent between 1970 and 2015. As AI mechanisms and machines are used to fill blue collar jobs, it will cause a rapid surge in demand for skilled, professional jobs that require special training and provide better wages, leading to a larger number of students choosing to go to colleges and universities in order to have a better chance of landing a job. The effect was mammoth-like. 

Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, IBM's Watson, machines capable of writing and reporting news themselves, robot bartenders-  these add up to a techno-frenzy that's definitely hard to digest in a short period of time. The development of AI is an unending parabola. Definitely, AI has developed at a supersonic pace since the concept came to the fore and to this date the improvements and innovations that have been made to AI, all at a blazingly fast pace, to make it suitable for multiple different purposes, has been stupefying. Yet the pace of innovation, as suggested by Moore's law, will reach a stage where it is hard to efficiently absorb everything. In fact, there are instances where this occurrence is taking place already; it takes nearly 6-10 years for even the best, most revolutionising websites of modern day to truly aggrandise and make a global impact. Mathematically speaking, a time will come when humans will not be able to keep track of the latest innovation and hence the next new innovation will roll out into the markets before humans have even adjusted and adapted themselves to a previous breed of technology.

Many believe that AI will swallow the future labour markets, as it will be incorporated into virtually every single field and potentially replace a considerable amount of the human workforce, as much as 90 per cent, leading to large-scale unemployment globally. Although, it is true that AI will increase the production of the manufacturing sector as a result of boosted labour productivity and hence make commodities cheaper for the masses, the end result, tragically, is somewhat a peculiar type of hyperinflation. Most of the financial resources and funds will be in the hands of large corporations and companies, leading to only a select few benefitting from AI. This grip of large companies on global finance will only keep expanding and growing as that of the general masses will shrink to nought. In the long run, this will erode productivity in people, serve as a catalyst for a financial crisis and lead to unfair distribution of monetary resources across the globe.

AI may be a powerful force that can be the alchemist's dream as well as the demon that will swallow the world; however, it's important for mankind as a race to approach this alien technology with a good knowledge of its impact and good understanding of it's implication- let us hope our future will produce numbers of metallic Einsteins.

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