Why Are We Scared of Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence, which is a product of human intelligence, has got many people scared of it.

By Shobhika Puri | Updated: Oct 25, 2017, 09:16 AM IST

Intelligence is known to intimidate some, but it is not known to scare anybody. If one were to extend the logic to artificial intelligence, which again is a product of human intelligence, it is surprising to see why so many are getting scared of it.

When the likes of Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk express their apprehensions about artificial intelligence, it gets people more worried.

Before understanding the reasons for the scare, let us understand the world around us today. We use GPS to navigate our way through unknown roads or to predict traffic jams. We play games on our computer or smartphone, sometimes alone against an artificial opponent, the system. While texting on our smartphone, we use some of the suggestions given by the phone for what to type next. While typing in MS-Word, we use auto-correct facility for our spelling or grammar mistakes. Pilots get trained using flight simulators. Robotic or computer-assisted surgeries have been helping doctors in their surgical procedures. Apple users have been taking help from Siri, their intelligent assistant, to operate their mobile devices and apps. YouTube suggests videos that we may like on the basis of our past viewership. Facebook and LinkedIn suggest friends we may want to add. And, I can go on and on...

Which one of these features scares us? Which one of these has not made our tasks easier and efficient? Which one of these would we want to give away? Am sure, none. All these were examples of artificial intelligence. Surprised?

Given the success rate of the current artificial intelligence systems, the concept is being extended to bigger things and concerted effort is being made in the direction. The current brouhaha that is surrounding artificial intelligence is because the term is becoming popular now and is being associated with bigger things. So, what are the people scared of and why?

As is the case with any technological disruption, people are scared of losing jobs to artificial intelligence. Even though this may be true to an extent, newer jobs would get created. When computers were being introduced in India, there was a huge backlash with the same logic. Look, where we are now! Computers have replaced some jobs, but have created many more.

Another argument being given against artificial intelligence is the huge cost of developing and maintaining the systems. As we would understand further in the article, in the long-term, the benefits would clearly outweigh the costs. And, quality always comes at a price!

Some say that artificially intelligent systems would not be able to learn from experience. This is absolutely not correct. Artificial intelligence is a result of human experience. And, what stops humans from upgrading the systems based on their experiences?

On similar lines, some say that artificial intelligence would lack creativity or would not be able to take judgement calls. On the contrary, such systems would themselves be a product of creativity, intelligence and experience. Yes, real-time creativity or judgement may be a problem, but new learnings can always be incorporated in the system. Definitely, there would be no place for human emotions or sensitivities, but there are numerous areas where such aspects are not required.

One area that is of big concern is the security threat. Governments and technology companies across the world will have to make sure that proper laws and protocols are in place before giving a go-ahead to artificial intelligence. It has the risk of concentrating power in a few hands. However, we cannot ‘not’ go ahead with artificial intelligence because of not doing our homework properly.

If we were to extend this logic to the Internet, we can say that terrorists are finding it easier to operate because of mobile phones or the Internet, so we should ban these. Mobile phones or the Internet are not responsible for the terrorist attacks, sick human minds and the technological and regulatory loopholes are responsible for them. Stopping artificial intelligence because of this reason would tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater!

This discussion would not be complete without looking at the potential of artificial intelligence.

Low-skilled or mundane tasks can be replaced by artificially intelligent systems. Not only would these systems have no human-error, the machines can work for long hours without taking breaks, or getting tired, or needing refreshments.

Artificial intelligence can handle larger amount of data than human beings. It can help take faster, accurate and more informed decisions.

The biggest advantage can be in areas where high risks are involved like space or mine exploration. Artificially intelligent systems can stay in risky areas and in harsh conditions for long without any risk to human life. In fact, they can even go to areas that are not deemed fit for humans.

Training in specialised areas like medicine requires artificial surgery simulators. Though these are already in use, they can be expanded to cover wider areas. Imagine a scenario where actual parameters of a patient like deteriorating liver, high blood pressure and clotting of arteries are replicated in an artificial system that can react to various medical procedures like the patient himself. Before performing the actual surgery, the doctors can practice it on the artificial system to see if the procedure would be successful. They can try various permutations and combinations before zeroing down on the most successful one. Wouldn’t this save many lives? The idea may seem far-fetched today, but one never knows!

The potential uses and benefits of artificial intelligence are manifold. After this in-depth analysis, I can zero down to only two reasons for the fear of artificial intelligence: human error or oversight in terms of putting the security systems in place; and fear of the unknown. Both the cases are weak arguments that can be overcome by humans themselves.

No technology is good or bad in itself. It is what we make of it. Instead of fearing artificial intelligence, let us see what a combination of human intelligence and artificial intelligence can do. The synergies created would be gigantic!

(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer)