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“Artificial intelligence: is it our friend or foe?”
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“Artificial intelligence: is it our friend or foe?”

Artificial intelligence is increasingly part of our technological lives, writes Debra Grace Lim Jia-En, 18, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Malaysia, as she takes a look at the impact of AI and considers where the trajectory could lead. 

Tesla’s self-driving cars, Siri, Alexa, smart home devices like Sentri and Roomba. It is clear that artificial intelligence (AI) is gaining prominence in our globalised society.

From the time where only business professionals had flip phones to the present day where refugees document their long plight with smart phones, technology has arguably integrated itself as a way of life for many, irrespective of race or gender. With our growing dependence on such devices, much debate has surfaced as to whether AI will be beneficial to society in the long run, or whether it will prove to elicit grave repercussions.

The idea of AI has dominated our imagination for centuries. From Frankenstein in the 1800s to the blockbuster franchises of today, robots, bots and droids have formed a part of popular culture as we know it today. The reality of AI is likely to be just as fascinating in the years to come.

A survey carried out by Oxford and Yale predicts that AI will be able to translate languages better than humans by 2024, carry out retail work by 2031, write books by 2049 and perform surgery by 2053. Computers programmed with chess algorithms have been beating chess world champions since 1997, when IBM’s Deep Blue first defeated Garry Kasparov.

It is no wonder, then, that leading global figures have clashed over the implications of these developments. Mark Zuckerberg, for one, is highly optimistic about the future of AI and what it can do for humanity: Zuckerberg wrote in a recent Facebook post that “improvements in basic research improve systems across so many different fields” increasing “its potential to make the world better.”

AI definitely could make life a lot easier for us in the future, as it already has started to do. Amazon has been carrying out beta tests on drones to be used as vehicles for deliveries within cities like London and New York. Even the results generated in sites such as Pinterest, Google and Ebay are all done by machine learning algorithms. Software that will have the potential to read a person’s genetic makeup and diagnose diseases is already in various stages of development. The Shanghai Changzheng Hospital, for one, utilises AI technology to improve the reading of CT scans and x-rays in locating cancerous lesions in lung cancer patients. Earlier detection will undoubtedly speed up the process of prescribing treatment, eliminating repetitive diagnostic work and enabling doctors to start medication as swiftly as possible.

On the flip side, heavyweights such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates are more cautious about these strides in technology. Musk in particular has called AI “the greatest risk we face as a civilisation”, highlighting the possibility of unethical use of AI under a variety of circumstances such as war.

AI technology is developing speedily and so is the risk of its misuse. Particularly when applied to warfare and policing, it can pose great concerns. Autonomous armed robots are programmed to track and target individuals using facial recognition software, like Poppy’s robot dogs in the latest Kingsman movie. If uncontrolled, these machines will continuously destroy until they run out of targets, ammunition or power. This reminds us that AI has no social awareness, or moral conscience – it merely executes what it has been programmed to do.

Closer to home, Travis Kalanick has predicted that automated vehicles will disrupt the transportation industry. While it may be amusing to watch Siri come up with answers to the silliest questions and fascinating to watch Pepper direct visitors in a mall, automated transportation will have a dramatic impact on the world economy. Driving in various forms is among the largest sources of jobs. This could potentially lead to unprecedented levels of unemployment, and a potential precursor to yet another global economic crisis.

With the possibilities ranging from a Frankenstein-like monster to friendly helpers like R2D2 and BB8, one can only guess at future developments for AI technology. One thing, however, is certain – that AI has left an indelible mark on our history. It will be up to us as a society to be alert of the developments that such technology brings, and for our leaders to have the prescience to instill the necessary regulations. The management of the uses of these innovations will be critical in order to maximise their vast benefits for future generations. Whether it will continue to be a convenience or transform into a curse will be up to us.

Photo credit: ITU Pictures ITU Briefing on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Good via photopin (license)

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About me: Hi! My name’s Debra and I’m from Malaysia. I aspire to be a lawyer one day, and I have a special interest in public policy and its implementation, social justice and international trade.

Currently, I’m a Lower Sixth student at Kolej Tuanku Jaa’far, studying for my A levels. When I’m not reading, writing or volunteering, I also enjoy the performing arts, playing music, Model United Nations conferences and travelling.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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