under the bed. Deadly spiders. Rattlesnakes. Tsunamis. Coronavirus. Demons. Artificial Intelligence. Death. Dishonour. Incontinence. I could go on all day, every day, for years, but you probably have cottoned on by now. What do they all have in common? You’d be surprised. They all scare the shit out of us. Many of you probably don’t know the reality of modern Artificial Intelligence and the way it’s changing our lives, but more of you are scared of it. And it’s not just the extreme views of conspiracy theorists that see it as a very real threat taking away our jobs, or worse the implausible — become humanity’s mortal enemy as in I, Robot, Terminator or ex-Machina.
The question really is — should we be scared? Should we welcome it? Or must we move cautiously forward, because bro, sista, dude, dudette, or whatever catchy title tickles your whistle, it’s already here and it’s here to stay. It’s already so ingrained in our everyday lives, it’s not even funny. The movies — Terminator, even the latest one — were right. They were all right. AI is everywhere.
“I’m about to go on a rant. Fair warning. Humans are the evilest species on earth.”
Don’t believe me? Here are some examples.
Many call centres use artificial intelligence to save time — a fact known by few. I’m willing to wager that every single person who’s ever used a telephone to call, chat, message or email a call centre has unwittingly been interacting with one. Heard of IVR? It’s all over the place and it stands for Intelligent Voice Recognition. The ‘intelligent’ portion, folks, is artificial. It gets worse. Many of your problems are fixed by AI — from electricity supply, water and sewage, telephone lines, cloud storage and compute — all serviced by AI. Oil companies have been using them for years. For god’s sakes human, they’re already in many homes — smart bulbs, buzzers, security devices, drones — heard of them? — all use AI. Every single blooming pc, smartphone and tablet’s voice assistant — Siri, Alexa, Google, Cortana are all various forms of AI — and you can’t turn all of them off.
But what exactly is AI? Stop. Don’t think of Sunny from I, Robot. Or Ava from Ex-Machina. Or Data from Star Trek Next Generation. Or Ash, Bishop from Alien and Aliens. They’re androids. Total fiction and bollocks, if you ask me. Positronic brains my ass.
AI consists of a series of programs — software, not hardware — that learn and mimic human behaviour and, more often than not, vice versa. They need human intervention to create and constant human intervention to maintain. They can run on their own, and perhaps even power themselves, or possibly work with very little power, but at the end of the day, they can only do what humans do best.
Unfortunately, folks, that’s not good news.
I’m about to go on a rant. Fair warning. Humans are the evillest species on earth. Not aforementioned spiders or snakes. Demons don’t make people do evil things. We do that all by ourselves. No animal kills its own for pleasure, greed, jealousy or simply for thrills. Humans do. No animal captures another and keeps it locked up for hours, days, weeks, years for their pleasure, money, pleasure and money, and mostly sadistic pleasure at that. Humans do. Animals don’t gossip, backbite, leer, stalk with the intention only to torment. Animals don’t invent reasons (excuses really) for all the above said crimes and create ways and means for us to escape the consequences of those crimes. Okay. You get the idea. Rant over.
But set aside the rant and just think about the well-intentioned-way-to-hell reasons we use AI to improve our lives and examine the ill-effects.
One unfortunate side effect is that efficiency (good intentions, remember? To save money of course) inevitability leads to job losses. It’s nothing new, though. Machines have been taking over from man for decades, with each iteration forecasting doom and gloom. Even the so-called efficiencies are not necessarily visible to the hoi polloi, designed as it is to help the people servicing the general public. There are other ill-effects. AI has made us lazy. AI gives hackers more opportunities and means to invade our privacy. AI removes the good part of human intuition, blindly doing what another human did, good or bad.
Sure, there are many ways AI has been used to improve the quality of life, perhaps even save lives, although very, very, very indirectly. And one of these days, perhaps it will save lives directly. But mostly, it’s made a lot of folks who are already filthy rich — um, richer.
AI has changed our lives. But it’s not you and me that’s laughing all the way to the bank. Come to think of it, this entire blog is a rant. Believe me, it didn’t start out that way. The publishers wanted me to write about how AI changes lives. This is all I could muster.
I try. I don’t always succeed. You see, it’s the journey. It has to be fun. It has been for me thus far and I have hopes for the future. Hope you enjoyed it. I know that I did. Let me know what you think.
Mark Ravine. Author. Dawn Hill Publications.