Speech 6: Is Society Ready for Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence! Those two words appended to anything are enough to fill you with fear.

Imagine the home of the future. You may have AI-powered refrigerators, ovens, or even showers and toilets. All these devices listen in, and send, information up into the cloud somewhere. What happens to your privacy? And wouldn’t it be funny if those appliances talked to each other about you?

The toilet might say “Hey fridge, this guy ate something bad again yesterday”.To which the fridge might answer back “I tried to warn him he wouldn’t listen. I suppose we need to ask the iPhone to order him more Imodium”.

Or, a future where the military forces use smart weapon systems. Systems able to distinguish between friends and foes.

To determine who lives, and who dies. Scary isn’t it? Very Terminator-like if you will.

The time when weapons operate without human intervention is still many years away. Perhaps not in our lifetime.

What is closer to reality is how AI will affect our economy. Indeed, even how we live our lives.

Is our society ready for this?

You can find articles about how AI will benefit society. But not enough about how it might cause harm instead. There is enough concern that recently, several technology and scientific groups have come together to call for governments to consider the negative impact of AI on society, and to develop solutions. Among these people are Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Stephen Hawkins.

If AI is so beneficial, why should worry?

After all, disruptive technology has happened before. Examples are the development of the PC, the internet, and the smartphone. These disruptors have one thing in common. They allowed us to increase productivity.

Farmers still drove their tractors and they would farm more efficiently by using GPS and computers to plan when and where to plant. And how to best harvest their fields. Ships needed fewer people to run them. The flight engineer on airplanes might seem redundant. More work is done but with fewer people. But, the jobs were still there.

AI combined with advances in material and miniaturization, can take jobs away. Like the job of a driver.

There are many reasons for taking the driver out from behind the wheel. In 2016, 37,400 people died in vehicular accidents, 3,477 of these due to distracted driving. Driverless vehicles will reduce, if not eliminate, most accidents caused by human error. This should result in lower Insurance rates. Fewer accidents, inefficiencies, fewer emissions, and lower costs benefit society and the environment.

How about jobs?

How many people do you think may lose their jobs? Did you know there are an estimated 305,000 taxi drivers, about 1 million Lyft/Uber drivers, and over 3.5 million drivers working in the trucking industries? In the United States alone. All these people add up to about 4.8 million people. Close to 1.5% of the US population. We are not even counting ships, boats, trains planes, or buses. What would these people do if they are replaced with driverless technology? Yes, some will retrain but let us not forget, these numbers pertain only to the United States.

How about worldwide? We can imagine that becoming a driver is ago to job for someone who might not be very skilled.

So the proportion of drivers in those societies may very well be higher than 2%. But let’s be conservative and use 1.5%. With an estimate of 7.4 billion people at the end of 2017, 1.5% of that is around 101 million. What would they be doing?

So far there have been very few ideas.

One that has been given much publicity is from Elon Musk. He proposes a basic income for everyone for simply being born. It sounds great, doesn’t it? But what about fulfillment and purpose? But we risk raising generations of just plain boredom. Think of teenagers during the summer months away from school. Plenty of idle time.

So, is our society ready for AI? At the moment, we are not. Technology is evolving faster than we can come up with problems that may arise.

So, is our society ready for AI? At the moment, we are not. The technology is evolving faster than we can come up with the solution to the problems that may arise. To solve this problem, Governments and private Industries need to get together. They need to develop solutions now and not later. Much like machines need to have maintenance built-in during the design phase and later, after these break down.

This is not an indictment or condemnation if AI. I look forward to maintaining my independence when the DMV may be trying to take my driver’s license away. But, we need to develop solutions hand in hand with the development of the technology.

Before the machines take over.

The Evaluation

The review is good. I was told that the subject was appropriate, and the joke about the toilet and fridge was funny. The reviewer did suggest more variation when I discussed the farmer and GPS because he lived in Iowa for 2 years. And, the farmers there are enthusiastic about their technology. This made me think that next time, I should review how certain groups use technology, or their opinion on certain subjects before I use this in a speech

© 2018 – 2023, Norman Talon. All rights reserved.

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