Friday TechMunch: Artificial Intelligence - The End of The Human Race?


This week saw Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, join the debate on Artificial Intelligence (AI). Apparently, the human race will one day be taken over by computers. While this seems like a scenario that would only play out in a sci-fi story, the fact that several leading industry figures support this theory could make even the most sceptical of us begin to worry.

So should we be worried about the outcome of technological progress in AI?

On the one hand, we are constantly hearing of breakthroughs in AI that enable us to do amazing things, from powerful tools for predictive analysis to driverless cars. Companies are increasingly incorporating AI into their products to recognise patterns from vast amounts of data and use it to improve their devices, understand their customers and finely tune their marketing.

Facebook announced this week that AI is an integral part of its view for the future. It will look to “build systems that are more human, more personalised, and more intelligent than anything that has come before”. Facebook’s vision is to create tools and services that tailor to each user’s experience and “move the world forward”.

On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore the opinions of industry leaders who have firsthand experience on the development of the controversial technology. They believe that although AI is currently enabling us to create systems that can help us, we will one day reach a point where these systems are far more intelligent than us. Some key advocates for this theory, such as Bill Gates, have argued that this ability to reason may end up in all of us losing our jobs, while Stephen Hawking has gone so far as  to say it could result in the end of mankind. But can human creativity truly be replaced by robots?

There is no doubt that AI could fundamentally change several aspects of our lives in ways we can’t predict. That being said, I don’t believe that it represents an existential threat to humanity. Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, has highlighted the benefits of AI, and pointed out that Wozniak and Hawking’s theories are mostly speculation at this point.

I tend to agree with Schmidt. Instead of the human race coming to an end, AI will force us to adapt and to develop new skills, as is the case with many technological advances. However, if our fears are confirmed and we are forced to succumb to the power of machines, let’s hope they treat us as ‘gods’ rather than ‘family pets’ or ‘ants that get stepped on’, as Wozniak so delicately puts it.