Professor of Philosophy Hubert Dreyfus, a great critic of artificial intelligence, confidently claimed in 1965 that a machine would never beat a human in the game of chess. Within only two years that very scholar was outplayed by an MIT-developed computer. By 1997, machines were smart enough to defeat one of the greatest chess minds of his time, Garry Kasparov. In 2015, some finest players of the very instinctive and “human” game of Go repeatedly lost to Google’s computer.
In this age of rapid technological advancement, computers are increasingly overpowering the domains that were previously considered entirely human. The amazing growth in such areas as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, 3D printing and genetics has enabled computers to perform the tasks of architects, medical doctors, music composers and even painters. News of remarkable feats achieved by computers or robots is very common tidings of the time.
Meanwhile, the world is already struggling with finding decent employment for 71 million young people. Quite naturally, thus, new technologies are increasingly seen as a major threat to labour markets. Some estimates even claim that an astounding 80% of jobs are going to be automated in the coming decades. Admittedly, artificial intelligence (AI) is the intelligence of machines or software, as compared to the intelligence of human beings or animals.
With the meteoritic development of technology, this phenomenon has created a stir in the air. To be candid, another alternative of human beings has surfaced with all its traits and tentacles. It is attractive, impressive and productive. Previously, robots came and replaced humans significantly. Now AI is there to corner humans all the more. With news of AI-backed news readers in India and Bangladesh, a sense of euphoria seems to be raging around the media.
One must accept the changes and embrace technological advancements. However, to what extent? Technology is for humans. Humans are not for technology. However, technological progression is taking control of things so dominantly and it is perhaps not far away that humans will find themselves absolutely clueless in the face of devices. The current euphoria is, thus, bound to turn into a nightmare allowing little time for humans to face up to the vulnerability it creates.
Eliezer Yudkowsky, who coined the term, argues that developing friendly AI should be a higher research priority and that it may require a large investment and it must be done before AI becomes an existential risk. However, economists have repeatedly underscored the risks of redundancies from AI, and very rightly warned about joblessness if there is no strong social policy for full employment in place.
Yes, the issue is really serious and needs to be fixed before AI sets in with all its facilities and fragrances. Because of such a presentation of AI, one may sound digressive and parochial. However, how differently can one respond in the face of such a challenge where mere survival becomes a crucial concern? Under no circumstances, the issue of workplace impact of artificial intelligence and technological unemployment can be taken lightly.
And, therein lies the problem. Yes, the issue of redistribution is easier said than done. It is more hypothetical than practical. In this world of accumulated capital, people having means and mechanisms are less concerned about others. Globally, rich people are only becoming richer with little consideration for the have-nots. This will definitely provide them with new means to amass more money through larger savings of their profits.
Unlike previous waves of automation, many middle-class jobs may be eliminated by artificial intelligence. In 2015, the Economist expressed the worry that AI could do to white-collar jobs what steam power did to blue-collar ones during the Industrial Revolution. With eight years on, that very apprehension is becoming more and more relevant and pervasive.
Meanwhile, AI provides a number of tools that are particularly useful for authoritarian governments: smart spyware, face recognition and voice recognition allow widespread surveillance. Such surveillance allows them to categorise potential enemies of the state and can prevent them from hiding. Recommendation systems can precisely target propaganda and misinformation for maximum effect; deep fakes aid in producing misinformation.
Advanced AI can make centralised decision-making more competitive with liberal and decentralised systems such as markets. In fact, authoritarian governments have already had strangleholds in many states. People of these countries are languishing in lack of freedom and liberty. State-sponsored terrorism and crackdown are being orchestrated in some countries.
Dictators have already put the world peace on the line. AI is very likely to make them all the more aggressive and peace-loving people all the more vulnerable. Allegorically speaking, human elements are being bowelled over machines masquerading as men. Terrorists, criminals and rogue states may use other forms of weaponised AI such as advanced digital warfare and lethal autonomous weapons.
By 2015, over fifty countries were reported to be researching battlefield robots. Even if their efforts are moderately successful, people’s lives will be literally jeopardised by two-fold onslaughts of authoritarian governments and terrorists. Then, people will have no option but to be sandwiched between the state and non-state demons. As implied earlier, human and social costs of AI have to be considered at the national and global levels.
The bottom line is that humans need jobs and vocations to live by the same. Machines do not have such requirements. The state and global actors need to ensure that machines do not drive out humans from the workplace. It will not be easy. If, however, it cannot be done, human well-being will no doubt be a great casualty.
The writer is a Professor,
Department of Public Administration, University of Chittagong.
Email: [email protected]