For decades, futuristic science fiction movies have often included some version of artificial intelligence (AI). Despite variations in voice tones, personalities, physical aspects, etc., the creators of these enigmatic beings seem intent to have them mimic human qualities. While audiences were watching AI entities and robots come alive on the big screen, scientists were busily researching and developing the real thing. Naturally, the notion of AI triggers concerns about how all that silicon and circuitry will change the workplace — and life in general. Opinions on the matter are varied, but some experts are saying not to expect a dystopian society anytime soon.
Over the years, sci-fi movie makers have depicted AI in different variations of physical form, mannerisms and purpose. A common premise is the AI entities are created to perform specific tasks — and under no circumstances are they to deviate from said tasks. The AI beings usually follow this directive to a fault, which, of course, is what movie plots are made of. In an effort to alleviate fears of the unknown or the prospect of AI superseding its role among humans, biochemistry professor and avid science fiction writer Isaac Asimov attempted to put up some guardrails around AI, which he summarized in his Three Laws of Robotics:(1)
Asimov intended these parameters to give some clarity to AI’s role in society. Still, not being one to back down from a challenge, Hollywood set out to demonstrate all the different ways Asimov’s laws could be broken:(2)
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In all cases, it’s the cunning wit and resourcefulness of the human protagonists that prevail over the rogue AI beings. Given the abundance of movies featuring AI, it’s a wonder why there isn’t an Academy Award category for best performance by an anthropromorphized computer system.
In the mid 1950s (back in the real world), computer scientists developed AI programs that could best their human counterparts at a game of checkers. While that might be a fun activity at parties, it was assured that the vision of this new artificial intelligence technology went far beyond board games.(3)
AI is defined as the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines. The processes include acquiring information, determining how to analyze and use the information, and self-correcting upon receiving new data. AI algorithms have a programmed ability to continue learning and adapting based on the data it receives, making it highly useful for processes involving the analysis of enormous amounts of data.
The technology is already being applied in the financial sector to sort, analyze and summarize data to help with developing investment strategies. AI is also being put to use in the life sciences industry:
We can put aside any concerns of being subjected to AI-ruled indentured servitude. Still, the technology will most likely become more integrated in the workplace, but not in a displacement-of-humankind sort of way. A statement by Timothy Miller, associate professor at the University of Melbourne, helps sum up and possibly assuage concerns about AI and its impact on the workforce: “Instead of asking what will computers not be able to do, we should ask what will we simply not want them to do?” The following are a few examples:
We welcome technology that gives us the ability and time to deliver what brings value to people and society. Turning over repetitive, time-consuming and arduous tasks to automated technology allows humans to be creative and put more effort into innovation and problem-solving. As it is, the aspirations for AI are still pretty lofty. The technology is nowhere near being able to take on complex tasks such as making judgements and decisions for every possible scenario.
Miller went on to say that computers or robots will never possess the ability to empathize and feel emotion. Also, humans are capable of calling an audible when needed and rationalizing their decisions — algorithms have no concept of rationalization. Also, we don’t want computers deciding which problems are important for us.(6)
In essence, AI will actually be creating jobs. The workforce is evolving, and new generations of workers have more technology-based aptitudes. The skill sets of the emerging workforce are inherently geared more for technology, creativity and innovation. The workplace will have a different look and feel only because technology will allow companies to benefit from the contributions of humans working in concert with technology.
A more fitting term for AI might be augmented intelligence. This is a concept of AI technology that focuses on AI’s assistive role, emphasizing the fact that cognitive technology is designed to enhance human intelligence rather than replace it. AI is indeed changing industry and society. Going forward, there will be new paradigms in education, human creativity will flourish and workplaces will reestablish collaboration, which is sorely lacking in today’s workforce.(7)