AI: Boon or doom for humankind?
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - April 30, 2017 - 12:00am

Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence exhibited by machines. Stephen Hawking, a theoretical physicist and  the world’s best known living scientist has publicly said: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race...It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate...Humans who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

There are other points of view; but, I noticed that more movies are being produced based on the dangers of artificial intelligence. I remember the movie 2001 Space Odyssey where a machine decided that it  was god. Now we have movies, with countless sequels such as the Terminator and Transformer series about machines trying to take over the world.

In 2015 a group of scientists and AI experts, including Hawking and Elon Musk, issued the Open Letter on Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence. It states:

“The potential benefits of Artificial Intelligence are huge since everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence, we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of disease and poverty are not unfathomable. Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.”

There are undoubtedly many benefits from the future use of artificial intelligence. Medical care will be one of the major beneficiaries. However, there are three principal long term fears about AI’s continued development.

The first is that artificial intelligence applications, robotics and other forms of automation will ultimately result in massive unemployment as machines begin to match and exceed the capability of workers to perform routine and repetitive jobs. This will be an extremely difficult adjustment for developing countries that depend on manufacturing andoff shore processing to provide jobs for their population. 

In the financial services industry, banks are now using artificial intelligence systems to organize operations, maintain book-keeping, invest in stocks and manage properties.  In the United States, an insurance industry report states that around one third of claims applicants are actually talking to machines in processing their claims.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) in its Global Risks Report 2017 has included the risks of artificial intelligence as one of the emerging technologies that pose potential global risks. The report includes the impressive strides made in AI development. It said:

“Tasks such as trading stocks, writing sports summaries, flying military planes and keeping a car within its lane on the highway are now all within the domain of Artificial Specialized Intelligence (ASI). As ASI applications expand so do the risks of these applications operating in unforseeable ways or outside the control of humans.”

Kai-Fu Lee, a top tech entrepreneur in China has said that his firm has invested in companies that can accomplish feats like recognizing three million faces at the same time or dispersing loans in eight seconds. He believes that robots are likely to replace 50% of all jobs in the next 10 years.

The second fear about AI is what I call the “Terminator” fear – the potential danger of artificial intelligence and the future of warfare. The WEF global risk report said: 

One sector that saw the huge disruptive potential of AI from the an early stage is the military...Serious investments in autonomous weapons system (AWS) began a few years ago; in July 2016 the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board published its first study on autonomy, but there is no consensus yet on how to regulate the development of these weapons... Those calling for a ban on AWS fear that human beings will be removed from the loop, leaving decisions on the use of lethal force to machines with ramifications we do not yet understand.

An arms race in autonomous weapons system is very likely in the near future. The international community should tackle this issue with the utmost urgency and seriousness because once the first fully autonomous weapons are deployed it will be too late to go back.”

The third fear about artificial intelligence is from a humanistic or philosophical point of view. In the words of Eric Horvitz, Microsoft research director:

“ We could one day lose control of AI systems via the rise of superintelligence that do not act in accordance with human wishes...and that such powerful systems would threaten humanity. Are such dystopic outcomes possible? If so, how might these situations arise? ...what kind of investments in research should be made to better understand and to address the possibility of the rise of a dangerous superintelligence or the occurrence of an “intelligence explosion”? 

The WEF Global Risks Report said: “New computing technologies are already having an impact: for instance IBM’s TrueNorth chip – with a design inspired by the human brain and built for “exascale “ computing – already has contracts from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California to work on nuclear weapons security. While adding great benefits to scenario modelling today, the possibility of a superintelligence could turn this into a risk.”

On the other hand, there are scientists who believe that AI will turn us into superhumans and very smart computers could solve all our problems including climate change.

Artificial intelligence is here to stay. The world must ensure that it will herald a better future for humankind and not be the harbinger of its future destruction. 

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Young Writers’ Hangout for Kids and Teens on May 13, 20, 27 and June 3  (1:30 pm-3 pm/independent sessions).  Wonder of Words Workshop on May 8, 10, 12, 15, 17 and 19 (six sessions/ 1:30 pm-3:30 pm for 8-12 years old/ 4 pm-6 pm for 13-17 years old).  Classes at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street. Guest workshop authors are Sarge Lacuesta and Pam Pastor. Slots are limited, so sign up today. For registration and fee details text 0917-6240196 or email

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