AI’s threat: Real & inevitable
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - June 17, 2019 - 12:00am

After an eighth-day educational journey in Dubai, United Arab Emirates for the 4th PICPA VisMin International Conference, the Certified Public Accountants in the Visayas and Mindanao are back to reality.

With good memories and unforgettable experiences gained, we can only ponder in awe the places we’ve been, the safari adventure that almost took our breath away, and the dinner cruise we have had along Dubai Creek that is sandwiched by huge and so imposing skyscrapers. So imposing for an emirate that is so tiny yet first world-like in terms of economic strength given its size.

We say tiny in size because Dubai is just 4,114 square kilometers. With such size and all sand, it is even smaller than the Province of Cebu which is about 4,933 square kilometers. Practically barren and pure desert and so little fossil fuel to talk about (oil output is just about 5% of this emirates’ GDP), this emirate should have been deserted a long time ago.

Simply put, Mother Nature isn’t so kind to this emirate. Notably though, God gave this emirate a very special gift, their emir. Not only that he is a good emir, he is a visionary. With skyscrapers and malls sprouting all over the place, he turned Dubai into a financial and tourism hub. Thus, as everyone may notice, the emirates’ GDP is service and tourism driven. Not only that, moving forward, they are now embracing the prospects of artificial intelligence (AI).

Surely, Dubai’s and other countries’ AI initiatives shall certainly affect us now and in the future.  For one, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) issued almost three years ago (October, 2016) a policy brief (Policy Brief No. 50) entitled “Robots and Industrialization in the Developing Countries”. Among others, it stressed that “Increased use of robots in developed countries erodes traditional labor-cost advantage of developing countries. Thus, it advised that “Developing countries need to redesign education policies and embrace the digital revolution – this approach should be combined with supportive macroeconomic, industrial and social policies.”

Some developed countries have quickly embraced this development. Their use of robots is slowly becoming prevalent. For one, UNCTAD reported that each year, since 2013, “China has bought more industrial robots than any other country” and “is likely to overtake Japan as the world's biggest operator of industrial robots, the policy brief says” by end of 2016 (last year). This is an attestation of robots’ growing popularity.

Indeed, the pace of change is remarkably fast. So that, regardless of profession or occupation we are in, the need to embrace this development is paramount. We need to realize that in the coming years, intelligent systems will take all clerical and repetitious tasks from us. We must further realize that these systems will even take over more and more decision-making tasks from us, humans.

Therefore, there is a need to exploit these powerful technologies. How? By first understanding it.  Just like any tool we can find in our households, we can’t use it if we do not understand how it works and what it can do. We don’t have to know how it is being made. We only need to know their distinctive characteristics and how they can help solve real and pressing problems.

Despite these developments, if one believes that there is no sense of urgency at all, then, think about this. One of the speakers in our Dubai conference presented to us a result of a study. Curiously, the study revealed that most of the jobs or tasks that we do today will gradually disappear in the next ten years. Quite disturbing, isn’t it.

Sadly, in this respect, we, the baby boomers, must accept that fact that in this digital age, we are just immigrants, the millennials are the natives. Absolutely, therefore, it comes to them naturally. For us, the immigrants, we need to learn more.

Admittedly, AI systems are already powerful today and are capable of improving quickly. It can surely surpass us in many aspects. If there is any consolation, it is the fact that we are human beings.  That we are emotional beings. That AI systems can’t replicate that.

Therefore, what we essentially need to do now is to recognize the strengths and limitations of both artificial intelligence and human intelligence and find ways to work together.

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