Freeman Cebu Business

Can humans and AI coexist?

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos - The Freeman

According to Kearney’s (one the world’s ten largest consulting firms) Senior Partner Ettore Pastore, there shall be “no slowdown in automation, information technology (IT), digitization or artificial intelligence (AI) investments for the foreseeable future.”  At what cost?

For instance, Replicant’s “autonomous call center.” Its AI bot is touted to resolve simple issues over the phone. While intricate issues are routed to a human agent, it was said that “the bot employs deep learning to understand the intricacies of humans’ sentences, and can fully resolve certain customer service inquiries.” Clearly, the supply of AI bots will soon inundate the BPO industry. Therefore, our call center agents’ jobs will be at risk. 

Health-wise, Elon Musk, the world’s leading innovator, brought his R&D initiatives beyond innovation of things. As what we’ve taken up in this column previously, his new innovation, a device named Neuralink, will “merge humans with AI.” With this innovation, in his words, he said, “The future is going to be weird.”

Last year, his team of researchers “embedded the device in a pig named Gertrude.” In turn, Gertrude, through this device, transmitted signals from her brain to a computer screen. The concept is nothing new though. We all know that brain stimulation is so common. Doctors habitually “implant electrodes into human brains to treat epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.”  However, the “Neuralink is particularly groundbreaking, according to sources. Yes, it is because “it uses wireless technology and is about the size of a large coin, a stark contrast to the bulky, implantable devices typical of other healthcare technology.”

With this, Neuralink received a Breakthrough Device designation from the US Food and Drug Administration in July last year.  Reportedly, Musk and his team are now preparing for its first “human implantation, pending required approvals and further safety testing.” Indeed, if successful, it shall be a huge breakthrough as Musk claimed that “it can be used to treat a myriad of conditions, including paralysis, blindness, and depression.” Certainly, a proof that humans and AI can coexist.

True enough, AI advocates are so optimistic on positive scenarios like this. But wait, what happened on May 7 this year might just be something worth pondering on. Aren’t you surprised that the prices of gasoline went up? It was because Colonial Pipeline (operator of the USA’s largest fuel pipeline) was in the receiving end of a ransomware attack. Due to such attack, the company took its pipeline system offline to avoid further damage. Sadly, as millions were affected by it, the “company was forced to pay US$4.4 million to a gang of hackers who broke into its computer systems” to “restart it quickly and safely.”

Undeniably, criminal-minded humans are always a step ahead of the well-meaning individuals. While we are trying to develop AIs that will improve our lives, these wicked beings will make these as their gateways to sow terror and make billions from it. They are capable of undertaking either a large-scale attack or a small one like a person who has a “Neuralink” embedded on his head.   

However, we should not let fear rule our lives. Instead of suppressing the progress of AI, we must do something to mitigate its negative consequences. 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.

Admittedly, AI bots or 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 bots or 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 (especially on the safety and security concerns). Otherwise, AI will render us, humans, irrelevant.

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