The steady growth of Artificial Intelligence from the mid-20th century until now has the potential to bring about broad positive implications for a variety of fields and industries. As with any advancing technology, however, AI carries some risk and challenges that government, the private sector, scientists and the public will have to debate and address.
What is AI?
The term Artificial intelligence was first coined in 1956 by Alan Turing and refers to intelligent machines that can reason, learn, perceive, solve problems and understand language. While the technology has grown slowly over the past 50 years, the digital revolution of the past two decades, especially in the advancement of computer technology, has positioned the multi-discipline field of artificial intelligence to provide even greater influence in the world in many ways.
According to a 2016 White House report on artificial intelligence, there’s a lot of excitement about artificial intelligence and the creation of computers capable of intelligent behavior. A series of breakthroughs in the research community has spurred more investment and momentum in this field.
What are the Benefits of it?
There are several areas that could benefit from the continued growth of artificial intelligence.
These include education, public safety, and security, transportation, healthcare, home service (robots), entertainment and more.
One of the main benefits from AI is increased productivity because the technology automates tasks that have been done by human labor. In healthcare, for example, artificial intelligence could help find patterns in medical data that could ultimately help doctors diagnose diseases and suggest treatments to improve patience care. This same type of program could be used in education to help teachers customize instruction for each student’s learning needs.
Elsewhere, AI is being tested in automated vehicles, which could lead to self-driving or driverless cars. The benefit of this could mean more productivity because workers would have more time to focus on other job responsibilities instead of driving. For example, salespeople who spent a lot of time driving could instead be calling clients while the automated vehicle drove them to and from appointments. In another example, home and building inspectors could have more time to prepare reports for their customers if their cars drive themselves from property to property.
The same White House report noted that labor productivity, in general, leads to increases in average wages, which in turn, gives workers more money to spend and more opportunity to cut back on work hours. “AI should be welcomed for its potential economic benefits,” the report said. “Those economic benefits, however, will not necessarily be evenly distributed across society.”
Artificial intelligence also has the potential to offer tremendous benefits to U.S. Department of Defense-related activities. Such technology could provide improvements to non-lethal activities such as base operations, logistics, veterans’ healthcare, battlefield medicine, cyber-defense, communication and personnel management. This makes U.S. service members more safe and secure.
The U.S. already uses autonomous intelligence in some of its weapons and further advancement in this area will continue to provide a strategic advantage to protect American people, property, and interests.
What are the Drawbacks?
As with any transformative technology, AI carries risks and concerns, ranging from the loss of jobs to safety, ethics, regulatory and security concerns. In the automated vehicle example, estimates are that 2.2 million to 3.1 million existing part- and full-time U.S. jobs may be threatened by driverless technology.
Experts say there will be challenges tracking exactly which jobs will be affected by AI-led automation. While artificial intelligence will bring new opportunities for society, it will also disrupt the livelihoods of millions of Americans.
As AI is more broadly integrated into society, industries, and consumer products, there will need to be best practices and regulations created to keep it in check. That’s because there are social implications related to the increasing use of intelligent machines.
For example, the government needs to create laws to establish who would be responsible when a driverless or self-driven car crashes. What happens if a smart/intelligent medical device fails and a patient dies? Also, if these smart systems can think autonomously and are aware of their existence, could they intentionally provide incorrect advice?
Others say the long-term effect of AI is more serious. Instead of asking which segment of the population this technology will complement, the question may be whether artificial intelligence will replace humans entirely when it comes to human labor.
The use of AI in public safety and cyber-defense systems also raises concerns, despite the potential benefits. The U.S. has used this technology in certain weapons systems for decades to provide greater precision in a weapons use and for more human military operations that keep civilians safe.
But there’s concern about moving away from direct human control over such weapons and giving more control to intelligent weapons. To counter this, the U.S. government is working to create a government-wide policy on the use of autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons that will always comply with international humanitarian laws.
What’s in Place to Guide Us?
Because AI could become a future major driver of economic growth and social progress in the U.S., lawmakers, the private sector and the public must work together to manage its benefits and drawbacks. The government must lead this effort and must be focused on the public good in the use of artificial intelligence.
Currently, there are at least sixteen separate government agencies that oversee economic issues related to AI technology. The rapid expansion of AI research and its applications in various sectors means that new policies and laws must be created, says this Stanford University report.
Already, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in recent years have held workshops on artificial intelligence topics to spur public dialogue on this discipline. Also, a new National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Subcommittee on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence has been convened to monitor milestones and advances in artificial intelligence within the federal government, the private sector and at the international level.