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What comes to mind when the words artificial intelligence (AI) are mentioned? It could be a benign little robot like R2-D2; or, it could be a vision of Mr. Schwarzenegger lurching out of the screen, all cold, hard metal, eyes gleaming red with evil intent. This is Hollywood's bizarre take on what is actually the infinite scope for human progress that AI offers. Such hysteria is nothing new. As far back as the 4th century BCE, there was fear of new technology.
Back then, the philosopher, Plato wrote a dialogue in which his mentor, Socrates, criticises the new technology of writing, "For this invention will produce forgetfulness... because they will not practice their memory." In my opinion, the development of AI is of the utmost importance to the future progress of humankind and should be embraced - not feared.
Instead of being menacing, AI would save people from the nightmare of the most repulsive and dangerous, occupations.
Rather than individuals being exposed to hazards, why not let AI take the risks? Consider the dirty and demoralising experience of a sewer worker, for example. Nick Fox, project manager for Thames Water, knows all about the labyrinthine systems that are beneath Londoners' feet.
He feels that, "The worst part of the job is dealing with "fatbergs"...huge blocks of fat (that) can be up to 100m long... full of flies and worms." Who could stomach such work? Apart from the disgust factor, a questionnaire survey of Swedish sewage employees found an increased risk of, ".
.. gastrointestinal...illnesses caused by parasites..." Two such parasites, Entamoeba histolytica and Giardia lamblia, cause hideous cysts, abscesses and dysentery-like symptoms. Surely, human beings should be spared the horror of such an undesirable job. AI is the answer. Such foul professions aside, AI is also the answer to perilous occupations with high death rates. Underwater welding is a case in point. According to a 1997 study, by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, welder-divers' death rates are 40 times the US national average. Crushing from water pressure and drowning are two of the most common killers. Think of the lives that could be saved by the deployment of AI devices instead. Any damage to the AI 'welder' could, after all, be easily repaired with a toolkit - not so a human being.
Reinforcing AI as a benefit to humankind is the idea of this technology being used to fulfil caring functions. Right now, the National Health Service (NHS) has a chronic shortage of beds. Many are taken up by elderly people who have suffered falls. AI can help solve this problem. Drawing on NHS data, the charity, Age UK, "...found that there were 341,074 avoidable emergency admissions for people aged 65 and over during the year to April 2017." Falls were one of the most common causes. The charity insisted that hospital admission would not have been necessary had the person been better cared for at home. This is where AI comes to the rescue. Service robots, designed by Honda, are a promising solution. The firm's chief engineer, Satoshi Shigemi, describes its artificially intelligent helpers as an, "·autonomous, humanoid robots that could help the elderly·" This is no fantasy. At present, Japan's government sets aside one third of its annual budget for the development of carebots - robots that will care for the elderly. These robots can perform amazing feats such as moving fragile old people from a wheelchair to their beds or baths. Surely, AI is no threat here. Instead, by helping granny out of her chair, carebots are preventing the falls that send her to hospital.
Closer to home, rather than posing a threat, AI is set to save lives in a revolutionary transformation of the NHS. Health Secretary, Matt Hancock recently announced that, "Artificial intelligence will play a crucial role in the future of the NHS...introducing systems which can speed up diagnoses, improve patient outcomes..." Take those 360, 000 people diagnosed with cancer, each year. At present, when a consultant annotates a patient's scan, that valuable educational material is not available to all medical professionals across the UK. But, with AI, it will be possible to access massive stores of these annotations, and 3D images, UK-wide. Access aside, AI can actually mimic the expertise of a consultant because it can learn from these annotations. Whereas previously, a consultant would be required to develop a treatment plan, the Microsoft programme, InnerEye, can interpret these stored images and perform the same role faster and more efficiently. The powers that be are determined to make this a reality. Putting its money where its mouth is, the government has invested ?4.7 billion into advancing AI. It is time, therefore, for all of the hysterical scaremongering surround AI to stop. People's lives depend on it.
Nevertheless, there those who fear that advancing AI will threaten their working future. Such critics point out that there have been predictions that AI could replace as much as 7 million workers in the next couple of decades. Essentially, all administrative and manufacturing roles are high risk, with many others close behind.
This critique fails to recognise that, as John Hawksworth, chief economist at Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC), said: "Major new technologies, from steam engines to computers, displace some existing jobs but also generate large productivity gains." Therefore, although jobs may be initially lost, according to PwC , "...about 7.2 million could be created, giving the UK a small net jobs boost of around 200,000."
Ultimately, the anxiety surrounding artificial intelligence is more of an existential crisis, than a fear rooted in solid evidence. Inevitably, human limitations create concerns that omnipotent machines will wipe out the great achievements of history and make modern humans obsolete. To give in to such neurosis, is to deny the world the infinite possibilities of AI.
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