Why We Should be Thankful to Intelligent Machines


I am starting to believe that “thank you” is the most under-appreciated and underused phrase by humans when it comes to artificial intelligence-driven machines. When we see an intelligent machine that could beat the best chess player in the world, some sort of fear is triggered in our minds and we start to feel that the robot revolution could be nigh. Our latest research shows that majority of Asia Pacific executives surveyed are reluctant to leverage machines to augment job effectiveness. To compound the problem, scary media headlines like “Robots will take your job” increase our anxiety no end and we jump to the conclusion that evil machines are just around the corner. And for some bizarre reason, we start linking our fear with various science fiction movies and despairing over some kind of dystopian future. As much as I love science fiction, I’m not worried about a robot Armageddon.

 

I’m yet to encounter a machine that expects civil rights, has consciousness, demands the vote, has a point of view, is motivated by human needs, reflects the human complexity, and the list goes on. If you know of one, let me know. Just because machines exhibit some characteristics of thinking, that doesn’t make them human beings. Machines haven’t destroyed humanity in the past, and even with enhanced intelligence, they do not have any such plans in the future. Machines have always been an adjunct to our goals and values and this situation isn’t set to change any time soon.

 

We fervently believe that an AI-driven thinking machine is an asset, not a threat. Just ask yourself: who will benefit from the rise of intelligent machines? The machines? Certainly not. It will be us. We should be more thankful for machines that are getting better and smarter every day, not fearful. Here’s why:

 

Outsourcing rote tasks to machines will be the natural next step in human evolution. Machines are primed to liberate us from the monotony of doing rote and repeatable tasks in our day-to-day lives, which in any case does not offer us any fulfillment. By automating a host of routine physical and mental tasks, our cognitive capacity will be freed and we can rediscover ourselves. The intermingling of machines’ and humans’ capabilities will make us more productive. After all, who wants to be stuck in a dead-end job for the rest of their life? However, to effect this change, we have to develop the skills to do things that matter to us as humans. We will have to double down on the activities in which we have — and will continue to have — an advantage over silicon (such as collaborative problem-solving, creativity, abstract thinking, adapting to changing conditions, maintaining a work-life balance, so on).

 

Intelligent machines will help us to teach our kids more effectively, build stronger social networks, become better leaders, learn new things, and exercise meaningful collaboration with others. This is what exactly Silicon Valley is missing – an understanding of people. The future of your career will not be determined by your last job title, but will be based on the new skills you can develop for the road ahead. Let’s give the machines a round of applause for allowing us the freedom to become better humans.

We are awful at addressing societal issues. We’ve done a lousy job when it comes to making this world a better place to live. Consider these facts — one-quarter of all humans worldwide live without electricity; 10% of all deaths in the US are now due to medical errors; 92% of the global population live in places where air pollution exceeds set limits; millions of women spend several hours a day collecting water in India; 1.8 billion people worldwide do not have a water source in their house. If these figures do not give us cause for alarm, what will?

 

If an intelligent machine turns out to be better than human experts at generating diagnoses from available data, we’ll be morally obliged to avail ourselves of its results. These machines will serve us better than we can serve ourselves. For instance, they could reveal the secrets of the seabed; propel a handicapped athlete with carbon-fiber legs; purify the air around us; improve our water recycling efficiency tenfold; and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. AI and machine learning will help channel our abilities into the hard work of solving pressing problems that need insightful, visionary leaps. They will contribute greatly to our society and we need to roll our sleeves up and get on with it as a team.

 

Cybersecurity has gone beyond being a human phenomenon. 49% of businesses fell victim to cyber-based ransom attacks in 2016, and cybercrime damage costs are set to hit a shocking $6 trillion annually by 2021. This paints a picture of our current computational infrastructure as terribly inadequate. As more aspects of our lives move online, security threats become more pronounced, and it only takes one data breach to break consumers’ trust in an institution. We need a software infrastructure that’s proven to be mathematically correct and is more secure due to its ability to identify malicious patterns before they pose a threat (obviously there is no such thing as 100% security though). AI and big data will complement each other and become the new face of consumer trust for organizations. In the same way that smartphones have become an extension of our persona, intelligent machines will become an extension of cybersecurity.

 

AI systems will help us expand our abilities into new realms to become certainly smarter, and hopefully wiser. We should stop worrying about intelligent machines and instead start cheerleading for the potential opportunities that they will offer. There is no need for gloom and doom; in fact, we should have a great sense of optimism for the next 5-10 years.

 

Let’s be thankful to machines as they have a penchant for helping us, and it would be foolhardy to move into the future without them.


(The blog was originally published on LinkedIn. It has been re-posted here with prior permission from Manish Bahl.)

(Pic Courtesy: Pixabay.com)

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Manish Bahl

Manish Bahl is Senior Director at Cognizant Technology Solutions....

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