Artificial Intelligence or AI is a word that’s been thrown around a lot. Unfortunately AI doesn’t receive optimistic reactions amongst all circles. When a lot of people think about AI, they conjure up fears of sky net or the matrix. To most people, AI is this huge impending monster that will swallow up humanity once it breaks out of it’s cage. That’s no surprise since most of media portrays AI like this. But fortunately, AI is already doing great things for mankind and has the potential for even greater good.
But what the hell is AI?
First, it’s important that we define AI because there are different levels to artificial intelligence.
There’s the AI that we’re encountering every day. These are elevators, vending machines, smart houses, assembly line robots, the autopilots on airplane and subway cars and farming combines. AI of this caliber has been around for decades yet we don’t fear it or even consider it artificial intelligence because it’s so embedded in our lives.
Today’s AIs are just programs that have been created to automate some kind of labor intensive task. For example, a robot assembly line can replace the labor of several people working together on one task. The machine can perform the job much faster without sacrificing quality.
There are many examples where AI can remove a labor intensive task in today’s economy. One such example is in retail. In fact, Amazon Go is a new retail experience where customers can walk in, pick up items and walk out. This replaces the need for cashiers. It does create a need for better customer service, where employees can provide a more concierge-style retail experience to clients.
The frontier of AI is moving toward automating more difficult tasks. Today’s smartest robots can outperform champions in games like Go and Chess. Soon enough AI will be beating pro gamers in video games like Star Craft and Counter Strike. Eventually automation will be able to replace all kinds of menial labor like cleaning sewers, picking up trash, and shopping for clothes or groceries. Soon machines will be able to perform more and more complex labor tasks while humans get freed from this labor, which they don’t really want to do anyway.
With our labor problems out of the way people will start to find they have more time to focus on themselves and on others. Automation can free our minds from the focus on labor and into more high level problems like fixing the environment and eliminating poverty. We will even be able to automate the labor of creative tasks like painting and writing. Imagine having your computer write the drafts of your novel while you edit it to give it a more human quality.
With AI solving the problem of labor, the real problem we would need to solve is at what rate are we going to introduce automation. We would need to scale it on some kind of level. Many people will find themselves out of work simply because it is more efficient and cost-productive to use a robot over a man to perform certain forms of labor. Since we’re pushing our labor needs on to machines we should provide options for the people being replaced.
Universal Basic Income (UBI)
It’s nice to see the conversation around Universal Base Income (UBI) peaking. UBI is a system where a public entity, such as the government, gives every citizen a fixed income, whether or not they’re employed. There are institutions currently testing the theory of UBI and it is supported by the likes of President Barack Obama and Elon Musk.
One solution is to socialize education and send the replaced labor force to school in order to learn other traits and skills more suited for people than machines. Imagine if education was cost free or relatively cheap. With more human minds being used to collectively think about more high level problems, we can begin to solve our deep rooted problems much faster while we leave the robots to handle all of our labor intensive tasks. Humanity can finally be free to do what it does best, being creative and social.
Of course, let’s not be deluded to the fact that AI could very well get into the wrong hands. It’s important that AI becomes an open platform so that no one institution abuses it’s power. This is analogous to the “right to bear arms” conversation. Organizations like openai.org are removing the barrires to AI access. This is a wonderful cause worth exploring and fighting for. It’s important that we start thinking about this now because soon it may find it’s way into legislation.